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.