la tia miss amanda

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 15 2013

Institute Week 1: The Ups

It has been such a week- a long week, an interesting week, an exhausting week, and a difficult week. It is easy to focus on the negatives, I realized last night as I was talking to Corey that there have been some really wonderful aspects to this week.

First of all, I am surrounded by some extremely like-minded people and by more diversity than I have seen in my entire life. Both are so enriching and fantastic. I have heard endless stories of people’s lives and have so many more questions. I want to hear their perspectives on life and education when coming from such different backgrounds than mine. There are so many races, religions, classes, and sexual orientations represented. On the other hand, I have never had people understand me so well, or feel like I know the exact feeling that someone else is talking about as happens so often here. Those of similar backgrounds to me have had similar troubles in how to speak out against injustice that does not affect us and understand overcoming feelings of white guilt. In the end, we are all working for the same thing, which is ending educational inequity by fighting for social justice.

I’ll talk about the unfortunate layout of the classes later, but the content of the sessions that we have been in has been fantastic. They have covered so many topics: visions and goals, investment ideas, behavior management plans including the behavior management cycle and conscious discipline, race and class, lesson planning, literacy, and personal identity. All of the sessions include activities for us to try our hand at what is being taught, as well as assignments to work with our group to personalize the plan for our classrooms, feedback, and rewriting the plans. Despite getting up at 5 am and starting sessions at 7 am, I have yet to fall asleep in a class because I am so continually intrigued. (And if you know me and how much of high school and college I slept though, this is a miracle). This type of stuff is without a doubt what I was meant to study.

The sessions on behavior management have been perhaps the most interesting for me. There are so many theories out there, but I can see the utility of both of the methods that have been present to us. We are in a unique situation because the early childhood center that we are working with, called CAP, uses and program called conscious discipline, where TFA focuses on the behavior management cycle and a system with clear consequences. We will learn more about conscious discipline in the coming weeks, but the basic idea is that discipline should be an opportunity to teach the child about how to self-regulate behavior. It is grounded in quite a bit of research about how young brains work. Every class room has either a safe space or a focus chair for children to go when they get upset, but they cannot be sent to these places like a time out. Children are given a choice as to whether to stop the behavior and join the group or go calm down in the safe space (although we haven’t gotten to the point where they explain what to do if the child refuses both options). They want to teach children to make conscious decisions about the actions that they are taking so that discipline becomes a time of growth rather than fear of consequences. I like the idea, but definitely want to learn more. The behavior management cycle taught by TFA can actually work with conscious discipline without too much trouble. The basic idea behind that is that children want to behave and will if you use the right tools. It focuses on a three step cycle: clearly state exactly what children are supposed to do, down to every specific, and how they are supposed to do it; use behavior narration to point out the behavior that you want to see; and correct that which you don’t want using specific instruction of what you do want. So, for preschoolers, we would say in a kid friendly way for them to sit down, cross their legs, backs up straight, hands in the bowl, mouths quiet, and eyes on the teacher. Then when we see children who are doing what we ask, we say in a neutral way “Karina is sitting up straight. Jack has his hands in the bowl.” The idea is to narrate behavior, not attach any kind of positive phrasing to it. I have a hard time with this when it comes to not thanking kids for behaving well. It is an expectation, not something you like or hope for them to do. If you set the expectation, they will rise to it without reaching for praise. It is definitely going to be interesting to put this into practice, especially because while our kids look sweet, there is no structure at all for many of their routines.

Speaking of the kids, we got to meet them last week! Of course, that part was wonderful. They took to us so quickly too. There are 17 kids in the class but only about 10 show up any day during the summer. There are very few behavior problems but a lot of English Language Learners. The kids are sweet, but we have to teach them routines and procedures to have a really exceptional classroom. I’m not sure how it will go switching from a relaxed teacher to ones that expect more discipline in behavior. I honestly have a hard time imagining as much structure in a preschool classroom as they are telling us that we can have, but each one of our leaders for the training has taught in a preschool classroom that successfully implemented those routines and it allows for so much more growth and activities that are only possible with tightly controlled behavior. These kids are on a great path already just from having access to preschool, but in general they still have a long road ahead of them to keep up with their more affluent peers. We have to get as much done as possible!

My group has put a ton of time into our investment plan. Because these kids are in school year round, it is especially important that we come up with a way to invest them in making these next four weeks productive. Luckily, my whole group really buys into this idea. When looking over our values, we found that one of the most prominent ones was curiosity. We decided to theme our room with detectives to really drive home that idea. On the first day, we will start introducing students to our theme by telling them that the classroom is now the mystery lab and instead of students they are dedicated detectives. We are also focusing on the idea that detectives have to work together to solve mysteries, so there is a lot of love between one another. We even wrote a song that we will sing every morning! “We are dedicated. We are detectives. We love one another. We are curious.” It has actions to. Yup, we are that awesome. Throughout the day, we will be weaving detective language into our lessons to continue to motivate students towards the ideal. We have been making decorations for the classroom like magnifying glasses and question marks to hang up. Because CAP doesn’t allow individual recognition, and because we want to promote group sharing, we have decided to use a reward strategy of collecting magnifying glasses. When we see a group of students working well together or doing some sort of extended learning opportunity that shows curiosity, we will award the class a magnifying glass. At the end of every day we will count our magnifying glasses. Especially in the beginning we plan on handing them out liberally. When the class reaches 50 magnifying glasses, we will have a Disguise Day, and if we meet our goal of 100 we will have a Mystery Party before we leave. I am sooooooo excited about all of this, if you can’t tell. Themes are awesome.

I’m also really proud of the visions and goals document that we wrote. It includes visions of what we want to see in our students both academically and socially, specific objectives based on Common Core, and what kids of behaviors we will see and language we will hear used around the classroom if students are living out our vision. I think it is really important to have thought it out so thoroughly before starting. You have to know where you are going if you want to get anywhere at all. I think I will actually share parts of the visions and goals document (it ended up being 10 pages long) in another blog post, and I doubt anyone will read that, but I was seriously so proud of what we came up with.

I also find the literacy sessions to be extremely interesting. I guess that is my mother coming out in me. Learning how little ones recognize letters and sound out words and develop reading comprehension is just all so fascinating, and of course of the upmost importance. I even got to converse with our literacy specialist a little bit out how this would translate to Spanish in my classroom. She reassured me that even teaching these skills in Spanish to native English speakers, if they learn the techniques well in Spanish, they will have no trouble switching over to English later one. It was so interesting to go through each letter of the alphabet to see if we could say the sound correctly without falling into the pitfall of adding an “uh” at the end. We all sounded so silly. I really need to go through the alphabet in Spanish as well and discover how the sounds are when they stand alone. I hope that the school I’m at will have some guidance for me in this realm.

Finally, they are really guiding us to make some strong lesson plans. We start with the assessment in mind and make sure to have a what, why, and how section as well as it playing out with I do, we do, you do. I had some experience with that at Breakthrough but hearing it again is really helpful. I know that when I was teaching Spanish at Mater Dei, I had good activities but didn’t start with the assessment in mind or with a strong objective for what we would achieve that day. I love seeing that I am already becoming a better teacher and I can’t imagine how much I will grow this summer.

TL;DR: I love learning about education and becoming a teacher. I am so incredibly excited by the content and completely geeking out on it!

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