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.