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!”