Friday, March 23, 2012

Rod Garcia's Interview with a First Grade Teacher

Mrs. A is over 70 years old. Although she is recently retired, Mrs. A has been teaching for more than 50 years and continues to do so today by volunteering one to two days a week to work within a first grade classroom. The school is in a coastal town of California. At least ninety percent of the student population is considered low income. Of her more than half century worth of teaching experience, she has done all of it within the compulsory educational system. She is a one time teacher of the institution she now volunteers within. In fact, she was once the "master teacher/supervisor" to the first grade teacher she now volunteers for.

In terms of professional philosophy, she is a true advocate for learning and education. Although she is retired, she continues to volunteer as much as she can because "I feel like teaching and preparing students to succeed is a way to fulfill my life mission." Mrs. A is a self proclaimed Christian and has dedicated her life to social work. As for Mrs. A's current interaction within the classroom, every Friday, she arrives punctually to the beginning bell. For the entirety of this school year, Mrs. A has been working on Math concept development. When she arrives, she begins setting up her daily activity on a side table adjacent to the main group area. The activity always includes a set of manipulative based math instruction and is conducted with an alternating small group of 3 or 4 students.

According to Mrs. A, children are often not properly conceptualizing the math. Much in agreement with the main teacher, their current math text does not sufficiently teach math. The homeroom teacher selects the small groups based on his weekly assessments. From what I have observed, the groups are usually ability mixed with students testing in the high, mid, and low ranges. The strategy she uses is usually questioning. She asks questions and observes what they do. From time to time, she even uses an iPad to record her observations. The students love the manipulative math. They all voluntarily work with Mrs. A. The manipulative activities are all sort of designed in ways so the students can succeed. When the students do something satisfactory in response to Mrs. A's questioning, they receive a "spot." A spot is a foam square used to attain a certain prize. Mrs. A always finds a way for the student to earn a spot. In fact, at the end of each individual group session, all of the students win and earn the same prize.

In terms of describing what keeps Mrs. A enthusiastic, she joked, "It gives me something to do." In all seriousness, she has devoted her time to social work and she enjoys being in the classroom. As for my own personal learning, I feel inspired in many ways by people like Mrs. A. She is a 70 plus year old woman with hearing aids and glasses, but still so mentally sharp and well spoken she feels much younger. As for an something explicit she has advised to me about school setting survival, Mrs. A once told me, "If I can tell you one thing about working within any school young man, it is that you've got to learn how to play politics with the people you work with. If you don't, you invite a hell you never knew was coming."  I admire her love for teaching and hope I'll still have that kind of passion if I reach her age.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lisa Olesen's Interview with a Second Grade Teacher

Susie is a well-known educator at an elementary school in this California valley town. She is currently in her 32nd year as a teacher and has continued to be fully dedicated and passionate about her career. For the past 19 years she has been working a school in this small town, which is a Title One and Basic Aid school with about 50% Hispanic/Latino, 30% White, 13% Native American, and about 7% other ethnicities.

Going into college, Susie had her mind set on becoming a physical therapist; however, that changed once she realized how much she enjoyed working with children in an educational setting. Her first teaching position was in a one-room private school house with ten students, consisting of grades two through eight. In this rural community she was able to gain an appreciation for time spent one-on-one with the students, while understanding the importance of grade level separation. After that she changed to another school and work for two years with seventh and eighth graders in pre-algebra and algebra, then moved to the 5th grade for one year.

Over these first few years as a new teacher, Susie experienced a variety of different grade levels and diverse settings. After about six years of teaching in this rural community, Susie and her husband decided to move and start a family together. For the next seven years, Susie was a stay-at-home mother with two children. She re-entered the teaching career as a GATE teacher and has continued to work at that same school for the past 19 years. After 17 years as the GATE teacher she recently decided to change to second grade. Even though she admitted it “was a very difficult decision to leave my loved position,” she realized that due to the budget cuts there was a chance she might be let go later on and at that moment there was a small window of opportunity to change into a full-time, single grade level position.

Even though Susie has moved around grade levels and subject areas many times, the main component she always includes while teaching is some form of “hands-on learning.” Throughout the interview she continued to stress the point that she believes students learn better if they are engaged with the lesson and given the opportunity to experience learning through hands-on activities. This plays well into the style of instruction Susie uses in her classroom. She strongly believes in pairing and group work activities that get the students talking to one another and working together. She tries to limit the amount of “teacher talk” in each day so that it provides more time for the students to collaborate together, work individually, and work with the teacher in smaller group or individually settings. Susie provides clear, concise instructions and tends to follow the “I do, we do, you do” pattern. In order to gain the students interest in these activities, Susie is “constantly trying to pick high interest topics for that grade level.” For example, she is currently working on a thematic unit focused around spiders. She creates reading lessons, writing projects, and science experiments that incorporate this topic while also staying on task with the standards that need to be met in each subject area.

In order to realize this form of hands-on learning, she sets up her classroom in a way that enables to students to be more independent and learn from personal experience and practice. Around the classroom she has many different areas for the students to learn how to do things without help from the teacher. The reading library, for example, is set up in a numerical way so the students can go over and choose which book to read depending on what Accelerated Reader level they are at. Along with that, there are two computers near the reading area for the students to take their AR test when they have finished their book. She also has all the art supplies (crayons, paints, scissors, etc) set up in the back cupboards and placed on shelves at their level of reach. Susie’s attention to these details might seem like minor elements to the setup of her room, but by taking a step back and asking the students to do more things on their own it provides them with the ability to become more independent and learn through doing.

Susie repeatedly stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and truly appreciating the successes of teaching. She has always loved working with children and has an innate connection with them and their families. Her relationship with the children is caring, warm, happy, and lively. She makes learning fun for them and you can tell they all adore her. The passion she brings to the classroom clearly spreads to her students and you can see their excitement for learning.

Susie further emphasized the point that teachers need to focus on the successes no matter how big or small they might be. She does not dwell on the things that go wrong; instead she highlights the elements that the students did correctly and alters her lessons accordingly.

The excitement of teaching has definitely not died down in Susie. She is continually finding new lesson ideas, bringing in fun facts to share with her students, incorporating animals she gets from the museum or her backyard, taking the students on a variety of field trips, and so much more. Just by talking with her I can see how strong her passion is for being an educator.

Through this interview I came to realize how similar we are. Her enthusiasms for teaching are aligned with some of my strongest passions for this career. She is also a very creative teacher who takes a standard lesson plan and creates her own twist on it to engage the students more. Many of her teaching qualities are ones that I can start seeing in myself and hope to incorporate into my own style of teaching. It was a very inspiration conversation with Susie and I hope to not only increase my passion and motivation for teaching, but also use my positive and enthusiastic attitude to improve the educational careers of my future students.