Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dan Rhoad's Interview with a First Grade Teacher

Duke Ellington Elementary School (pseudonym), where I am completing my student teaching experience, originally opened its doors in 1952 in this quiet coastal California community. The school enrolls 496 kindergarten through fifth graders and is on a traditional calendar year.

To provide a little background, I will outline a few details that help to define the school. Of the 496 enrolled students 92% come from households that qualify for the free or reduced-price meal subsidy. This means that 92% of the students are coming from homes who report making less than $38,203 per year for a family of four. According to the most recently available School Accountability Report Card, 76% of the students are English language learners and 24% are classified as English language proficient students. The ethnicity of the school is composed of 2% African American 4% Asian American/Pacific Islander, 9% White/European American/Other, and 85% Hispanic/Latino. The parents of the children attending the school that have earned a college degree are reported to be 6% while the county average is around 19% and the state average is 30%. The school spends approximately $5,381 per student (including both restricted and unrestricted funds) whereas the district average is $8,303 and the state average is $8,117.

All of this information just helps to provide some context to the school where I am a student teacher and where the teacher I have interviewed has worked for most of his career. Brian (also a pseudonym) has worked at Duke Ellington Elementary School for 22 of his 25 year teaching career. He is highly regarded at the school. His leadership throughout campus was noticeable on the first day I started my student teaching rotation. During his time at the school he has taught every grade offered, from kindergarten through fifth grade. For many years he focused on teaching fourth and fifth grade and loved it, but recently he made the switch back to teaching first grade, which is what he is teaching this year.

When I asked him about his philosophy of teaching he at first seemed a little perplexed, but after a short pause he rephrased the question to himself and began a thoughtful response. Brian explained that in the early grades your focus as a teacher has to be on creating interactive learning for the children. Talking and discussing a subject will not help the children learn. It might provide context for an activity, but there needs to be more hands-on things to engage with. He goes on to explain that the younger kids must experience to topic through multiple mediums: drawing, singing, self-guided learning, small groups, pair-share. "The more hands-on your lesson can be the better," he explained with enthusiasm.

He is fond of a community model classroom that is structured around the notion that all participates in the community have a responsibility to fulfill. If you create a community atmosphere from the first day then you will be more successful in getting your kids to open up and engage with the material you're trying to teach. He continues with his response by talking about the first few days of the year. He explains in detail how important the first week can be for every teacher. That is when you get your kids to understand your perspective about how the classroom will work. It is during that week that the kids are learning what is tolerated and what is not tolerated by their new teacher. "You got to provide them structure during the first week and throughout the year," he said.

I then asked him a question that I have been thinking about since I started this student teaching placement: how do you satisfy the needs of a variety of learners? Duke Ellington Elementary claims to do this with a program they started last year called Universal Access (UA). The administration has been struggling to figure out how to make it happen this year. Brian explains to me that since last year's Language Arts test scores experienced an upward jump, the principle has been more than happy to award all of the credit to the implementation of the UA program, even though many teachers remain skeptical. UA is a language arts pull-out program where children are divided into classes according to their English language testing scores. Brian tells me this is how the school tries to satisfy the needs of a variety of learners: sort them into groups, then begin teaching.

Brian says he sees much more positive results from small-scale techniques like pairing students with another student that can challenge them in a good way. He uses manipulatives and interactive projects as much as possible. He likes story telling with visuals. He encourages the quick finishers to help others that may need assistance. It is good to be flexible and work creatively with your seating chart to form good working groups that can really engage students constructive dialog. Most importantly, Brian tells me, you must create the community from day-one and build on that community each day to help the children understand they have a responsibility to themselves and their peers.

To make all this happen you have to know your students really well. You must know more about them then just their test scores, where they sit and who their parents are. You must be completely committed to understanding them as dynamic individual. He tells me that this is one way he keeps from getting burnt out over the years: he needs to remind himself that each child is different, each year is different and he therefore needs to constantly renew his approach to the kids.

I then worked the conversation into the question I was looking forward to asking: what is the purpose of a public education in the U.S.? Brian smiled when I asked this question. He started to talk about standardized testing and how many changes he has seen over his career. As he talked about his experiences he went through a couple false starts in his response and his hesitation made me think that perhaps teachers don't get asked this question often enough. I enjoyed hearing what he had to say, but I wasn't really expecting that this question would come as such a surprise to him. Brian talked about how he believed teachers in the public education system were preparing children to become productive citizens in our society. He felt he was helping to form them into good community members and he thought each child in some small way benefits from being in his class.

After my conversation with Brian I felt inspired and proud to have found a profession with so much challenge and reward wrapped up into just one day's activities. After having the chance to hear his perspective, I felt like I was able to see his room and the environment he had set-up in a new way: I could see the community he was describing to me. What had seemed like a chaotic first grade class to me the day before our talk seemed a different classroom altogether when I popped in a day later to thank him one more time for the interview. I can see why Brian is well respected at his school and I now better understanding of why he goes out of his way to volunteer his time for extra duties more often than some teachers at the school; he perceives Duke Ellington Elementary as part of his community and he does an amazing job of modeling this lesson for others.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rosa Mejia's Inteview with a Third Grade Teacher

The teacher I am currently working with has taught for a total of 8 years. This year is her 9th year of teaching in a public school setting. She has taught elementary grade students throughout her career. Most of her experience centers in working with bilingual students following a 80:20 language model in Spanish and English. In addition, she has also taught in a dual-immersion program modeling a 90:10 language model in English and Spanish. The teacher has taught second grade, sixth grade and for the majority of her teaching career she has taught in a third grade bilingual classroom. The teacher has chosen to teach in a bilingual setting as one of her main goals as a teacher. She has a strong background in bi-literacy and bilingual language development.

Her current school serves grades K-6. The student ethnicity at this school is 98% Hispanic or Latino students. One hundred percent of the students participate in the free or reduced program and 79% of the students are English language learners. 95% of those have Spanish as their primary language.

The dedicated resourceful teacher is goal driven with a professional and solid commitment to student academic growth and the development of every student. She believes in the importance of employing unique teaching strategies to engage and motivate all students in a fascinated learning environment. She also believes that a teacher should be talented to inspire hands-on lessons and multicultural awareness to ensure that every student╒s learning style and abilities are addressed. The pedagogy used in this classroom includes mandatory state standard book editions through the use of direct instruction, differentiated instruction, curriculum design and development, and professional collaboration. The teacher is well skilled in subject matter. She plans weekly lessons plans according to grade level standards. She is a reflective educator that is consistently evolving to better serve the needs of her students. Her beliefs about public education is that by law every child is entitled to a fully developed education in which they can develop as prospective citizens of our community.

The classroom is well organized. I will first describe the physical environment. To begin, students are sitting in groups of 5-6 students. By students sitting in groups they are able to make stronger connections to the subject being taught, learn from each other and learn to work cooperatively. There is also a carpet area in the classroom where the reading language arts lesson is done. The carpet area is also used for small group intervention in which the teacher works with specific target students to meet their academic needs. In the back of the classroom there are two tables that are also used to differentiate instruction. Some of the activities that are done at these tables are guided reading, re-teach worksheets for those students who may need additional practice on a specific leaning concept, challenge activities for those students who are performing at grade level or for the advanced students. Other areas in the classroom are the computers, classroom library, phonics center, writing center, focus wall and math center. In terms of instruction, the teacher follows a district-wide pacing guide that indicates what should be taught at specific times throughout the year.

The instruction provided is based on the district pacing guide. The instruction is divide into categories such as reading language arts, math, math intervention, ELD (English Language Development), social studies and science. There are several instructional strategies that are being used while teaching in this classroom. The teacher uses GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Development Strategies) strategies that include visuals, hand-on lessons, motivational cues, the use of technology to enhance student comprehension of standards and a lot pictorials. She also uses T.P.R. (Total physical Response) strategies to make language more comprehensive through the use of physical movement. The teacher follows a consistent lesson plan that includes an introduction, guided practice, student collaboration, and independent practice. The teacher used a variety of ways to meet the needs of diverse learners. She focuses on teaching to the state standards with an ultimate goal of meeting the needs of all her students. She delivers daily lessons that cover the mandatory state standards, but she also modifies lessons as needed. For instance, while delivering a lesson, if the majority of the students seem to not comprehend the concept being taught she will stop and modify the lesson in a way that will benefit her students. On the other hand, she groups her students based on their academic performance to fill in any academic gaps that might be developed with any concept previously taught. The students are grouped into guided reading, math, and English language development learners. The teacher and the students create academic goals for each student that are revised consistently to monitor their progress.

Some of the things that keep this teacher enthusiastic about teaching is that she focuses on the philosophy that every child can learn with appropriate support to meet their learning needs. She strongly believes that there are different levels of thinking, learning, and producing work and that every teacher should have the capacity and training to meet the diversity challenge being faced in public schools. Also, that teaching is a learning process and that consistent professional development is highly necessary to be able to successfully teach and motivate every single students. My teacher finds that the most rewarding thing about teacher is when her students demonstrate that they have acquire grade level skills, higher order thinking abilities and that the students have worked at their highest level of dedication.

Now that I completed the interview with the teacher there are so many things that I learned. First of all, the main thing that I learned is that there is a lot of work a teacher has to do. One might think that teaching can be an easy task. But in reality teaching is one of the hardest jobs that one can perform. It is very important to teach, but mostly to follow the standards to ensure the students are benefiting from their schooling. Also, understanding that there are students who learn at different levels is very important for a teacher to recognize so she/he can modify a lesson.

There could be occasions when there are students that do not understand a lesson therefore; the teacher should be to accommodate the lesson to the needs of the students. Finally, teaching could be seen as a learning process that teachers should start off with the skills needed and throughout they will be able to gain the experience needed to become an exemplary teacher.