Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kristen Rasmussen's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

The teacher I chose to interview has been teaching for 16 years at the same school. The school she works at serves a military community. With it being on a military base, it is naturally diverse demographically, with students coming and going on a consistent basis to and from many different places in the world. The teacher has 4 English language learners in her class. She is a third grade. We eat lunch together every Tuesday and Thursday in the teacher's lounge where I get to sit in and participate in discussion about what is going on in each class.

We discussed how she came to be teacher and what inspired her to do so, what particular teaching approaches and styles she likes/dislikes using, her thoughts about the current curriculum and how she sometimes modifies it to better suit her students and how she looks back on her career as a teacher as she nears retirement either at the end of this year or next.

When the interview began, she immediately mentioned how teaching as a profession runs in her family. Her family members are her inspiration for wanting to help make our world a better place through touching the lives of children in a positive way, educating them about what the world could be like and how they as young people are the future and can make a difference. Her students have also always been her inspiration, to her there is nothing better than seeing that light switch on in a child's mind when they have learned something new. 

As we started to discuss how she approaches her class when teaching a new lesson and what styles she favors, she immediately said that it changes every year according to her new students' strengths and weaknesses. When she went to school to become a teacher, she was mostly educated on direct instruction and therefore that is what she used the most of in her early years of teaching. She emphasized how important it is to continue educating herself and new approaches and styles that fit her students.

Her class this year works particularly well in groups so she tends to find herself grouping the students regularly and encourages authentic discussion in class. She said she finds that students are taking more away from lessons when they learn about them hand-in-hand with their peers through sharing and discussion.

As far as the curriculum goes, she really likes the current literacy/language arts textbooks and manipulatives as opposed to the math. She is partial to the reading texts because they provide plenty of anthologies about things that truly interest her students: stories about outdoor activities, the beach and ocean, sports, etc. She said the math texts are not sequential and it makes it difficult for her to transition from one topic to the next; she has to jump around in the texts to help the students make more sense of it. She modifies lessons for her English language learners by consistently calling upon them to discuss a story or to solve math problems in front of the class to help them use their academic language skills instead of just their writing skills.

As we came to a close on the interview, she began to reflect upon her years as an elementary school teacher and how she has had her ups and downs, sideways and backwards about pretty much everything. But overall she could not be happier with her choice of profession. To her, there is nothing more rewarding than the graciousness of a student who truly learned from her and appreciates her as a teacher and human being. She is planning on retiring very soon as her and her husband look to move out of state. It was my pleasure to sit and discuss teaching with this exemplary person and teacher.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elliot Langford's Interview with a First Grade Teacher

Mr. A is a wonderful teacher who has enviable classroom management skills and an uncanny knack for motivating his children at all times. He teaches in a Central Coast school here in California where around 99% of the student body is Latino, and where just about everyone gets free lunch. He himself is not of Latino heritage, however his spouse was born and raised in Mexico until she was 6, so his perspective is quite sharp on the subject of English language learning due to the firsthand stories about the difficulties of adolescent language immersion.

He is committed to the craft of educating for the sake of empowering the youth of his community, and has been doing so for 15 years now. He started off as a kindergarten teacher, then third, and then switched off between first and second grade for the past twelve years. He was awarded his first teaching position at a job fair. He had signed a contract before he walked out the door, telling me that the employer was moved by the fact that he wanted to go back and help his community. All his teaching experience has been in "high-risk, low literacy, and high-crime" communities where the children have had to deal with much, much more than school work. He insists that the children can rise above the negative surroundings and empower themselves to achieve greatness.

He credits his teaching style and philosophy are a reflection of his past educators, and how they were very driven by creating an independent student that was self motivated regardless of what is going on at home. He tries to give his students tools they can use for the rest of their lives and not feel helpless in such dire situations. Mr. A believes "even though they are little, there are a lot of things they can be independent on. There is so much chaos in these kids' lives that they need to be able to rely on themselves because those around constantly let them down." He did admit he was generalizing, but that he has seen this situation so many times that he wants the children to be independent learners and not have to wait on their moms or their dads to help them.

He keeps the expectations very high in the class, and believes kids know what level they are achieving. He does not hide the fact that some kids' scores are not as high as others, and really pushes the low performers to work extra hard to move up. Instead of simply passing the kids along and worrying about protecting their feelings through sugar-coated deficiencies, he makes sure they understand that they need to improve and why. In most cases he says, it has a tremendous effect.

When I asked him what keeps him enthusiastic and motivated to teach, he admittedly risked sounding cliché, and told me it was the simple act of teaching children. "Shutting the door and getting to work with the kids" he said. He added, "All the grown up junk is really bad here, and they are taking opportunities away from kids because they are continuing the chaos. I teach as if my own kids were sitting in my classroom. What kind of teacher would I want for my kids? Grown-ups get in the way, and if not for the kids, I would have quit by now." I'm sure lots of teachers feel this way, and I am very happy to hear this. He doesn't have a resentful or vitriolic tone when sharing these thoughts, but rather a matter-of-fact viewpoint of a troublesome issue that he may have found a panacea for.

Mr. A creates a classroom community by grouping his students at tables rather than individual desks to create "families" that rely and help each other. "Ask three before me" is in effect so the students seek out answers and solve problems together before asking the teacher. Over time, this method transforms the students into teachers themselves who help each other at all times. They really get the sense of family and want each other to succeed. There is also a lot of peer discussion and validating each student's ideas so they feel their critical thoughts are awesome and worthy of sharing. Mr. A sounded excited when describing his classroom and the children inside, which made me feel good about choosing to teach.

Mr. A claims his reward is when he hears his name while visiting the local high school that his old students now attend. Feeling a little embarrassed about sounding needy, he stated "It's a great feeling. The students still love you." I'm sure the love is there because he tells his students that, "Once I'm your teacher, I'm always your teacher" and creates that everlasting bond because he cares about their well being, and it won't fade over time.

I want to be a great teacher who inspires children to think big and be great, like Mr. A does. I really enjoyed hearing about high-risk students being able to achieve and be responsible at such an early age. "Even though they're little, they can be independent" will no doubt be a theme of my own classroom so all my students will have the power to succeed, no matter the circumstance.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jenna Oliverio's Interview with a First Grade Teacher

Mrs. X is a passionate, well-known, and very experienced first grade teacher. The school has a large Hispanic population, sitting at 94%, with the other 6% made up of White, Pacific Islander, and Black students. One hundred percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The district is currently under a state-appointed trustee, who has been given full administrative authority over the district. While there is a rough political climate affecting the district, Mrs. X has yet to lose enthusiasm for what she teaches and believes in.

Mrs. X is in her 30th year as a teacher and 27th in the district. After graduating from Chico State, she spent her first three years down in South County. She has taught in four different schools in her current district, teaching bilingual kindergarten, bilingual first grade, and her current position in a first grade English language development classroom. She has always taught in schools serving low-income students, primarily with high Hispanic populations.

I chose to interview Mrs. X because she has participated in so many different district-run and privately funded foundations. She began as part of the Mid-California Science Improvement Program (MCSIP), founded and funded by the Packard foundation. She was a science model and developed new science lesson plans and ways to improve curriculum over the summer and during breaks in the school year. For over five years, she was a literacy coach for Effective First Teaching (EFT) through the district. Later, she became a reading coach for the same program; her experience in bilingual and language development in kindergarten and first grade enabled her to be a master in the subject areas. She really enjoyed working for the district and taking a break from the classroom for the few years she did it; it truly helped her become a better teacher. The most beneficial and recent position she undertook was when she did consulting across the United States. She traveled with the program coordinator as a model teacher for Integrated Thematic Instruction.  It was a program developed to increase student performance and teacher satisfaction, with a primary purpose to grow responsible citizens. Now that she is back in the classroom, she definitely misses all the workshops and trainings, but is happy to use what she has been developing.

Mrs. X is such a neat teacher to observe. When I asked her about her own philosophy, passion filled up our conversation. She told me, "No one can take away your education; you have a choice to be educated." After thirty years in the teaching profession, she still cries at every back-to-school night while explaining this to the parents. It was interesting to me that she was the first in her family to graduate college and go on to a profession like she did; she called it, "her way out." Even though she is close to retiring, she can't imagine her life without urging students to give it their all and be as passionate as she is about education.

Mrs. X's classroom is bright and fun, with student work on the walls and posters to boost first grade knowledge. The students in her class are seated boy-girl, boy-girl in two separate columns of five rows with either two or three students in each row. Though Mrs. X is fluent in Spanish, she rarely uses it in the classroom. The only time she really relies on it is when she is speaking with parents, trying to calm a student down, or helping to better explain something to a student who doesn't understand. She started to learn Spanish while student teaching in Yuba City and became fluent through class at Hartnell and Salinas Adult School.

A normal day in the classroom consists of mostly whole class, direct instruction. Due to scripted curriculum, she is unable to truly do what she wants with the class, but tends to make the instruction creative in her own way. She will occasionally break the students up into leveled small groups. For example, there are four different reading levels for universal access; the stars (30+ words a minute), watermelons (8-20 words), bananas (3-7 words), and apples (can only make out sounds). She does a different reading activity with each group at the end of the day as to tailor instruction to each student's abilities. For the most part, whole group instruction seems to be very beneficial for her. The students stay on task and she switches subjects often enough to account for the attention span of a six year old.

Mrs. X has yet to lose her enthusiasm for teaching. I find this pretty neat because I hope that after 30+ years of teaching, I am just as enthusiastic as she is. She just said she enjoys the way she has a new class every year and by the time you really get used to the group, they are passed on to the next grade level. Every day, she has five to ten students from previous years come in during their break or lunch to help with the class. It is amazing to me that a teacher would have so many students who would rather stay in at their own free time to come back and help their old teacher. The most rewarding part about teaching for her is seeing the way the students soak up such a vast range of information in such a short amount of time. The one reason she has never gone up to higher grades is due to the difference she can make with these young students. While first grade is extremely tough, I can completely understand where she is coming from; the thing I find most exciting about younger students, is their ability to learn so much!

It was really neat to hear about all the extra things she has done in education. She has a true passion for children, education, and helping teachers improve their quality of instruction. I look forward to learning more about her and finding out how to become a teacher like her.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tim Goldstein's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

Well aware of having to conduct an interview with a teacher at my school, I kept my eyes open and my ears peeled for a teacher that would fit the requirements during the first week. Fortunately for me, my master teacher went on vacation the second week, which put me into a different teacher’s classroom. This teacher happened to be “Frank” a seasoned vet with over ten years experience, a distinct teaching philosophy and extra motivation to educate his third grade students.

The setting of this interview takes place at a school situated in the heart of a small agricultural city in California. Surrounded by bountiful farmlands, the population is predominantly of Mexican heritage. That being said, the student body is also predominantly of Mexican heritage. When driving to the school you pass through a development comprised of stucco homes with clean landscaped yards and concrete driveways. One might think of it as a more upscale development, but it turns out that multiple families, many of which attend the school, occupy most of these homes.

The interview with third grade teacher Frank, (not his real name), took place outside on a picnic table during lunch hour on a warm and sunny afternoon. I had informed Frank of the questions I would be asking, per his request, days prior to the interview so he had an understanding of what to expect. Frank is a relaxed, soft spoken teacher of about 45 years of age. It turns out that he is also very timid and wished not to discuss much about either his personal life or professional career.

Prior to teaching professionally, Frank attended Fresno State where he studied History, Math and Computer Science. Since then he has been professionally teaching for 19 years. Eight of those years have been at here and the rest took place at three other schools in grades ranging from Junior High down to third grade. He chose not to share which schools he taught at but each was located in the state of California. Of all the grades Frank has taught, third grade seems to be the best fit for him due to the maturity level of the students and their will and eagerness to learn.

When asked to describe his teaching philosophy, he kept it very short and sweet by saying, “To develop productive citizens, teach respect and encourage the love of learning with specific goals in mind.” Although not too much detail was included with his philosophy, I was able to witness it firsthand in the classroom. Because of this philosophy and because of it being the first month of school, developing productive and respectful citizens seemed to be the most important thing. Third grade students need to be taught procedures and respect for their environment at the beginning of the year. His classroom is like a well-oiled machine. Rarely does he have to raise his voice since the students know that nonsense will not be tolerated. He has a cool and calm demeanor that the children respect and rarely does he exude anger or frustration.

Having a classroom of 36 students, the most in the school, is difficult enough to begin with. But when asked how he goes about organizing his classroom, Frank calmly responded, “Just surviving now.” Throughout the first several weeks he puts the students into long rows. When they have developed a better sense of procedures, respect and being productive, he will separate them into 5 or 6 groups. This will prevent classroom management problems and seems to work in his favor each year. But for now, the three rows of desks take up most of the classroom. There are several computers along the side and back walls. Typical third grade classroom posters, memorization charts, graphs and other motivational signs decorate the walls from top to bottom.

I admired Frank’s teaching strategies when I sat through his lessons. He seems to have a solid grasp on classroom management. One of his best methods is the “silent wait,” as he calls it. When students are chatting and find that he is waiting silently, they suddenly become attentive and respect his silence. To me, this seems much easier and less stressful than raising your voice and having to talk over the noise. For his delivery of the lesson, he uses an abundance of visuals and displays to help the students relate to the subject matter. During reading lessons, he practices peer tutoring as well as whole class practice. The language lesson I witnessed was a read aloud lesson where he read a paragraph aloud and the kids followed along once he finished. For math he stresses the importance of computer programs in helping the students learn. His approach begins with foundational basics then moves towards concepts and includes a lot of cumulative review to help reinforce the lessons.

As far as finding ways to meet the needs of the diverse population of students in the standardized teaching climate, Frank informed me that he tries multiple approaches that he finds beneficial. Sometimes he will teach the same lesson twice making it more simplified for the limited English proficient students. He will also pair English learning students with those who are more proficient in the language to help better assist them. As he mentioned in his math lessons, he even stresses using computer programs for English learners. “There is a lot of technology available nowadays that didn’t exist before. Some of these programs like AR [Accelerated Reader] and Imagine Learning are technologically designed for English learners and are really helpful.”

While the other third grade classes run and do stretches during early morning PE, he has other plans for his class. He believes that, “Coordination, strength and agility are developed through games. The kids don’t think they’re exercising when they’re playing games because they’re focused on the objective instead.” His students line up on the playground and wait until they correctly answer math or geography questions before they can run across to the other side. The other classes await a whistle. I noticed this strategy early on in the year and find it to be very creative and successful. This way the students are exercising their minds as well as their bodies.

In order to be a successful teacher, especially at this grade level, one must stay motivated in order to keep the students engaged. “I love kids and like being able to accomplish goals,” says Frank. “The maturity level they’re at and their eagerness to learn is something that keeps me motivated.” And he continued to explain how watching them learn and being able to interact with them as they do is the most rewarding aspect of the teaching profession. If it were not for these things mentioned above it would be hard to maintain the enthusiasm he does on a daily basis. Every job has a tendency to become monotonous at times which can lead to lack of motivation. But when the future of 36 students lies in your hands, it is important to stay motivated, enthusiastic and focused throughout the entire year.

Witnessing the differences in strategy, technique and approach in the classroom was what helped me learn the most throughout this interview process. Each teacher has their own personality, which reflects on their teaching style. Frank brings his calmness to the table when instructing his class and it seems to work wonders. As a student teacher, simple setbacks can lead to frustration and can be discouraging. But the right amount of motivation, a positive attitude and a several years of experience can lead to an outstanding career. It is also very beneficial for a student teacher like myself to observe as many different teaching strategies as possible to help mold one of my own.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Holly Isaac's Interview with a Sixth Grade Teacher

Paul Paulson has been a school teacher for the past fourteen years in this agriculture city. Paul has been teaching 6th grade at the same school for eight years and feels fortunate that he found a career that he is passionate about and he is proud to go to work every day. The school that Paul works at is predominately Latino with 98% of the students speaking Spanish as their first language. Within the last year, his school has gone through quite a few administrative changes due to the low academic performance of the students. Although the challenges and struggles that his school is currently facing can lead to frustration, Paul remains optimistic and keeps the interest of his students as his first priority.

Paul keeps a very organized, yet basic classroom. There are currently thirty-four students in his classroom, so Paul goes by the theory that less is more. There are six folding tables that sit all the students, a row of bookcases on the back wall and his desk in the front of the room. On one of the walls is a detailed map of Mexico and on the other wall in large Mexican flag. Paul is very proud of his heritage and he does an effective job making sure his students feel proud of their backgrounds, as well as feel comfortable in their learning environment.

Paul utilizes various teaching methods within his classroom, yet at times he admits that he feels limited on how and what he can teach. It can be difficult for him to follow the parts of the curriculum that are scripted because he believes that it greatly limits what a real education should be and can be disengaging for his students and himself as the teacher. One way that Paul is able implement his own teaching pedagogies is through the use of technology, which he finds helpful in facilitating his students learning.

During this past summer Paul purchased a Smartboard for his class as well as a responding system that allows each student to have their own ╥responder╙ to participate in class discussions. The responders act as remote controls and students are able to place their answers in the responder and then digitally send their response to the Smartboard for the rest of the class to see. Paul finds this method to be extremely effect as a learning tool and finds that his students are more receptive in subjects such as Social Studies and Science.

Paul remains enthusiastic about teaching by learning new ways to better improve his teaching. For the past five years, Paul has been a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). ASCD is an organization that provides teachers with new learning techniques on the latest educational issues. As an educator, Paul believes that he must never stop learning or become stagnate with his teaching. There are always new approaches and new ways of thinking when it comes to teaching and the moment he loses his motivation towards learning is when it is time for him to seek other career opportunities.

According to Paul, the purpose of public education is very simple. Public schools should help individuals find their potentials. As an educator in the public school system, he feels that it is his responsibility to "bring out what the students already have and then find out where they can go from there.╙ Paul finds the most rewarding thing about teaching is inspiring students to go beyond the classroom. When he encounters a student that continues to learn on their own, he feels like an accomplished educator.

I have had the opportunity to sit in Paul╒s class while he was teaching a lesson on Ancient Mexico. As I observed the students, I noticed that most of them were participating in the class activities and the few students that were not, Paul was able to grab their attention and have them be the part of the rest of the class. Paul has a very structured class and the students always have a task to be accomplish. He gives no time for the students to get distracted and from what I saw, there was no down time or even brief pauses during transitions. Every moment is utilized and it makes for a smooth and well behaved classroom environment. Paul Paulson is an example of an exemplary teacher. He is able to relate to his students because he has a very similar background as most of his students and he admits that puts him at an advantage. However, he is the kind of teacher that makes me glad that I chose to peruse a career in education. With all the negativity and stress that is currently associated with teaching, it is a relief and reassuring to there are teachers like Paul that find the positive in the world of education.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Alyssa Nemecek's Interview with a Fifth Grade Teacher

In the early 1990s Brown Valley* was a community of affluence. The community was new, young and predominantly white. The new elementary school, Dragon Elementary (K-5), was built to accommodate the rise in young families moving in and making a name for themselves. I myself attended Dragon Elementary, and as I look back on old class pictures the school's demographics represented that of the "north side" of Brown Valley. The staff at Brown Elementary were dedicated and friendly and full of enthusiastic and passionate teachers. I have spent some time in Dragon Elementary since deciding I wanted to be a teacher, and while the community has changed, the staff has not, many of my old teachers are still there, just as passionate and enthusiastic as they were 12 years ago.

The demographics of the area I grew up in have changed and so has the school. The school that once had an abundance of money and community support, now is home to over 50% of families whom are identified as being socio-economically disadvantaged. The sea of White faces has become one of many shades. Almost half (47%) of the school identifies as Hispanic, the second largest ethnic group would be African American, while not listed as a category on the school's website.

The most memorable teacher I had at Dragon Elementary was Mrs. Elba Hitchcock, my second grade teacher and the teacher whom I have chosen to interview. Mrs. Hitchcock has been teaching for almost 30 years, the first five of that being in a preschool classroom in Arizona. Once in California, and Dragon Elementary she spent 19 years in second grade before 3 years in a third grade ELA classroom and finally now in 5th grade just before retirement.

Mrs. Hitchcock aligns her professional philosophy on the progressive side, believing that all children are born with the drive and ability to learn. She also believes that all modalities, or multiple intelligences, should be taken into consideration so that all children can be successful. Mrs. Hitchcock see learning in every situation, and feels that every experience should be utilized for its educational value.

As for pubic education, it seem as though it as become a political arena, used as a tool in political warfare, rather than a means to educate the citizens of American regardless of race, creed or origin. The political interference on public education has put a damper on education for knowledge and has made it a means to an end.

When walking into Mrs. Hitchcock's classroom it seems slightly chaotic, and crowded. The wall to the right of the door is lined with computers for student use, in the corner along this wall is Mrs. Hitchcock's desk, which is piled full of papers and is surrounded by boxes that have to be unpacked (this is her first year in fifth grade, having moved across campus from third). The wall directly across from the door houses cubbies with supplies, and worksheets, in front of it a kidney table for small group activities with the teacher. to the left of this wall is the chalk board, in front of which is her podium and stool and they are rarely used. Next to the chalkboard are posters of student position's and classroom rules, consequences and fines, all designated by the students. The wall alongside the door contains the class library. There are shelves with books that are organized by reading level, and shelves with books organized by genre (by the class librarian). Along with rocking chairs there are several large cushions piled up that the students sit on when working in the library. The class is run by students as "Funky Town" and the physical set up of the classroom definitely shows that.

The instruction of the classroom is also student centered, with Mrs. Hitchcock seeing herself more as a guide in their learning process rather than a teacher. The students have a voice in their education environment and the topics they are going to learn about, which makes them excited for school. The instruction is very progressive, with lots of whole participant open-ended discussions, where every answer is valid and there is no wrong answer. The instruction goes from whole group into small group or partner work, in which competition often plays a motivating role. Mrs. Hitchcock relies less on worksheets and more on creative writing, or when relevant, the showing of videos. Positive reinforcement is on-going in Mrs. Hitchcock's classroom, which I have witnessed while observing, not allowing the students to identify themselves as “the bad readers” and turning it around for them, making reading fun. In addition to the previously mentioned strategies, Mrs. Hitchcock uses cooperative learning, peer and cross age tutoring, adaptations for the different modalities, and read-alouds to address the diverse needs of her students in a climate of standards.

After nearly 30 years of teaching, in which the pendulum has swung one way and then the other, Mrs. Hitchcock is still entirely enthusiastic about teaching. This is not only because of personal love of learning, but also because of her students. Particularly this year, learning fifth grade with the students (as she tells them all the time), but also being able to pass on the knowledge to them. The puzzle of finding a way to pass on that knowledge so that the kids will get it, and in finding ways to make them love school and wanting to be there. The students are also the most rewarding thing about teaching for Mrs. Hitchcock. Being able to see them get it and seeing their progress, the innovative and fun ideas that they are constantly providing and teaching to Mrs. Hitchcock, they provide her with new knowledge and youth.

In interviewing Mrs. Hitchcock, I learned many things about her, the methods to her madness, and heard things that keep me optimistic about teaching and my future within it. I have witnessed that you can adapt standards and curriculum that leans toward direct instruction and make it work for you and your students, this gives me hope in an environment of standards and strict/direct instruction. I have seen that getting on the same level as the students can be very beneficial for them and is something I want to work towards. Most importantly I have hope for my future within teaching, because the very things that have pulled me towards teaching, my love of learning and the want to pass that on, the excitement and joy of kids, are the very things that keep Mrs. Hitchcock enthusiastic about teaching and have for the past 30 years.

* All names of persons and places have been changed

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Alli Mahler's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

I interviewed a teacher from a small rural school in California. There are about 460 students that attend school there. Of the whole population about 40% are English language learners and 50% are on the free and reduced lunch program. The teacher that I interviewed has been teaching for fifteen years, all at the same school. Three of those years were spent teaching seventh grade humanities. Five of those years were spent teaching second grade and seven of those years were spent teaching third grade. The teacher is currently a third grade teacher.

When asked about their professional philosophy, my teacher responded that they "believe that every child has the right to learn as well as the ability." One of the main goals of this teacher is to get their third graders reading at grade level. The techniques they use to help develop reading abilities is that of scaffolding. The school employs the "Reading Counts" program which tests students to determine what their starting reading (lexile) number is. This way the teachers can select books that they are aware that student can read on their own. Once the student gains confidence at that particular level, the teacher can increase the difficulty of the book as the student progresses. My teacher is a strong advocate for this program because they feel that "Reading Counts helps students of all reading levels feel successful. It is magical when you take a kid who basically cannot read at the beginning of the year and watch them transform into a voracious reader by the end of the year."

The teacher that I interviewed believes that the purpose of public education is just that, to educate the public. They feel that school is most successful when the student has the support of the public as well, "It takes more than a great teacher to educate a child." The teacher that I interviewed is very patriotic and they are very proud of the fact that all children in the U.S. are able to attend school.

When I asked my teacher about their classroom organization and strategies their eyes lit up. They explained that they are using a system called Chris Biffle's whole brain learning theories. Through these strategies the entire class is engaged in almost all of the lessons. There are specific times when the class gives a choral response to questions. They are arranged in the room in groups of two so that each student has a partner. After instructions are given the teacher says "Ready, Set╔" and the class says "Teach!" and they turn to their partner and explain the assignment so that no one has any excuse to not know what they are supposed to be doing. All of the classroom rules are very visual too. They all have hand signals that go along with them so all the teacher has to do to correct a negative behavior is make a certain gesture and the class is aware of what is going wrong. This minimizes disruptions immensely. My teacher is seemed very passionate about these strategies.

Because Chris Biffle's program is so visual and repetitive, it really helps the students who often are not clear on what is expected of them. My teacher also offers amazing support to their struggling students. They do not give up on their students and expect everyone to succeed in some way or another. However, that being said, my teacher is always willing to meet students where they are. They are happy to make accommodations for those students who need them. They understand that growth only happens when a child is ready, so they work diligently to make sure that all of their students are equipped to grow academically and well as personally.

Just through this interview I have seen this teacher's enthusiasm shining through. They give a lot of the credit to their own personal love of learning. "I can't remember the last summer that I wasn't taking one class or another. I believe that it is vital in the teaching profession to stay current. I try never to stagnate or get in a rut with what I do in my classroom. If I didn't love being at school I couldn't expect my students to love it either. That's why I always try to keep things engaging and exciting in my classroom." They find their students success to be the most rewarding part about teaching. They take it upon themselves to be the intervention year for the students that come into their class struggling. They believe that if a love of learning is not fostered by third grade things will only get worse for their students. Because of this belief, my teacher has a very high success rate in their classroom. By the end of the year many of their students have made great bounds in their reading levels and mathematic abilities. On top of all of their academic achievements, they also feel really good about themselves. To sum up their feelings on the subject, my teacher said "When I know I have adequately prepared my students for the next chapter of their lives, I'm happy."

I learned that it is very important to get to know your students as people as well as learners. When you work hard to tailor you strategies to the minds of the students in your class you are more likely to achieve your goals. I also learned that teaching means you stay a student forever, it is necessary to keep up with the newest ideas and schools of thought to make sure your classrooms stays innovative. I found it refreshing to hear this amazing teacher talk about how they still have so much to learn about the teaching profession. Even though my expertise on the subject of teaching pales in comparison with this master teacher, they were still interested in hearing my opinions on things. I really liked their collaborative perspective.

Overall I think the most important thing I learned from this interview was that it is better to admit you need help and to consult with others than it is to fake confidence or knowledge. That will negatively affect the students in your classroom. Always ask questions and continue to learn. In a day and age that has caused many teachers to become negative and bitter, I found my interview to be very inspiring.

-Alli Mahler

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tim Power's Interveiw with a HIgh School Special Education Teacher

Teacher Interview
After years of moving around the country and teaching at many different types of schools, Jack is teaching at a high school in a California University town. The school is located on one of the busier street of town. Most of the students who attend the high school are able to walk to school, but some take public transportation each morning. There are a few students who are bussed in each morning from surrounding towns. The homes around the school range from apartments to single or two story homes.

Jack is not a typical high school teacher. Jack does not teach one subject everyday of the school year, he does not teach two subjects either. Throughout a school day, Jack could teach anywhere from three to six different subjects. Some days it is possible for these classes to have multiple subjects taught during these main subject areas.

At this point you are probably asking yourself, "What kind of high school teacher does this?" Jack is one of a small group of teachers employed by the County Office of Education to work in the area of Special Education. Jack teaches Physical Education, Art, History, Economics, Science, Leadership, and Media. Within each of these subjects it is possible for students to learn about military physical fitness, art appreciation, art history, photography, American history, world history, local and world economics, environmental science, mechanical engineering, or they might just make their own movie.1

Not only is there diversity in the classes taught, but there is a large diversity in the students being taught as well. The classroom size is small compared to a normal classroom, but it is large in the realm of Special Education with 20 students. The youngest of these students is a 14-year-old male, while the oldest student is a 19-year-old senior (these two students are also the only minority students in the classroom with the former being Latino and latter being African-American). There is only one female student in the classroom.

All of the students have varying degrees of disabilities and each is handled in many different ways. Only one of the students is designated as an English language learner. However, there is not any issues with making accommodations for this student because his IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) covers anything that needs to be done for him. At times it is difficult for Jack because he has to make sure that the teachers in the rest of the school know what accommodations may need to be made for his students.

Jack has the experience to deal with all of these different situations. Jack has taught in both Michigan and California. His first job was a year with a gifted and talented program in Michigan, known as Lighthouse. He then moved on to teach at a correctional facility for a year. After teaching in a prison Jack moved on to work for two different County Offices of Education in Northern Michigan where he was placed in a high school setting. In all of these settings he taught math, science, computers, poetry, journalism, music, and philosophy.

Once this period of time was over, he moved here to California where he spent a year teaching Algebra II and Geometry at a local private school before moving onto his current job. In his first half a year here he taught in a 4th/5th combination classroom. Jack then moved into his current position where he has just entered into his second year.

Jack has taught his students using a Constructivist philosophy (except during the year at the private school). This directly relates to Jack's personal philosophy. He says his responsibility is "to help [the students] learn how to process stuff" within whatever subjects/constructs we give to them" Jack also feels that he is, and education in general should be, preparing his students for a "post-industrial" world where they are going to need to know how to be help to their community. "They're going to be dealing with stuff that we will never deal with in [the classroom]." Jack talks about "empowering" his students to find out what they do well and encourage them to build on what they already know. He gives his students the material they might need and allows them to "come up with whatever their creative spin on it" is. In this way he feels as though he is helping the students get to the point where they will be able to solve problems presented to them in the "real world" in the way that works for them.

Jack uses this philosophy to build his classroom as well. The students are allowed to come in and sit at any table or table group the wish and with whomever the wish. The table arrangements change everyday and are sometimes designed by the students. There is a row of computers on the far side of the classroom, where students will go to do research or listen to music while working on assignments. The classroom also has two large aquariums in the back filled with fish that the students are in charge of maintaining. Throughout the day there is music playing in the classroom while students work, usually classical or jazz.

Jack begins with an overview of what the students will be doing in his class and how that may be done, but after the introduction he leaves the students to be creative about what they are to do next. He gives the students freedom to do what they wish within the assignment they have been given and then helps them along the path they have chosen to take. He then takes what went on that day and determines what standards he might have covered that day, so that he can make sure the students have learned what is needed to graduate. There are times when he more directly determines what standards need to be covered and directs students toward those.

He stays enthusiastic about his job watching his students grow. This can be anything from learning to do something for themselves, directing their own instruction, or just by learning to be responsible. He tells of students building small motor powered cars, taking charge of getting the classroom fish tanks, and some that just learn to call when they will not be coming to school. Seeing these developments makes Jack proud each time he thinks about them.

After interviewing Jack I feel there is always a chance for bringing yourself into the classroom. Hearing some of the stories from other members of my cohort had started to make me think that there is not going to be much of a chance to bring your own personal philosophy into the classroom. However, Jack has made me see it differently. His laid-back style and philosophy of giving students the chance to construct learning for themselves is something I would love to bring into a mainstream classroom. Jack has a style that I have never seen in any other classroom and it would be great to be able to bring even a little bit of this style of teaching into the mainstream teaching world.

1 The students are not always in Jack's classroom. Some students take classes with the rest of the high school, as know as "mainstream" classes. Also there is another classroom designated for the Special Education students where another teacher teaches Math, English, and helps students with their mainstream classes. Jack does not teach in this classroom.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Eleanor Morrice's Interview with a Social Studies Teacher

My inspirational teacher smiled when asked if he minded being called an exemplary teacher. He said he was very sure that he is an exemplary teacher, knows it inside, even if his colleagues would not necessarily nominate him for the honor. He teaches seventh grade World History, Social Studies, in a middle school in one of the larger cities in this county. He says he is satisfied with the results he gets from his students, so his teaching techniques and skills are appropriate for the job. He uses what he feels is efficacious, and does not espouse any particular theory or pedagogy. Indeed, he could not articulate any specific styles or concepts, and denied having any structure other than what he has developed for himself in the 20 years he has been teaching.

The student population, 1,021 students in the seventh and eighth grades, is in a school built in the 1930s. The school has been added to and adapted to changing demographics in the area, which is considered a slightly more affluent one, near the downtown area. The majority of the students, however, are bussed in from the opposite side of town. The areas they come from are considered much lower on a socio-economic level, and are some of the most densely packed residential census tracts in the state. The community is predominantly a mix of Hispanic and Caucasian residents, but there are also Asian, Russian, Samoan, Filipino, Hmong, Afghanistani and several other eastern European cultural identities among the populace. There is a 67% rate on Free or Reduced price meals.

Mr. P got his emergency credential in 1990, as there was an immediate need for teachers in the South Central section of Los Angeles then. As he started his first year, he was not told of the true situation in the school. He had no true mentor, was never observed, and just started teaching without a period of student teaching or guided practice. Administrators did not tell him before he started that the classroom had been firebombed, and his classes were in the cafeteria the first semester. Then he had a rolling cart and ran from room to room, with kids, for the second semester. Declining enrollments meant a switch to a district near Watts his second year, where he experienced the 1992 LA riots. "Students behaved so badly that if you had 100% class discipline, you could teach anything, there was leeway for creativity." Now things are much more standardized, and more difficult.

Mr. P graduated from Temple University in 1987 with a B.A. in Journalism, and started teaching in Los Angeles three years later. He went to night school as he taught, at Cal State LA, getting his credential in 1993. His classes were in Literature, and not in Education, Theory or Pedagogy. His students were for the most part physically bigger than he was, and he quickly learned that disciplinary problems from students were "like a Hydra's head. Cut one off at the neck, and another swings into place." But he found a way to communicate his meaning, with a look, or a glance, or a bit of theatrics, and established classroom management. He does not believe in referrals to the office, choosing to deal with student discipline in the classroom as much as possible. And now he has his own children. He often thinks about how he wants to give the students in his classroom everything that he expects his children to receive in their school from their teachers. He keeps his family photos, by design, on his desktop, where he can view them at all times.

His philosophy of teaching "can be summed up in two words: kindness and strength." He feels that he is the kindest person in the room, and the strongest in spirit. His metaphor was of a piece of steel, which is smooth to the touch, but one can not break or bend it. This he compares to its opposite, a piece of sandpaper. Sandpaper is rough in texture, and it rips under pressure. At first, his classes may perceive his kindness as weakness, but he has a code posted on his wall. Its five points are, in order, Be Truthful, Be Kind, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Do Your Best. The ranking is a priority for him, and in this order for a reason. He refers students to the code chart, and has them read or reread it, as appropriate. He calls this method "positive reinforcement." He is preparing them for a job, or more important, for lives as an adult.

Now he teaches all seventh graders, but has taught sixth through ninth at different times in his 20-year career. There are big differences with each age group. It is not easy, and sometimes he feels broken-down, or questions himself (is he having an impact at all, let alone a good one?). The job can deplete a teacher. But he has a regimen, and feels that you owe yourself to fill up with something good, on purpose, and with intent, everyday. It is like a gas tank. He drinks water constantly, brings a nutritious lunch that includes lots of goodies like apples, bananas, strawberries or granola bars. He reads a section of the Scriptures every morning, and drives his kids to their school. They pray out loud on the way, thanking God for all their blessings, and asking God for the important things they need each day. He visits public libraries at least three times a week, reads books, listens to music, and carves out time to spend with family and friends. He is strategic in refreshing himself with loved ones, faith, culture and art, his tools to avoid teacher burnout.

His teaching techniques can be categorized by a quote from Bruce Lee, "Use what works." There is no orthodoxy he follows. He is skeptical and wary, yet open to all modes of teaching. His methods are the result of trial and error, and he admits to "having fallen into the way he does things." It is just what works. When he first started teaching, he used to have his students line up outside the door. But no one size fits all, for all teachers have different strengths and weaknesses, just as students do, and this is important to acknowledge. He watches to see how different kids interact with teachers and other students, and senses the mood of the classroom. He thinks that discipline is what he wants from his students, in the concept of the stem of the word, 'disciple'. He wants kids to look at him, and without him saying any words, eventually be able to consciously or unconsciously think, I see what I should be. Without ever explicitly saying so, he wants to get them to want to be like him, or even, someday, be a better version. This can not be learned from textbooks.

In his view, public education is the foundation of society. In fact, the Teacher, the Policeman, the Reporter, keep civilization alive. Without all three we are doomed. But the current political situation drives him nuts, and he finds it hard to express his political view aloud. Nevertheless, he votes. He is amazed that the same people who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on entertainment will complain when taxes are raised even one dollar. We need to raise taxes to pay for things we need. But on an immediate level, he is happy. His classroom is warm and sunny most days, with a bank of windows on the southeast side, two doors to an interior corridor, with a drinking fountain outside one and the faculty lounge (with a rest room) outside the other. His classroom walls are neat, but student work is prominently displayed, with many posters of animals, scenic panoramas, timelines and cultural aspects of various peoples and countries. All is inviting, with student desks paired in three rows, and his resource materials neatly organized.

He ended the interview with his philosophy of History. "It is no accident that the root of the word (History) is 'story'." This is lacking in many current Social Studies classes, the concept that kids need to hear stories. History is a long, rambling, interconnected story, all real. It is the greatest story ever. His voice tells the stories patiently, passionately, and respectfully.

His passion for teaching and for the discipline, coupled with his care for himself and others, will be a treasured asset to the faculty of this middle school, the lives of his students, and our community for many years to come.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saul Ruiz's Interview with a Social Studies Teacher

Wilmore high school is one of three high schools in this small agricultural city Wilmore high school uses a block schedule. Students have three classes a day and an advisory. The classes are an hour and fifty minutes long. The school is centered on small learning communities known as academies. The school has over two thousand students. Wilmore High has a large Hispanic population. It is a reflection of the community where they are centered and because of this Hispanic teachers can have a large influence. That is why the teacher I interviewed has had such a positive effect on his students.

Mr. Ramirez has been teaching at Wilmore High for 32 years. He started when he was 24. He started out teaching English and Social Studies. In his early years, his peers did not look upon Mr. Ramirez favorably. He had a different way of teaching that didn't involve a stand and deliver approach. His tactics were ahead of their time. Mr. Ramirez is now a World History and U.S. History teacher in the video academy. The video academy allows Mr. Ramirez to integrate technology into many of his projects and has taken his projects based assessments to another level.

Walking into Mr. Ramirez's classroom is a quite a sight. The walls are covered with posters and images. Prominent Hispanics, such as Cesar Chavez, litter the walls. The rest of the room has students work. The variety of posters, timelines, and other poster projects shows the project-based curriculum that goes on in Room. 8. The desks are set in a U shape to facilitate discussion. The classroom has a bank of 8 computers and a projector.

Mr. Ramirez's philosophy of education is that it is the great equalizer. He believes, "it allows them to take control of their futures." Teaching in this city has really shaped Mr. Ramirez's perspective on education. Many of his students come from poor economic situations and he tries to help his students understand that education can open many doors. "It opens tremendous opportunities that they would not have under their current economic situations." Mr. Ramirez does see many issues in our education system today. He believes that modern day education does not have the best interests of the students at heart. He fears that the education system is more structured for the institutions rather than the kids. Most of all, Mr. Ramirez cares about his students, "I believe all kids can learn and I take the job seriously."

Mr. Ramirez is a firm believer in Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory. He tries to structure his lessons around this theory and assessments are project centered, "in order to engage all my students." The book is used more as a reference than a bible. Mr. Ramirez believes in a student-centered classroom where he is more of a resource or "a coach," as he puts it. Mr. Ramirez is a firm believer in the introduction of technology in his classroom. Many of his students are challenged to extend their learning by using the Internet to explore subjects further.

When I asked Mr. Ramirez how he stays enthusiastic about teaching his response was, "the kids… the youth of the kids gives me energy to continue teaching the way I attempt to teach." Mr. Ramirez feels he has a responsibility to his students because "education is the last best chance many of our kids have." The belief that he is making a difference in the lives of these students is what drives him. Despite all the things modern day education can throw at him he manages to really focus on what is important, the kids. The final most rewarding thing for Mr. Ramirez is that he never knows which students he touches with his teaching until much later but he needs to believe he is making a difference and helping them to change their lives.

I think I have learned that the teaching profession can be a thankless job. As Mr. Ramirez has mentioned, you don't see the rewards of what you have done until much later. You have to believe that you are affecting these students and making a difference in their lives. Teaching is one profession where you can impact the lives of other people and help them to change their situations drastically. Recognition can be non-existent but you have to believe you are helping change their lives. If you don't, then you should leave the profession.

I have also learned that you should never compromise your beliefs on education just because you are feeling pressure from your colleagues. Mr. Ramirez cares for his students and because of that he will not allow them to fail. The kids really respond to that and it shows in the work they do for him. The children trust him and they have fun because of that trust. Trust is extremely important to your success as a teacher. If you show your students that you understand that their lives can be difficult, they respond.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reina Montante's Interview with a Social Studies Teacher

Mrs. Jones (pseudonym) has been a high school teacher for almost eighteen years. She has worked both at public and private high schools. She has always taught 9th through 12th graders. Mrs. Jones has primarily been a social science teacher. She has been teaching World Cultures for seven years and used to teach Freshman Geography. Mrs. Jones has been activities director at two of the three schools she has worked at. During this time she also taught the leadership class and was in charge of ASB. Mrs. Jones has worked at three high schools with very different settings and demographics. The first high school she worked at was well maintained and had a mixture of very wealthy White students and middle to poor Mexican-American students. There seemed to be a clear divide between the students at breaks and school events. She did not always have access to the resources and supplies needed. At times, it was challenging for her to stay motivated and enthusiastic. She stayed at this school for two years.

Next, Mrs. Jones took a teaching position at an all girls private school. Mrs. Jones loved the environment at this school. The campus was closer to her home and well maintained. She had a lot of support and all the resources that she needed. The students worked very hard and were dedicated to their school work. She said that "the girls weren't embarrassed to share and be smart. They weren't distracted by boys" and the many other distractions that go along with being at a co-ed school. The students were very productive and well behaved. The parents were very involved in their kids' education because they were paying for it. Mrs. Jones also liked starting each class with a prayer, "it set a tone," she said. Mrs. Jones enjoyed her time at this school but left after seven years.

Last, she was offered a position at her alma mater, so she took it. This school is a standard public high school that educates students from ninth through twelfth grade. The high school is a public school within a relatively small school district, especially in comparison to the school districts surrounding it. This school is in its first year of program improvement. The enrollment is approximately 1300 students, which is a moderate enrollment compared to other high schools in the county. This school is located in the heart of a mid-sized agricultural town. The local community is prized for their vegetable production. The immediate area that surrounds the school is artichoke and strawberry fields that encompass the school on all sides. As a result of the agricultural focus of the area, there are many students whose families work in agriculture. Typically the students range from poor to middle class. This high school is nearly seventy percent Hispanic students, so Hispanic students are the majority on campus. Many of the Hispanic students speak English and Spanish and are classified as English language learners. Over fifty percent of the students on campus are on the free or reduced lunch program.

Currently, Mrs. Jones teaches World Cultures and Freshman AVID (a program designed to help underachieving middle and high school students prepare for and succeed in colleges and universities). Although her current school can be very challenging she really enjoys teaching history because it is her passion. She enjoys teaching AVID class because it gives her an opportunity to help "freshmen get acclimated to high school" and start them on the path to college early. She is very active and involved on campus. She is the co-director of the Alumni Association and currently working on a project to finance the replacement of the school's track and field. Mrs. Jones feels that the facilities at her school are in poor condition and need a lot of work.

Her professional philosophy is based on respect. She believes that "If you treat students with respect, that respect is usually returned." She does not believe in embarrassing her students. She believes the purpose of a public education is "to create intelligent young people who can contribute to society in a positive way." She feels that school is practice for real life, and it is important for students to learn skills like being on time, meeting deadlines, and coming prepared to work. Although Mrs. Jones enjoys working at her current high school, she struggles with having many students who are apathetic and do not want to be there.

She tries to create a comfortable learning environment for her students. This can be seen by the way her classroom is set-up and organized. She has the desks set-up in a unique way so that the focus of the classroom is the center, rather than the front. They are in a small u shape within a larger u shape of desks. She has created a wall all about her behind her desk. She has different awards that she has won, pictures of her family, and souvenirs from when she was in high school. She also has a part of the wall in front of her desk for pictures of her students from school or dances that have been given to her over the years. Along another wall she has examples of student work like posters and different projects, which she adds to all the time. Overall the classroom is a very comfortable and friendly place.

Mrs. Jones' classes are embedded in procedure. Mrs. Jones' opens her door when the passing bell rings and welcomes the students that our waiting to come in. Many elements of her class occur on a daily basis and have started to become routine for the students. Her classes always start out with a bell assignment. Every day the agenda is written on the board in the same place. The agenda starts with the bell assignment, the lecture or lesson with its topic, and assigned homework if any. She likes to make each day different when she can. She uses many different strategies to help her students learn. She uses think-pair-share, strategic grouping, exit tickets, and creative methods of lecture. In addition, she has an effective method of positive reinforcement where she gives out raffle tickets that can be used by her students to "purchase" candy and other rewards. Mrs. Jones has many diverse learners in her classes. To support these learners she does a lot of scaffolding, group work, outlines, study guides and visuals. She uses various types of assessment including presentations, projects, posters and written work. She starts at the beginning of the year by helping the students learn to work effectively in pairs and groups.

Mrs. Jones is very well organized and a highly effective teacher. She is liked and well respected by all of the faculty and staff. She has a very positive relationship with her students and is a favorite teacher on campus. She always seems to be very enthusiastic and motivated. She says that she is satisfied with her career and stays enthusiastic about teaching by developing positive relationships. She enjoys collaborating with her colleagues, working with student teachers, and developing long lasting relationships with her students. She also values her downtime and vacations with her family. She says, "Finding a work-life balance is very important. Don't let your job be all you have." According to Mrs. Jones the most rewarding parts of teaching are "the moments you get through to your students. You see a student be successful who came into class thinking they hate history and have never been successful in a history class. They begin to work harder, show interest, ask questions, smile, interact with you. Those positive rewarding experiences make your day."

I am grateful to Mrs. Jones for taking the time to answer my questions. It was great to talk with Mrs. Jones and hear all of the events that have helped make her the teacher she is today. One of the reasons that I chose to interview Mrs. Jones is because of her classroom management styles. She has so many positive attributes and skills as a teacher that I hope to develop. I never thought teaching was going to be easy, but I never realized how challenging it could be. Especially in this economy and as a new teacher there are many obstacles to success. I wanted to get more insight into how she stays so motivated and creative. It is nice to know that her first few years of teaching were a constant struggle. Ultimately, her hard work and persistence has helped her develop a strong and fulfilling career. I have had a few of those rewarding moments myself, and they are essential to staying enthusiastic about teaching.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Nicole Aymong's Interview with a middle school teacher

This middle school is designated a PI (Program Improvement) school. The majority of students are Hispanic and come from many different countries in Latin America, with students from a variety of other backgrounds. Many of the students are designated English learners.

Mrs. Pine has taught a variety of subjects and has achieved many accomplishments over her years of teaching. For eight years she was designated an Art Docent and taught art to kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. In addition, she taught the students Art History. Mrs. Pine received her Multiple Subject Credential at a California State University. She needs one more test in order to obtain her bilingual authorization. After receiving the Multiple Subject Credential, Mrs. Pine wanted to obtain a Single Subject Credential as well and decided to pursue English and Social Studies. While, obtaining her second credential Mrs. Pine began teaching at Sequoia Middle School. In addition, Mrs. Pine is authorized to teach Art up to ninth grade. She is one half of the department chair for English at the middle school as well.

Education is a have and have not situation according to Mrs. Pine. Growing up was tough for Mrs. Pine. Her parents scraped by in order to save enough money so their children could receive a private school education. She believes it is her responsibility to reach every student, especially the ones who have been left behind by the school system. Mrs. Pine is involved with after school tutoring and works very hard to keep the parents involved in their children's education. The students should have equal access to the curriculum. Mrs. Pine uses the pedagogy of multiple modalities for teaching and scaffolding. Also, the lessons are designed to help all different learners kinesthetic, auditory and visual.

The classroom is organized with eight tables in the middle put into two rows of four. The tables sit four students and the students change tables every few weeks, so they can work with a variety of people. Mrs. Pine uses a smart board to display the daily warm-up for the students everyday. The students perform group work so they can learn how to work with all types of people. Also, the students work in pairs to answer questions or complete worksheets. Mrs. Pine uses modalities for teaching English language development. In addition, the pacing guides are manipulated, so Mrs. Pine can perform more creative and different lessons. Students can use the computer to work on research projects once all their work is done. This gives incentive to the other students to complete work, so they can use the computers as well. Of course, if the students didn't understand the concept or need more instruction in a certain area Mrs. Pine will scaffold the lesson.

The students keep Mrs. Pine enthusiastic about teaching and challenge her everyday. The students' successes and progresses throughout the year is why Mrs. Pine chose to teach. She would like the students to pass the class and move on to the next grade. Also, Mrs. Pine wants every student to receive a good grade in her class and every other class. Mrs. Pine chose to teach the students who are struggling to make it through school and need a teacher that cares about their success. The most rewarding part of teaching is when you see a students face light up when they understood the material and received a good grade on their test.

After talking with Mrs. Pine I learned it takes a lot of hard work and determination to become a teacher. The students are the most important part of teaching and even if it takes a lot of hard work and many lessons getting through to the student is what teaching is all about. Mrs. Pine has gotten many credentials and she always puts the students needs first, so no one falls behind. I learned you need to work hard and always adapt and change to lessons to fit the needs of the students. In addition, as a teacher it takes time and practice to get to know and understand the needs of each one of your students, so be patient and take time to understand the students difficulties in each area then create lesson plans to fit the needs of each student.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Amanda's Austin's Interview with a Math Teacher

Mr. A is an outspoken, energetic teacher. He constantly has a smile on his face and each time I have visited his classroom the students have been actively engaged, excited and smiling right along with him. I have tried, over the course of this interview, to figure out his secret.

Mr. A teaches at a rural high school located in an agricultural area of Monterey County. There are about 1300 students in the high school. The ethnic make-up of the school is 66% Hispanic, 29% White, 2% Asian and 2% African-American. Many of the students have English as a second language, are bilingual in Spanish, and/or speak Spanish at their home and with their friends. Twenty percent of the students are officially classified as English Learners. Half of the students are also on free or reduced lunch programs.

This is Mr. A's ninth year of teaching all levels of math at this high school. He started out his career not in education, but in the Air Force and then in private industry. He decided to make a career change when the stress and long work weeks of the private industry began to get to him. Despite the pay being lower as a teacher, he says that "teaching is the best job in the world."

Mr. A believes that the students need to be actively engaged, creating projects and solving interesting problems that truly challenge them. In that manner, the students are more interested in the material and learn much more than if they are merely lectured to. Mr. A has his students working in groups very often and develops special projects for each unit. The students help develop the grading criteria for these projects. Currently, his Geometry class is designing bridges made of popsicle sticks. Despite a lot of pressure from the administration for the math department to stress the standards and improve test scores, Mr. A keeps in mind his students╒ development and makes time for them to explore things that he thinks are important for them. He takes the administration seriously, but figures "the best thing for my students is to really understand the things they are learning, not just skim over the top of a lot of material."

Walking into Mr. A's classroom, I can tell that he teaches a little differently from other teachers at the school. Instead of desks in rows, he "procured tables so the students can work together more easily." The walls are covered with various projects that his students have completed. Mr. A spends some time lecturing to get the ideas across and discuss problems that the students have had, but much of the class is spent with the students working collaboratively in groups on various problems. The students talk with each other quite a bit and Mr. A keeps them on task by constantly circulating the room and checking in with each of the students at some point. The students seem to respect him and enjoy the chance to work with their peers as well as have a little one-on-one interaction with Mr. A.

Mr. A is constantly enthusiastic about his job. Even when he has had a bad day, he still has a smile on his face. When asked about his seemingly endless optimism, he says that "the students make it all worth it. Even on the bad days, you just have to have fun with the kids and focus on the good." He truly enjoys his students and loves having the opportunity to get to know them both as students and people. It is these connections that he develops with his students that make the job rewarding to him. Seeing their success and getting to be a positive influence in their lives makes all of the challenges of teaching worth it.

My interview with Mr. A taught me a lot about keeping a good attitude in the teaching profession. While he definitely acknowledges that there are challenges, he keeps a focus on the fun and exciting parts of the job. Mr. A's optimism taught me to recognize when I have a bad day and spend some time reflecting on what did not go well to try and make things better, but not to dwell on them. Teaching inherently has its ups and downs, and to keep your sanity and sense of hope, you need to always be looking at the successes.

It was inspiring to visit Mr. A's classroom and see a teacher who incorporates a lot of group work and creative projects into his curriculum. As a new teacher, I keep hearing how these things are important, but do not get very many opportunities to see them in practice. The students respond well to this approach also, appearing active and happy to be working together on learning the material.

One of the main things that I learned from talking with Mr. A is to have fun with your students and to treat them with respect. Developing that bond with your students makes the classroom environment one in which both the students and the teacher are comfortable and productive. It is also one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Kai Parker's Interview with a Social Studies Teacher

Mr. O is a veteran teacher at Raptor High School in California. Raptor High has a student body of 1325. It only has one feeder school, Predator Middle School. It operates on a block schedule, with three blocks each day and a forty-five minute tutorial after the morning break. Most students have three classes at a time, which switch halfway through the year after winter break. Some students take classes the whole year, with days alternating between class set A and class set B. Raptor High is having problems with this type of scheduling and is anticipating having to change it in the near future. Some of the problems that have developed over the years with block scheduling include: unintentional tracking of students due to scheduling conflicts. Another is non-conformance with the state's P.E. requirement for graduation of 20 credits. Additionally, for many students, their fall class content is being tested in the spring on the STAR test when they have not had the class for half a year. Raptor High is very tuned-in to this fact because they are a year 1 improvement school according to No Child Left Behind.

Mr. O has been teaching for a total of 34 years, 28 of them at Raptor High. He previously taught nearby at an all boys' school, Palm Tree High. Mr. O has taught everything that falls under a Social Studies Credential. He taught Geography, Government, and World Cultures at Palm Tree High, and since coming to Raptor High, he has taught the freshmen social studies course known as Choices, as well as World Cultures, and Government. Mr. O was a Political Science Major, and teaching Government has always been his passion as well as his goal. He currently teaches AP Government and AVID Government, and will have a "sheltered" Government class in the spring. He has been teaching purely government classes for the last twenty-two of the twenty-eight years he has spent at Raptor High.

Upon entering Mr. O's classroom, it becomes apparent that the content covered is provocative and relevant to today's issues. The walls are covered with student work and posters and propaganda, maps of the U.S. with the states colored-in red or blue, depending on the way the vote has gone in different election years. Many of the posters are very provocative; they have to do with current political issues like abortion and marijuana legalization, among other things. Mr. O is in a trailer that has a wonderful view of the scenery behind the school. His desk is in the back of the room, near the window overlooking the slough. There is quiet, classical music playing in the background. The desks are arranged in rows, angled around the corners and sides of the walls to accommodate the large class sizes crammed into such a small space. The room has a very comfortable feel. It is an inviting and welcoming space.

At the front of the room is an overhead projector and pair of very clean white boards. In one corner on the white boards, homework and reading are given for the AP class. The rest of the boards are spotless.

The desks are of the sort that the chair is attached to the table, and there is a little basket underneath the chair. In each basket is a textbook.

When asked about his teaching pedagogy, Mr. O wrinkles his brow. "I wouldn't really call it a pedagogy," he says. "It's more of a methodology." He calls his style "student centered," and explains that most of his teaching is focused around a discussion oriented, Socratic delivery of the material. According to him, the content being taught in government is different from any other subject matter in school, or even within the social studies content because of its immediate relevance to students' lives. It’s giving them the knowledge and instruction necessary to be citizens, to be able to participate in society and have their voice heard; to be active, contributing members of society. Because of this, the content is very real and alive to students. It is important for them to be thinking about that content or issues in ways that will transfer over to their adult/public life once they are out of the public school system.

In his sheltered class, Mr. O focuses a lot more vocabulary development. This he accomplishes by putting phrases and terms on the board and going over how the class perceives their meaning and building a collective consciousness about them. He feels that his method of delivering the material in a largely discussion oriented format automatically makes it more accessible to a variety of learners because whatever they bring to the table is what they start with. It is his job to assess where they are at, and gently lead them to where he wants them to be. He is somehow able to accomplish this while making them think they are simply going where they want to go, instead of following his subtle, gentle lead.

For him, the purpose of education is to develop critical thinking, getting students to see beyond their immediate self, to use reason and thought to cultivate respect for others. These are the skills that they will be able to apply to any situation they may find themselves in right now, and in the future.

Obviously, for Mr. O, the fact that he teaches his passion helps him to stay motivated and enthusiastic after thirty-four years on the job. He also says that watching the learning process is very rewarding, and he accredits those moments when students understand as being the reasons he teaches. Mr. O even goes a step further and says that when another student says something that somehow helps their colleague to understand in a way that they were unable to before, that is the real magic. "I know it sounds trite," he says, "but it’s true."

I leave Mr. O's room feeling very inspired and awed by his amazing powers of discussion mediation. Watching him teach has given new meaning to phrases like "wait time," and 'leading" or "guiding" questions. He truly is a facilitator and a master teacher. He stays out of the way, and yet he somehow manages to get them where he wants to go. I can’t wait to get back to my own class and try out some of the questioning methods he used. With any luck, in thirty-four years I’ll be as good as he is in leading discussions!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Anna Castillo's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

“You gotta laugh. You have to find the humor in everything from the most mundane in-service to yard duty.” This was the first bit of advice that Caroline (not her real name) shared with me when we sat down to talk about teaching. Caroline has been teaching 3rd-grade in the same rural elementary school for the past 13 years. The school serves about 480 students in grades K-5. The student body is made up of 54% White, 42% Hispanic, 2% Filipino, 1% Native American and 1% African American. The school facility recently completed Phase II of its expansion. This project added nine additional classrooms, a dedicated music room, covered walkways and eating areas, an Art/Science building, and a larger library and computer lab.

This is where her theory on humor has paid off. No sooner were these amazing facilities complete than the budget was slashed and the school lost its music, art and computer teachers. She has seen her classes go from 28 students in the late 1990s, to an average of 18 students since 2001, to 31 students this year. Several colleagues that Caroline had taught with for years were let go because the two-school district had no place for them. Staff morale hit an all time low when the much loved and respected principal of the last 20 years resigned for medical reasons over the summer. To get through Caroline says “I just keep telling myself that now more than ever we have to be here for the kids.”

When asked what it meant to “be here for the kids,” Caroline said, without missing a beat, “Provide them a safe place where they can learn skills to help them become good people. People who can read, write and think clearly. People who care about other people.” Her general philosophy on teaching is to get her students out of the classroom as much as possible to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life situations. Every year her class plants a garden when they study perimeter and area; they write and perform a “punctuation” play for the 1st and 2nd grade classes; they run the annual canned food drive.

This philosophy is reflected in her classroom. Caroline has only “lived” in 2 classrooms; the first was for 3 years when she was just out of university and teaching kindergarten at a Catholic school; the next was the room she now has been in for 13 years. The space is very lived-in with well loved beanbag chairs in the reading corner and a rocking chair for circle time. Caroline laughs when she thinks about this daily morning ritual because it is more like “Amoeba time” with her students contorting themselves into an odd shape so they can all at least be sitting on the floor. The walls are clearly organized to reflect the centers set-up underneath; math, reading, writing, science, social studies, art and “mystery.” She has an aide twice a week for 2 hours who is bilingual and works with small groups.

She tells me that “Sometimes you just have to talk at them. That’s the only way to teach some ideas.” But then she lets them loose to explore these concepts on their own. The class is divided into three groups and she rotates them through the centers and teacher led small groups so she can better understand how they understand the material. The desks are arranged in groups of 5 with one group of 6. The teacher’s desk is at the front of the room where the TV and overhead projector are. On the chalkboard next to a large white board is a daily schedule. Again Caroline laughs “One of these days I’ll get through this whole schedule during the times that I write down.”

Caroline had to adapt her way of teaching when her school became a program improvement school four years ago [meaning they did not meet the standardized test goals set my the No Child Left Behind Act]. Pacing schedules and scripted curriculum cut into a lot of Caroline’s out of class experiences. But she refused to cut them out completely.

When asked what kind of pedagogy she used, Caroline laughed and said “I haven’t heard that word used in the 16 years since I was getting my teaching credential at CSU Northridge!” She then went on to talk about having high expectations of all her students regardless of their status. She tries to pair students based on their personalities as well as their academic levels. She encourages her students to work together, rely on one another and to ask another student first before asking the teacher. Caroline said several times that she believes in the potential of every student.

When asked about what she thought the purpose of public education was she had two answers, one as a parent and the other as a teacher. Mom to two boys (9 and 5 years old) who both attend her school, Caroline feels that public education is supposed to teach her children the skills they will need to succeed in life and to promote their talents. She also said that her boys’ schools should be a place where her kids look forward to going and help keep them excited about learning. As a teacher Caroline said that schools also have a responsibility to help those families that struggle to support their child’s learning at home.

Public education is “sometimes the only hope these kids have and it is our job to help these kids beat the odds.” In her classroom she has worked with her aide to translate forms for parents and to assist at parent teacher conferences. Caroline has started to take Spanish classes in the summer to help her better understand and relate with her students. She also refuses to let anyone use the excuse that because they are English language learners (ELL) that its expected that her students will score lower on tests. “I’m harder on my ELL students, I think. I want to help them prove everyone wrong.” Caroline smirks. She tells me about how she has her students present their work all the time and that buddy reading with the on-site Head Start class has really helped many of her students with their reading and speaking skills.

Caroline laughs again when I ask what keeps her so enthusiastic about teaching. She says “I’m laughing because it’s the kids that keep me going and some days make me want to quit. They drive me nuts but they also keep me coming back for more. They have so much to teach me and they just say and do the most hilarious things.” She has no regrets about her career choices and says you could not pay her enough to become an administrator. Caroline’s only regret about being a teacher? “Not hoarding more supplies at the end of last year!”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Melissa Moore-Call's Interview with an English Teacher

Early in my teaching career, I was fortunate to have worked with Janice Stallings (a pseudonym), a middle school English Language Arts teacher who brings a true passion for her subject matter to her classroom. Although Janice had originally intended to teach English at the university level, her plans changed when she was offered a position teaching seventh grade ELA in North Carolina. Janice earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from a small liberal-arts college in Virginia that is known for its stellar creative writing department. After Ms. Stallings completed her Master of Arts in English, she set her sights on teaching graduate level creative writing. Unfortunately, there are few job openings in MFA level creative writing programs and Janice had to reconsider her options. As luck would have it, Janice’s mother knew of an opening at the Middle School and asked her daughter if she would be interested in teaching seventh grade. Thankfully for hundreds of students, the answer was a resounding yes.

I interviewed Janice over the phone and asked her to tell me about her school. This Middle School, located in the suburbs of a very large and bustling business center in North Carolina, is a North Carolina School of Excellence. It is also, as Janice points out, “very white bread.” Approximately 94% of the school’s 1425 students are Caucasian; the other six percent of students are African-American, Asian, and Hispanic. Very few students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program; most kids at Crown come from middle class and upper middle class families. Many children at the school have parents who work for a large bank that is headquartered near Mint Hill.

Janice is known for her excellence in the classroom. When I worked with her, I was amazed at her natural ease for managing a classroom and for delivering instruction. Jan is very much a natural teacher. That is not to say, however, that she doesn’t face challenges in her job. Jan points out that her first year of teaching was “very rough. I had 36 kids in one class and 70% of them had 504s or IEPs [Individual Education Plans].” Like many first-year teachers, Jan admits to having felt overwhelmed. When I asked Janice how she coped with that experience, she replied that she simply did the best she could and that she relied a good bit upon the Academic Facilitators, who came into her classroom, observed her, and gave her feedback on what was working and what was not. Also, the Academic Facilitators ensured that Jan had real, concrete strategies she could use to teach struggling students. Janice also worked on her teaching skills by attending as many professional developments workshops and seminars as she could, where she learned about a variety of topics, including Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory.

I mentioned to Jan that I try to visit other teachers as much as I can and see what is going on in their classrooms and not only English teachers. Jan admitted that she had observed many other teachers as well in her beginning years. (She has taught for a decade at this point.) Also, she says, “I leaned on my department members. I took everything I could away from English department meetings, any kinds of ideas, lesson plans, strategies.” Although this Middle is located in a district with a very detailed pacing guide, Janice points out that it is unrealistic for any teacher to be tied to a pacing guide that does not allow for any derivation. Jan had the pacing guide available her first year of teaching, but she felt that it was not adequate for her students' needs. Jan added that the district’s pacing guide does not allow time for re-looping or re-teaching concepts that students did not grasp the first time around. Furthermore, Janice continued, the pacing guide assumes that you are teaching a class of kids who are all reading and writing at grade-level. In many of Ms. Stallings' classes, this has not been the case.

I asked Jan what she does to meet the needs of all her students, as I know she has had a wide variety of students over the years. Most of Jan’s students are ability-tracked; they are grouped together in for English language Arts and Math, which means most of them end up having Social Studies and Science together, too. Jan responded after a moment that it is difficult to meet the needs of every student, but that is what teachers have to do. Jan knows that some students face bigger hurdles than others and she does what she can (often at personal expense) to level the playing field. I remember Janice buying coats for students who could not afford them when I taught with her years back. She felt was merely doing her job; no one could expect cold and hungry students to do their best in the classroom. Buying coats for disadvantaged students is a great illustration of who Jan is as a teacher. Her caring and empathy really speak to her philosophy of love and acceptance as a teacher. Jan cares for her students and it shows in and out of her classroom.

I asked Jan if her classroom had changed much since I last saw it when I taught with her, her classroom was always neat, tidy, colorful and welcoming. She laughed that it is probably a little more untidy than I remember and that she certainly has more books than she used to. Her classroom is set up to be student-friendly; she has a supply table with paper, pens, staplers, a hole puncher, and other necessary items in the back of the room where students can easily access it. There are several bookcases housing books of all reading levels; students are welcome to check them out and take them home. Janice groups her kids' desks in fours and arranges these groups so that everyone can see the whiteboard and overhead projector. Jan works hard to make sure the classroom is a place of learning and she arranges her room carefully. Ms. Stallings has several bulletin boards on which she displays photos of her students. This is a room where all kids are welcome.

In speaking with Jan, I was reminded that content knowledge is only one part of teaching. Jan and I have several graduate degrees in English and Creative Writing between us. Certainly, knowing one’s subject area and having passion for it is important, but just having that knowledge will not convey it to your students. You need solid teaching methods and practices. You must care about your subject and your kids; you must accept all of them and want all of them to succeed. Jan and I discussed the philosophy of meeting our students where they are and how important that idea is to remember when we are working with them. Yes, knowledge of our teaching area is important, but so is an understanding of how individuals learn. We must know our students, know them well, and have in our possession skills and strategies that will help every child develop as a learner.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ruben Garcia's Interview with a Fifth Grade Teacher

Ms. Smith has been in the teaching profession for a quite the time now serving public schools. She has been a dedicated teacher to her profession for twelve years now. These have been twelve rewarding years where she has seen the growth of the students year by year. She has taught 1st grade for three years, 3rd grade for two, and has been teaching 5th grade in her current school for the past seven years. The majority of the students in this public school are of Hispanic background. The school has an estimate of 800 students enrolled from K to 6th grade.

Ms. Smith states how her philosophy of teaching is being open and prepared for whatever or whoever may walk through her classroom. As a teacher one has to be ready for the unexpected with all this different types of students who come into the school year with a variety of learning levels/styles. As a teacher she says she attempts to teach in a way where none of her students are left out or feel left out due to their ability of performing. She attempts to make everyone count in the class and get every student involved as much as possible in the lesson. Furthermore, even as a teacher she has the job of learning like her students. She has to learn about her students as a way to understand them better and use that to an advantage to aid her students succeed in their education. She believes the purpose of public education is to provide equal education to every individual in our communities and equip them with proper knowledge and tools to put to use in the community to better the community.

When looking at the classroom and how it is organized, she has her classroom set in a very unique way. Her students sit in a group of four per group; all the groups of four are arranged in a way where the center of the classroom is open in a circular type area. She leaves this area open so she can have a better contact with the whole class. She has the classroom divided in five different groups named Mon-Fri, and the kids fall in the day of the week group depending in their reading level. When it comes time for the class to practice on their reading, they get in their assigned group to read a book according to their reading level. Every day the teacher works with different groups as a way to facilitate them and to see how the book is working for the group. As time goes on the students are able to move up a day of the week as their reading improves and have the opportunity to now practice their reading with peers who are at a higher level and learn from each other.

Ms. Smith, taking a deep breath explained that at times it can be challenging to meet the needs of a diverse group of students, but one has to stay focused and always think about the best way to pull the students forward with their learning. She meets the needs of her students who do learn at a different pace is by closely observing them and seeing what works for them and what does not. By observing her students and picking out areas in where they struggle the most, this gives her the opportunity to really drill in this area by starting slow and throughout time challenging the students a bit more as they go on. She will take as long as it take for her students to succeed in the material, but must be careful to not leave out other information.

When I asked her what her motives in becoming a teacher were, she cracked a huge smile and responded by blurting out that it was definitely not the pay. She wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a little girl attending school in Mexico. She enjoyed school so much in Mexico that she always knew she wanted to peruse a career in this profession. Then, making a difference in a child╒s life was another reason she gave. "I always enjoyed helping others from helping my mother cook food to helping my little brother with his school work. As long as I helped, I felt good inside. Plus it allowed me to learn new things along the way." To her, teaching is a very rewarding job. As a teacher when seeing the growth in the students and seeing the change and improvement, this is like getting paid without receiving a currency. The greatest reward for her was when the students go up to her with excitement letting her know they get the information and know how to put it to use.

Through this interview I learned how in teaching one has to be very much prepared for anything, and make adjustments at any time when needed. One has to be very familiar with their students and know what meets their needs and what does not. I also learned that teaching is not all about the income that comes in since it is not the greatest, but it is more about the wanting to teach and the wanting to help others.