Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Frank Verga's Interview with a Fourth-Fifth Grade Teacher

Mrs. M has been a teacher for seventeen years in four different school districts in California. Mrs. M has enjoyed the students in all districts, but feels the students in a small agricultural city, may be the most eager to learn. She has taught all elementary school grades, kindergarten through fifth grade. The last two years have been spent teaching a fourth-fifth grade combination class at DR Elementary School.

Mrs. M received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish Studies from the University of California Riverside. She then went to UC Irvine to complete her teaching credential. Mrs. M did not intend to become a teacher when she was starting college. She was seriously considering becoming a doctor. She took chemistry and biology classes in preparation for this field. However, she did not feel an affinity for these classes, but enjoyed her Spanish classes. She decided to become a Spanish Major with a Minor in psychology. During college, Mrs. M worked at a local school assisting with an after-school program. She enjoyed working with the students and decided to pursue a career in teaching.

Mrs. M is of European (Irish) descent. She is married to a Mexican American man whom she met while working at an elementary school in Salinas. He came to this country when he was seven years old. He is a teacher as well and currently teaches a fourth grade class at another school. Mrs. M has studied Spanish since the seventh grade and she speaks Spanish fluently. She has a 6-year-old daughter who is in the first grade. She is very active and keeps Mrs. M busy at home.

DR Elementary School serves kindergarten through fifth grade. The large majority of students are from Hispanic backgrounds. European, African, Asian and Pacific Island backgrounds are also represented in small numbers. In Mrs. M’s class, there are 28 students. There are sixteen fourth-graders and twelve fifth-graders. Thirteen students are males and fifteen are females. There are five English only students. Sixteen are Fluent English Proficient and seven are Limited English Proficient. There are two students on Individualized Leaning Plans, and none have 504’s nor are any in the Gateway (gifted) program. All the ESL students have Spanish as their first language. Most of the students are Hispanic, of Mexican descent. There are also two students of Vietnamese background, two African Americans, and one child of Thai/Guamanian background.

The classroom is neatly organized. Mrs. M does not like clutter. There are no stacks of paper or other items in the class. Students do have samples of their work neatly posted on the walls. One project, a poster board entitled “All About Me” is displayed along the class walls. Also on the wall is each student’s name with a colorful border that each student created themselves. Mrs. M feels this helps the students to think of the classroom as theirs. There is a bookshelf in one corner with many books. There are books about animals, mystery stories, and children’s stories such as Stuart Little and James and the Giant Peach There are also historical stories about life as a slave in the Southern U.S., life as a Jewish person during World War II, and stories about growing up in Mexico. Most of the books are in English, but there is a small Spanish section.

The students sit in clusters of four or five. On occasion, a student is separated out due to talking issues. Mrs. M rearranges the students every five weeks. This gives them some variety of whom they sit next to and helps control behavioral issues. However, Mrs. M does not have any serious behavior issues in the class. She is strict with the students and they behave very well for the most part. At 9:00 am until noon, the students are grouped by grade level for English Language Development and English Language Arts and the fourth graders leave and more fifth graders from another class join come in

Mrs. M uses primarily a teacher centered instructional strategy. This is in keeping with the standardized instruction of current classroom practice. Mrs. M does not think that standardized instruction is beneficial to the students. It tends to make instruction dry and non-creative. Instruction is often lecture oriented with time for students to work independently. Cooperative group work is limited. Most of the time, students work individually. Mrs. M does have the students use wipe boards for math. They show her their answers to various questions so she knows they are doing them correctly.

For Mrs. M, the most rewarding time as a teacher is when a student who has struggled with a concept for a long time is finally able to understand and appreciate it. This is particularly true of students for whom English is a second language. Mrs. M, as a non-native but fluent Spanish speaker, is able to make connections with the Spanish language for the students periodically. This seems to help them to get some concepts faster, especially vocabulary words.

For Mrs. M, the purpose of public school education is to give students the tools they need to be good citizens, such as strong language and math skills as well as an appreciation for the arts and history. She also hopes to prepare a strong foundation for students to succeed in college if they choose to attend.

In doing this interview, I learned that you need to be flexible when you are a teacher. You may often be asked to teach another grade level or a different combination of students. Also, you need to be able to adapt to different principals’ styles. A good principal can really make the difference between a positive and negative experience teaching. Therefore, when you find a good principal, try to stay with them. This is a tall order in today’s “succeed in a year or you’re out” climate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Avelina Campos-Marquez's Interview with a Second Grade Teacher

Ms. A. teaches at M Elementary School in this seaside California town. This school has a fairly heterogeneous makeup of Asians 5%, Black/African 12%, Latino/Hispanic 29% and White (non-Hispanic) 46. M Elementary School mainly serves children from all branches of the military, and a few of the locals that are attracted to the Dual Language Immersion Program (DLIP). Ms. A is currently is part of the DLIP Staff at M Elementary School, this would be her third year teaching at this school. M Elementary is one of very few schools that still use the DILP model and is currently using the 50/50 model, 50 % of instruction is conducted in Spanish and the other 50% of instruction is instructed in English.

Ms. A went to school at a California State University, and did not go through the traditional student teacher program. She had her emergency 30-day teaching permit when she started teaching her first year. She was terrified of teaching her first year, but she ended up having a perfect classroom. Her classroom consisted of twenty-one students. Out of the twenty-one, eighteen students were girls. She has been teaching for 14 years now, and had been able to work in a variety of settings and school districts. In those fourteen years, she has only taught second and third grade, describing second grade being the best, because third grade is full of transitions as far as academics for the children. She has had the opportunity to teach in a Structured English Immersion (English only classroom), bilingual classroom, and now currently teaching in a DILP. She has worked in three different districts in California.
"Without a structure, you cannot teach." Ms. A says about a basic philosophy. Ms. A thinks there should be a balance in literacy between word study, phonics, writing, and not isolating them from each other as they all lead to one goal. She has a strong belief that public education needs to provide the best services for all children in order to succeed academically, and there should be high expectations for all students.

      Her classroom is set up and based on language. She has chosen the color blue, to represent the bilingualism the children are acquiring. Each bulletin board in her classroom serves an instructional purpose. These bulletins boards are all interactive and all children can reach them. The bulletins boards need to be interactive and well organized for the children to be able to see the flow of information. She uses three main bulletin boards. One has "La Gran Pregunta" (the big question) and this bulletin is solely dedicated to Spanish Language Arts. She has a very well organized bulletin containing everything the children will be learning in the unit. Every week, the vocabulary words change, and the small topics do as well, as well as mentioning the standards that are being covered in the lesson.

      Then she has the bulletin that is dedicated to math. On this bulletin board all the objectives of the day are displayed, as well as the standards and all the new vocabulary words we will be learning in each topic within the unit.

      The last bulletin board, which she is just starting to put together, is for her small groups. Because of the DLI program, they focus a lot on interaction between students. She has set up her classroom in a way that all the tables are directed towards the center of the room. Then, each group consists of a boy/girl, and is arranged by an English speaker next to an ELL.

      Ms. A is great about updating her bulletin board in a daily basis.

      As part of her instructional strategies she uses the Multiple Intelligence. She believes that certain strategies will keep them engaged, and not all students learn the same. She does a lot of teacher directed instruction, not so much because of the scripted curriculum, but because the language and the classroom materials are very structured as well. After the giving the first benchmark this up coming week, she will be then shifting into small group activities (many call them centers), in order to have differentiated as well as direct instruction. This differentiation is mainly to be able to aid students in a particular area they need extra help, and at the same time challenge those overachievers in the class.

      When I asked her about what keeps her motivated and enthusiastic about teaching her eyes lit up and responded with a huge smile telling me "I love what I do." Ms. A loves to push students to do the best she can. She has high expectations for all of her students regardless of the level they are in. She tries to provide as much support for the students, but she does not enable them to fail.

      I learned a lot from the interview and from being on her classroom every day. Ms. A and I have similar backgrounds; we both were raised in Mexico, both were able to attend college here in California and both ending up in the education field. I can see myself as a close image of Ms. A in a way that she approaches the children, the way she looks at the smallest detail.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Veronica Brewington's Interview with a Third Grade Teacher

I was fortunate enough to interview and learn from the experience of Mrs. B. She has been teaching for thirty years in a variety of forums. Mrs. B began her teaching career at a high-income school for fifteen years. She then moved to this area where she taught for ten years, two of which were in a bilingual program. Her final five years up to the present have been taught in in her present school, in grades three and four. Mrs. B also took a break from traditional teaching for an additional four years to do home instruction. The students she aided ranged from first to twelfth grade.

The school she is working in currently is located in a mostly low-income community on the central coast of California. The school has roughly 435 students who are predominantly Latino. Mrs. B is presently teaching third graders. Her class has twenty-three students, fourteen boys and nine girls. There are twenty-one students of Latino descent and two African America students. Twenty of Mrs. B's students are English Language Learners.

We began by discussing Mrs. B's educational philosophy. She expressed a belief that public education was meant to impart quality education to all. "Every child can learn." she believes, and it is our job to reach each and every one of them. In describing her pedagogy, she mentions "equal opportunity." She emphasized the vitality of tailoring the lessons for the students. It is in this way that teachers can ensure all students get reached, regardless of socio-economic status or background. These are virtues that I not only admire, but strive for. Even after thirty years of teaching, most of which have been under standardized based instruction, Mrs. B does not overlook the true value of what educators are doing. Teachers are incapable of doing their jobs if they do not primarily believe each one of their students not only can learn, but have the right to do so. These principles have created the basis for Mrs. B's quality teaching, a model that I hope to mirror. 

In setting up her classroom, she has placed the students in tables of about four students to promote group discussions. She ensures that the tables are angled so that the students are able to view her, wherever she may be within the classroom. Mrs. B seats lower scoring students next to higher scoring students, allowing the children the opportunity to learn from each other. The bulletin boards located throughout the room reflect what the students are working on for the particular week. Mrs. B's strategy for designing her classroom is informative. She allows interactive group work by having the students in tables based on skill level. However, to maintain management, she ensures the tables are angled so that the primary attention is on her. The bulletin boards attend to those students who are more visual learners. Mrs. B has struck a challenging balance. She allows the students to be more interactive with each other; however she is always able to maintain control of her class.

One of the more vital points discussed was the necessity to meet the needs of all learners, even in these times of more standardized instruction. Mrs. B angrily admits that the majority of her daily instructions entail teaching to some sort of test. She describes the heavily weighted emphasis on math and language arts, leaving little room for social studies and science. "They're lucky if they get to any form of art or physical education," she explains, "I do not get to decide what I teach anymore." However, she does understand her role for delivering quality education to all types of learners. Whenever possible, Mrs. B makes her instruction more physical and hands-on. She allows the students to use manipulates during math and has them write their answers on their own individual white boards. She uses pictures for vocabulary and has the students get up and act scenarios out for language arts. Mrs. B demonstrates a teacher's ability to be creative and a curriculum that calls for very little creativity.

We concluded the interview by discussing how, during these seemingly frustrating times for teachers, she is able to maintain her optimism. I asked her what keeps her enthusiastic. Mrs. B described the look children possess when they finally get something. "You can literally see the light bulb come on," she describes. Mrs. B enjoys grappling over a concept with a student stating "It makes the end result more rewarding." These are the untainted basics of education that Mrs. B has not lost. She instills knowledge that helps children grow into adulthood and encourages lifelong learning.

This interview taught me about the importance of reaching all varieties of diverse learners, and the ways in which this can be achieved. Mrs. B demonstrates the ways in which she tailors her strict curriculum to accommodate her students. She allows for visual learning and group discussions. The children are often times given the opportunity to get out of their seats. I learned the ways in which I am able to implement my own level of creativity within my classroom. Most importantly, however, this interview reminded me of why I decided to enter the field of education in the first place. When asked what maintains her level of enthusiasm, Mrs. B stated "watching the kids learn." This simple answer instilled exactly what it is I am doing as a teacher. I am fortunate enough to contribute to the growth of children into who they want to become. This is what keeps Mrs. B coming back to school every morning, and what I have to look forward to.