Saturday, January 30, 2010

Elsie Castro's Interview with a Fourth Grade Teacher

"Good management, skills, structure and discipline are key essentials for becoming a successful teacher." Mrs. Z gives me this advice on the day of her interview. Currently, she teaches at an elementary school that is located in the East Side of Salinas. The grade range of the school is K-6 with an average class size of 19-24 students. Student enrollment is 732 with Latinos comprising 98 percent of the student population. Nearly 75 percent are English language learners and 86 percent are low-income. Eight out of ten students qualify for the Federal Free Lunch Program.

Mrs. Z is a well structured, disciplined and passionate teacher who has high expectations for all of her students. A California State University alum, Z is entering her eighth year in the teaching profession. At the start of her college career she did not exactly know what she wanted to study. As a child she remembers playing school and she always wanted to play the teacher part, but it wasn't until a friend suggested teaching to her that she considered that path.

After receiving her B.A, she earned her teaching credential and began teaching. She taught at three other schools before finally arriving at her present school, where she has now taught for four years. Mrs. Z is a fourth grade teacher; and prior to teaching fourth grade she taught kinder and first grade. She prefers teaching fourth grade because they cover more content and students are reading to learn as opposed to first grade where they are learning to read. Her current class is a bilingual class. The class is taught in English only with the exception of the last hour being in Spanish.

Mrs. Z is very enthusiastic about teaching; there is not one day where she tells herself "I don't want to go to work today." Her students and the connectedness of parents, school staff and faculty is what keeps her motivated and interested in teaching.

"Everyone can learn, so everyone should be given the same opportunity" is Mrs. Z's philosophy. ╥As a teacher you need to look at the class as a whole, but also look at the individuals and their needs,╙ Mrs. Z tells me. ╥If you see a student distracted re-engage them. Also, as a teacher, on occasion you will have students that will understand a material very fast and will be able to move on their own, and at other times you will have students that take longer to learn and we need to be prepared as well.╙

Being well prepared for the material and having good management skills is a real strength of Mrs. Z. She believes in the power of public education, sending her own kids to the public schools. "It doesn't matter where you teach or where you learn I think you get the same benefit if the teacher puts the effort" Mrs. Z lets me know.

Mrs. Z's classroom is very structured, with lots of materials all in there place. The back wall is divided in three sections Writing, ELD and Math. In the Writing section, she has samples of student writing. Currently they are working on personal narratives. There is also a picture included with each essay. In the ELD section she has posted the parts of speech. There are also science materials there, as she combines science with ELD. She uses science to focus on comprehension and language. For the Math section she has several orders of operation as well as hints for math word problems posted.

Mrs. Z mostly uses a teacher-centered instructional approach. She uses an Elmo╤I type of overhead projector. The Elmo allows her to put examples of the work students are doing so they know exactly what the teacher is talking about. The Elmo can project color images, and it can also be connected by a computer and project a PowerPoint presentation.

After interviewing Mrs. Z and spending two days out of the week in her classroom I have realized that she is very passionate about teaching. She spends her recess break and part of her lunch break with students that need extra help with material she has covered.

Mrs. Z is all about helping her student improve both academically and personally. I have never seen a teacher be so strict with her students and the students actually acknowledge and appreciate it. Students that have moved on to upper grades still come and visit her. After school her classroom is full of students that want to talk to her and let her know how they are doing in school. Mrs. Z willingness to help students is evident as she met with me for her interview the day of her birthday.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Matthew Courtney's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

Mrs. B is a pretty, confident, and exuberant thirty-two year old woman in her eighth year as a teacher. The first half of her time “in the field” was spent in a public school in San Diego teaching third graders. Now, and for the past four years, Mrs. B has worked at her current school teaching second grade.

Her current school is an English language, public, international charter school whose student body is comprised of 45% White, 26% Asian, 10% African American, 15% Latino and 2% Native American students. The school sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean and is nestled in among a large residential community. Admission to this public charter school is based on an open lottery system, creating a student body with a diversity of cultural and economic backgrounds. However diverse in culture, the school has not been classified as a “Title One” school and therefore cannot participate in a free lunch program due to a minority of economically challenged students. Interestingly, 38% of the parents have graduate degrees or higher.

While teaching in the public school in San Diego Mrs. B found it challenging to be forced into a specific schedule every day. “But,” said Mrs. B with a smile, “once the doors are closed, it's your class,” indicating that although constrained, her years in San Diego were spent mixing her own creativity into the curriculum. Today, whether designing a reading comprehension lesson or teaching students about geometric shapes, Mrs. B always tries to exhibit the ideals of her favorite philosopher John Dewey. She uses student centered learning techniques accompanied with experiential learning (something she feels very passionate about). Adding fuel to her philosophical fire, the school's charter school status allows more opportunity for Mrs. B to “bring the curriculum alive,” as she puts it. This is due in part to the high frequency of field trips she is allowed to plan and take. There is a higher than usual amount of parent involvement in the classroom than most public schools, a convenient thing when carpooling to a field trip destination (all of which the resourceful Mrs. B makes sure are admission free).

In a nutshell, Mrs. B believes the purpose of a public education is to provide equal access to all students the ability to realize their full potential in a globally competitive manner while attaining empathic awareness and understanding of the of the earth. While much of her opinion has remained constant throughout her history as an educator, the advantages of teaching an international curriculum have further shaped her views. She has become more aware of education as a tool for humanity, rather than for the assimilation of a specific culture. Philosophy aside, Mrs. B wants to ensure that each of her second grade students comprehends what they read and has a good foundation of mathematics to proceed to third grade. Over everything else though, Mrs. B strives to instill in her students a love of learning.

Her classroom is organized to be stimulating for the child. She believes the children should take ownership in the space surrounding them. Most of the decor has been created by the students themselves, from large paper mache fish which lightly sway in the breeze of an open door to the “fact family” houses which create a miniature numeric neighborhood along one wall of the classroom.

Mrs. B organizes her students in groups of four to six. Students are paired with another student of a similar learning ability serving as desk-mate and directly across from another pair of different learning ability students. In this way there is an atmosphere of academic comfort created within a students' immediate surroundings with helpful peers never too far away.

In today’s world of standardized curriculum there are prescribed lessons that Mrs. B finds to be boring. She spices the sometimes bland curriculum with a lot of dancing and music. Congo lines, as well as choreographed poems, song and dance are powerful and effective tools she employs for getting children to grasp a lesson.

When asked about how she keeps such an exuberant attitude in the classroom, Mrs. B replied, “ I get to be with kids all day and play with rocks! How is that not fun?” While she admittedly has had some bad days in her career, Mrs. B alluded that most of her frustration has been caused by parents, not students. Whenever she feels a little upset during a day in the classroom, Mrs. B takes a peek at her “warm fuzzy” file. The “warm fuzzy” file is a folder in which she has collected student notes, drawings and other work that express appreciation, admiration and love of learning and remind her of the impact she has had on her students. “Only really, really special things go in the file and I put it way in the back of my file cabinet, but I can look in the file and remind myself of why I teach” said Mrs. B. She shared the idea about the ”warm fuzzy” file with me as she said because another teacher shared it with her during her student teaching days. In the interview I gathered that the love she had for her students and her ability to see them progress was the most rewarding and satisfying part of her career.

From my visit to Mrs. B's class I have learned that a fun and creative atmosphere and positive spirit go a long way. Just by being in her classroom my mind started to wander at the possibilities of things I could do with my own classroom sometime in the future. Contagious energy and excitement of teaching bounced off the walls of her classroom. Students in such an environment could scarcely avoid being hit with it. Creativity, color and music are the lasting remnants of the space she created for her students in my mind. Mrs. B has taught me that with positivism, a love of teaching and by being in the moment one can weather hardships and win a lot of hearts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Catherine Conway's Interview with a Fifth Grade Teacher

Mrs. K teaches in an elementary school made up of roughly six hundred students located in a small suburban neighborhood. Most of the students are upper-middle class and White. Only about 15% of the students are Hispanic and the remaining 5% are Asian and Pilipino. About 3% of the student population are English language learners and 5% are on a free or reduced meal plan.

Mrs. K has been teaching off and on over the last twenty-five years. After graduating from a California State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, she decided to go back to school to pursue a career in teaching. She first obtained her Single Subject teaching credential in English in 1984 and taught English at the high school level for three years. After the birth of her second child, Mrs. K decided to take a break from teaching so she could care for her two young daughters. As a stay-at-home mom she was very involved with her daughters’ schooling; volunteering in their classrooms every chance she had, and was supportive of their extracurricular activities.

When her daughters were nine and twelve, Mrs. K decided to go back to work. She took the opportunity to replace a retiring fourth-grade teacher at the school her daughters attended. Her youngest daughter was in the fourth grade at the time in another teacher’s class, so she was excited to have the opportunity to work alongside her daughter’s teacher and new colleague. Mrs. K taught fourth grade for eleven years before she decided she needed a change and took the opportunity to teacher fifth grade. She is currently teaching her third fifth-grade class.

Mrs. K believes that all children should be treated equally no matter what academic level they may be at. Although she does take into account differing learning styles and academic needs, she for the most part treats all of her students the same and expects their best effort. Her pedagogy, to me, sounds like that of a feminist pedagogy in that she tries to strive for egalitarian relationships in the classroom, to make all students feel valued as individuals, and to use the experience of students as a learning resource. She tries to center many of her writing assignments around student experiences. Mrs. K is also very adamant about her student’s paying close attention to detail in their work. Not only does she expect good, well-developed thoughts in their writing, but she also expects that the physical appearance of their work is “display quality.” Her expectation regarding her student’s attention to detail reminds me much of Ron Berger (in the Ethic of Excellence) and his students’ flawless work. Mrs. K wants pictures to be bright, colorful, and interesting. She expects her students to use their best handwriting, and to stay within the margins on their writing assignments. She displays all of her student’s work on the walls to give students and classroom visitors the opportunity to see the showcased work that her students are so proud of.

The walls are filled student work. Various books and stacks of paper lay about the room. Mrs. K apologized for what she thinks is an incurable mess. She told me that no matter how hard she tries she has never been able to keep her classroom organized. She is well aware that even if she tries to keep it clean, her students will still make a mess anyway. She seems to have given up trying to keep a pristine classroom and doesn’t seem to mind the disarray.

Instructionally, Mrs. K usually allows her students much freedom and flexibility. She uses direct instruction when necessary, but prefers that her student’s take responsibility for their own learning. She allows them to work with others and collaborate on a regular basis. Because she likes to be flexible, she admitted that she does not have the classroom management skills she would like to have and probably should. She is aware that she is sometimes “walked all over” by her students, a little to easy on them sometimes, and often passive. She also revealed that she can become easily annoyed when students constantly ask questions about things she had previously explained and that they should have paid attention to in the first place. The noise level in her classroom only bothers her when it become excessive, which at that point she has to raise her voice in order to get the students to quiet down. Mrs. K attributes her ability to be flexible with her students and reliance on student-centered assignments to meet the needs of diverse learners. Although she treats her students equally, and expects quality work from them, she still is able to adapt and tailor assignment if needed, in order to meet the needs of her individual students.

Mrs. K has always had a love of teaching and working with children. She adores her students and appreciates the constant parent support she receives. She told me that she could not have asked for a better school to teach at, in a better area, with better students. She loves hearing (directly and through her daughters) that she was a specific student’s favorite teacher. She has become friends with many of the other teachers who have worked there as long as she, and is thrilled when asked to be a mentor to a fresh student teacher. She loves the sense of school community she feels everyday she sets foot on campus. She takes in pride in the school that her daughter’s attended and where she has come to call home over the last fifteen years. Mrs. K finds the glowing, “light bulb” expressions of her students when they have finally understood a topic extremely rewarding. She also enjoys seeing her student’s enthusiasm and hard work put into various projects, art work, and writing. Mrs. K finds the positive information and stories about previous students she hears from younger siblings, parents, or from the students themselves who have come back to visit her, the most rewarding. Most are thriving academically and many have gone off to college to excel in dreams she had heard described to her years before.

I learned a great deal from having the opportunity to interview Mrs. K. She dedicates herself to the student’s of her school and continues to support the community. She has been influential to me and I will always remember her words as I embark on my teaching journey.