Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cristina Cervantes Interview with a Fourth Grade Teacher

This school is a fairly new school compared to other schools in the. The school is located near many shopping centers and restaurants. There are a couple of parks and a library nearby. The school population is 98% Hispanic/Latino.
Kim is a young teacher who is involved in many activities in the school and is very dedicated to her students. This year marks her ninth year being a teacher. She has taught all nine years at the same school. During her years of teaching she has mostly taught third and fourth grade, and has taught first and sixth grade once. Today she is currently teaching fourth grade which is her favorite grade to teach. Her philosophy of teaching is not to teach just the academic subject matter and the standards, but to teach the whole child. She views each student as an individual person and she wants them to become productive members of society. She promotes certain values, such as honesty, responsibility, respectfulness, health, and to try their best. Kim believes there should not be a difference in public education and private education. Furthermore, public schooling should provide high quality education just like in the private sector. She feels that as teachers we should not set limitations on the students, and at times she sees this happening in her school.
Kim has a unique purpose on how she arranged the students in her classroom. The classroom consists of seven table groups where each table has four to five students except for one table which has only two students. The seating arrangement was done based on their academic level, creating heterogeneous groups. At each table she has at least one student that is performing above average, and the rest of the students are a combination of average to below average. The purpose of having students arranged like this is so they can hopefully learn from each other. Also, by having a higher English level speakers in each table they would be able to help the other students that are struggling. These students can model proper spoken English. She emphasized that the elimination of bilingual education in the school this year has impacted the students. Many of them do not feel comfortable speaking English out loud. Giving them the opportunity to have discussions in small groups lets them speak in a less intimidating setting.  
Kim organized the class to be as close to the students desks as possible. She likes to be able to be face to face with her students. She does not stand in front lecturing and you hardly see writing on the white board. The classroom is really focused on reading and she has many books available for students and a reading area. Throughout the outer sections of the classroom is where she has her books and the textbooks. In addition, she has each table organize their textbook by subject on the bookshelves. Each day of the week a student from each table is assigned to get the textbooks needed for the lesson. The materials that students use regularly, such as their folders and notebooks, are in baskets at their tables. This makes transition time easier when moving from one subject to another.
In regards to instructional strategies, Kim tries to have students collaborate within their tables as much as possible. When introducing new material she does not rely on just telling the students how to do something. She has students write, listen, and practice individually and with their groups. When it comes to meeting the needs of the diverse learners, she confessed that lately she feels that she has not provided as much as she should have due to the new curriculum which has taken time to become familiar with and develop a routine. However, she usually tries to work with the individual students and their needs without holding up the class. She attempts to teach students at a level that is challenging, but yet at which they are able to complete and learn from it. She gave an example of a student that just came from Mexico knowing no English and she has to make specific lesson plans for his learning needs. Furthermore, since most of her students are English learners meeting their needs as a class is something she incorporates to her teaching on a regular basis.
Kim is a teacher that truly loves her career, and making a difference in the lives of her students. Even though there are many obstacles in being a teacher she would like to be, she is very enthusiastic about her work. In addition, there are many gratifying moments that Kim has experienced. For example, having previous students that are in high school come visit her, and some even go to her classroom to help her during the after school program. Also, watching the improvement that each individual student makes during the school year is a rewarding experience. An accomplishment Kim wanted to share with me is that two years ago her students scored second highest on the standardized tests for her school even though she had mostly lower performing students in her class.

From doing this interview I have learned the variety of obstacles that teachers are confronted with, and the experiences that makes teaching so rewarding. By understanding the tools that one can use when teaching a diverse group was really helpful because that is something that as a future teacher is crucial to understand the individual needs of the student. One of the most important aspects that Kim pointed out is the crucial role that teachers play in the lives of the students. Especially since students spend so much time at school, I believe it is important to teach not just the curriculum, but the whole child.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Berenice Amaya-Gonzalez's Interview with a Bilingual Kindergarten Teacher

The teacher I interviewed has been working at Mariposas Elementary for the last six years. She is currently teaching a staggered bilingual kindergarten. This school serves a population of more than 90% Latino students with only 35% of the students being English proficient and more than 95% of the students speaking Spanish as a first language. Ms. Minakata has been teaching for eleven years and has taught bilingual kindergarten, first, and second grade. Ms. Minakata explained that this school district serves low-income families, most of the families are fieldworkers and there is a lot of mobility due to the migration from field to field.

Her professional philosophy is the assertion and conviction that everyone can learn. Every student has the capacity and potential to learn in her classroom. She describes some students as "late bloomers" who will struggle at the beginning of the school year, but will eventually catch up around November or December. She explained that these particular students may need more support and often times with some encouragement they will keep up with the pace "it's like spoon feeding a child, little by little they will learn to work in a classroom." Her philosophy extends to know "the whole child" which includes her students' backgrounds and understand that sometimes the students have not been exposed to school and she has to build this knowledge from scratch. "You are building the learning foundation because some students have no idea what school is all about." She also takes into consideration the neighborhood her students come from and considers the possibility of her students' being expose to violence, "After all, the school and district is located in the east side of Salinas" which is known as a dangerous area.

Ms. Minakata shared that she has seen some progress with her students; she also noticed that some are struggling and knows that these students' parents are working in the fields since very early in the morning, and often parents do not arrive at home until the work is done late in the evening. The children of these families are worried about their parents and often times they do not know who will take care of them. "Learning becomes a struggle for these students." Through her eleven years of experience working with migrant families and field workers, she has noticed a pattern that involves the active participation of these parents during the spring break or when the harvest is done. The parents' presence at home makes a big difference to their children's learning and they also have time to volunteer in the classroom "even if they don't know how to read or write I find ways to integrate their presence and their help in my classroom."

She uses some form of direct instruction as her pedagogy. She also incorporates small groups or centers where children produce independent work or learn from more experienced peers. She also does one-to-one instruction or support to scaffold the students who are struggling. She uses many open- and close-ended questions "at the beginning you have to model them how to answer because even when you ask an open ended questions they tend to use a word to answer." She uses games played in the playground before lunchtime to include movement, and she uses songs with repetitive words to help with memorization, especially during English language development time.

She believes that the purpose of public education is to provide equal education to everyone. As a public entity, certain standards have to been created, written to include all the students. However, unfortunately, equal opportunities are not provided for all students to meet these uniform standards. Standards are written to measure certain skills and competencies acquired during a particular time frame, and some students who do not meet these requirements should be retained. She understands that there are some students' for whom detention can be negative and she studies each student closely and independently before she makes a suggestion about retaining a student.

Ms. Minakata's classroom has been built following a kindergarten design. The classroom has an extra storage space and three bathrooms: two for students and one for staff. This set up is very convenient and less disruptive during instruction. The classroom is decorated with students' creations and some academic displays, such as the alphabet in English and Spanish, the vowels, the months of the year, the days of the week, the colors, and high frequency words. The classroom has four centers, which are tables for students to work on their assignments. There is a big rug where direct instruction takes place as well as the alphabet practice and a place for students to participate in self-exploratory learning when they finished their assignments. Each center has a geometric shape hanged from the ceiling and this is the way students are grouped. There are two extra tables that are used for assessments and independent one-on-one support. Ms. Minakata has a desk, but she uses it as a storage place and seldom sits behind it.

She is always assessing her students' performance directly and indirectly. When she notices certain progress, she moves the students to another center where the students will be challenged through teacher directed games at the beginning and eventually when students learn the process and skill how to work with the material she integrates a new game with other materials. Every six weeks she officially assesses certain skills to evaluate the curriculum and think of other methods to reach to the students who have not performed as well as the others or "to regroup the students, again." She works with her students interacting with them and even at home, she is constantly thinking ways to motivate their desire to learn "I have high expectations for all my students. If I see a child who will benefit from the after school program because I suspect there is not enough support at home, I will talk to the parents." She explains that often the students are under the care of babysitters who do not help the students with homework. When she notices this setting, she interferes for her student to receive the support from the school.

Her enthusiasm about working with young learners is seeing their progress and "when parents share a skill learned at school and give me credit for it is what keeps me looking forward to the next day, to the next year." She accepts feeling overwhelmed sometimes, especially this year with the new curriculum because she did not receive the training until a few weeks after school started. She is learning the information and trying to catch up with the expectations thinking about what is best for her students and trying to meet the requirements the district imposes. She said "I sometimes can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but then something happens, I may see an older student of mine and I would think about the years he is being at this school and I get excited again."

She also told me that when other teachers share the accomplishments of some of her previous students, she finds this action very touching and rewarding "especially if the student was quite challenging." Hearing that this student is making progress is very rewarding for Ms. Minakata.
She shared that it makes her feel valuated when parents request her as a teacher because someone else has recommended her, or just from previous experience. For example, she shared that right now she has the younger siblings of three families who have been with her for several years. One of her students is the fourth child of a family who has requested her explicitly at the beginning of the school year. This seems to be a privilege and praise for her hard work as a teacher.
Ms. Minakata recommended that I obtain my BCLAD credential and shared with me that it makes a difference. "Anyone can teach in English, but a few can teach English and content at the same time." Teaching kindergarten is very hard and requires a lot of work and dedication. Students have no idea what to expect and parents often times don't want to let go of their children, especially if these are the first children of the family or the last ones. "You have to teach parents and children how the school works, what to expect from you, in what ways they can help you and their children." The vowels foundation, syllables, sounds, numbers, colors, shapes "takes a lot of repetition and you need to find ways to make the instruction repetitive, yet fun and new." She also recommended that I get informed about the school district emergency procedures. For example, not many districts deal with "lock down" safety interruptions during instruction, but due to the location of the school, there are times when students have to experience the scary process to be kept inside the classroom. Their routines are changed and instruction has to continue.

She ended the interview by adding that working with young students give you the skills to work and manage older classrooms because students grow, skills and procedures have been acquired. "It's not the same to have one or a few students who may need help, then building the foundation of each student from zero." Ms. Minakata is a well organized teacher who is also a mother of three children. She has her own family and her children also go to school where she is actively involved in the parents' association. She also mentors other teachers who are currently doing their beginning teacher training and I had the opportunity to see her work in close relationship with these new teachers. "I want to give back to the community the help I received when I was in the process to become a teacher." Ms. Minakata is a good role model to have in the classroom and I am very privilege to know her and learn from her.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Christina Sierra's Interview with a Science Teacher

This interview was done with a teacher who has twenty plus years of teaching experience and is considered an exemplary teacher. This narrative will focus on explaining what I learned about the school setting, teacher's professional experience, philosophy, instructional strategies and how this teacher maintains enthusiasm for teaching.

The public high school is located in a quaint rural area two miles out of the nearby town. The short drive to the school gently winds past a field with cows grazing and fields being prepped for new crops. The school has a small vegetable garden in its courtyard. I arrive at the high school as the students do at 8:30am. It is a small high school school serving approximately 420 students. The teacher states that "the school is roughly divided 50/50 between White and Latino students. Give or take. There are a high number of special needs children served as well…. The school is sought out by parents." Parents get inter-district transfers from as far as thirty five miles away to have their children attend this high school. The teacher believes it is because they have many highly qualified teachers that enjoy teaching and an effective school wide instructional and advisory system.

The teacher shared that all of her teaching experience has been in high school science. She has been at the current teaching site for about sixteen years. There have been times when she taught a research or health when it was needed. This is only her second school setting. Her first teaching setting was a very large high school serving over three thousand students. It seemed that she had a small shudder at recalling this and followed up with commenting that "in this school site, students don't get lost… This is a small public school. It has a charter like feel."

The small school has been like a home to her. It has been a good place to grow and develop her teaching skills. She was inspired by her mother who was an elementary school teacher. "My mother inspires me. She was a teacher. I learned from my mother how to put on a puppet show, have the kids write the puppet show, make the puppets, do an art project about it. Everything was woven all together. I just try to do the same with science." She remarked on her early years after completing student teaching and said she started volunteering in a kindergarten class with a teacher who implemented many hands-on activities; "I really became good when I started volunteering in the kindergarten class. I started saying to myself 'I can do this for science!' It taught me the most." Since those early days she has developed a personal philosophy and belief on the purpose of public schooling. "The purpose of school is to help students to use their minds well… My personal philosophy is to have a lot of fun."

The classroom setting reflects that she cares about children using their minds. The white board at the front of the class has the teacher's name, an agenda, a 'starter activity,' and a vocabulary list related to cell structure. Below the white board and at eye level throughout the classroom are several posters made by students on cell structure. The teacher has a desk in the front corner of the room, but has a chair pulled to the front and center of the classroom away from the desk. The classroom is bright with a wall of windows on one side, allowing in natural light. The window sill is lined with several healthy green leafy plants. The counter by the window is lined with neat stacks of books and trays of papers, with labels like homework, handouts, with a period number. Three rows of seven tables that each seat two students are clean and clear. The class feels organized, open and accessible.

Typical classroom instruction for the 90 minute class periods involves several teaching strategies and activities. Classes begin with a 'starter activity' that students are able to do on their own. During this time the teacher sees to administrative tasks like taking roll. Then she does a small segment of direct instruction. The largest portion of the class period is hands-on activities in groups or on their own. She does not believe that class time is spent well taking notes or reading. She said "they can do that on their own when I'm not with them. I limit my talking. Teachers and students should be doing the same thing, learning. I believe when they are doing something they are learning." 

This teacher had a great deal to share on how she meets the needs of diverse learners.  "A girl who is totally blind, kids that are ELL's, and others with special ed. titles or learning difficulties; I teach every child with the same scaffolding and strategies. I make it accessible and use accessible vocabulary for everybody." She expanded explaining how she strives to provide multiple ways for students to learn the information, by writing it out in more than one way, drawing a picture or diagram, and creating an experience for them to learn it, like going to the garden or to the library. Her goal in addressing the needs of diverse learners is to "create and make lots of opportunities to get the information into their mind." The teacher does not allow adult special education aides into her classroom. With strong resolve she said "No adult aides, because I believe children can help each other. If a child needs a scribe, other children can scribe for him. Children need to feel good about learning and helping one another." I believe this builds a sense of community in her classroom that strengthens the learning experiences and confidence of the students.

The teacher shared her ideas on maintaining enthusiasm for teaching. First she advised that it is important to recognize that every group is a new group of kids. While the teacher may have taught the subject a thousand times before, it is new to them. She says you have to "Keep remembering it's not old hat. It's really, really exciting! How very, very cool it is to look at cell under a microscope for the first time." She says she holds onto "the magic of science and the parts that are unbelievable. I have held onto them like I'm still a child. Not losing the wonder myself." She says this with excitement and convinces me not only is this true for this teacher but as real truth in staying enthusiastic about teaching. Her last advice from her own experience is to be affected by the students' learning, by what is new and unpredictable.

This interview taught me that many of the teaching strategies I use in pre-school teaching are transferable skills to teaching any age. Hands-on activities and multiple ways of teaching a concept are just as important at three years old as they are at sixteen. I also took in a great deal about the school setting that confirmed to me that not only are small schools best to learn in they are best to teach in. Just as students get lost in big schools, I believe it is possible that teachers do too. I believe that a great deal of this teacher's success and continued enthusiasm for teaching comes form her small, family like school setting. Teaching is as much of a passion as it is a vocation. Teachers want to make a difference in the lives of students. I believe that small schools give teacher's the forum they need to make a difference and be successful.