Sunday, April 30, 2006

Mary Poppins

Today the assistant principal (next year's principal) told me that next year I have to start off the year "mean" and that I can't act like "Mary Poppins." His comments are apt-- although I have never heard the Mary Poppins comparison before. He went on to say that I can prove I care by acting mean. He wasn't mean about it or anything and he said it in a fatherly type of way. He is right-- I have struggled with this all year. My students know that I care-- which is great. But, I have still not mastered-- or come anywhere near-- mastering classroom management. I have to be "meaner." By far this is my biggest weakness--- and strangely my biggest strength. Before teaching in the delta-- I had never had a negative encounter with students. This is actually an accomplishment as I worked with emotionally disturbed youngsters who had been abused. Most times, I try my best to be "nice" with everyone. With my students, I listen and take very seriously their concerns, successes, and failures. And this is year has been hard because students, say, the darndest things. Amongst them-- most times-- unreasonable complaints. For example, I can call on a student twice during a class period and then the next question, the student will gripe that he/she never gets called on. Even on days when I utilize the "popsicle stick method" there are hints that it is unfair.

My real revelation this year has been you can't really win-- but you keep trying. It is not that I want to be liked or popular, but I want to treat my students with the same respect I expect. The truth of it is, the power relationship is unfair and my students don't have any real agency. With my Antioch education (note I just used the terms--agency and power), it is hard to just be the boss. But I HAVE to be. Their job as students, is to test the limits and the boundaries because they need to learn those things. Being a middle school teacher, it is really just part of the process. Throughout this year I have been challenged by how to let my students have power (in a constructive way) in my classroom. I can read Wong until I am blue in the face, but I had to learn my own style. I am just beginning to understand what that means and how students respond or don't respond to me. My students get to be creative in my classroom and that I am truly proud of-- even if they can't come back from lunch quietly. They cheer each other on when we do creative expressions and group projects. Now I know what works and what I cannot do. I wish I had had less expectations to start with-- I expected more of myself than was possible. But as I have been saying my expectations are my goals now. Sometimes, really wonderful moments happen. Sometimes, it is a real mess. I don't know what next year will look like, but I am gonna plan my ass off this summer, because I want so badly to have more good moments and less mess.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thank-You Letters

This may seem like a small succes, but everyone of my students can now right a letter correctly. Today we wrote thank-you letters and I checked everyone of them. They actually used commas in the right places and their writing has improved--they also wrote sweet thing to their moms' and others. I even recieved several. Here is one:

Dear Ms. Lee,
I would like to thank you for being my teacher this year. I want to thank-you because you teach me two very important subjects, reading and langauge arts. I also want to thank you because you let us do fun activities instead of the boring worksheets. Thank you for preparing me for the MCT next week. I love your class.

Yours Truly,

Maybe they were all trying to suck up (most likely) but at least this student knows the difference between handing out worksheets and learning by doing!

Monday, April 03, 2006


I actually think my detention policy might be having a good effect on my classroom!!! Maybe, just maybe it is. Today was okay...for the first time in a long time I was able to teach. I have been working hard-- really just trying to be consistent. I have changed my lesson plans dramitically. I am trying for it to be somewhat the same everyday-- no matter how boring that sounds to others--it works!!! The kids are learning more, even if it isn't as fun for me or for them. I don't allow a single minute of downtime. They work right to the bell! I have been assigning more homework! While some kids are fighting it-- others are embracing it and I have been rewarding those who come with their homework done the next day. Most of these things I should have been doing from day one-- but on day one I didn't know what the hell to do. I should have started out "mean!" And that is what I am going to do next year. It is not that I won't smile until christmas-- I just won't relax. I am going to treat everyday with a certain milatant attidude that I am getting right now! I cannot wait until the MCT is over and I find out if I have even made a dent in their learning and scores. Right now, I feel good and I want to linger on this day!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Teacher Prep

The following is a reflection paper written for Dr. Mullins.

The questions and issues raised in Teacher Quality and the Question of Preparation are extremely important. At a base level the questions that arises are: What makes a good teacher? How much training is needed for a successful teacher? When should the training take place? What is “highly qualified”? I look around my school, I am hard-pressed to find good examples. More so than the teachers, I am hard-pressed to find stellar leadership from all levels of the administration. And I know that I am not alone. Teaching in a critical shortage school, where perhaps thirty to forty percent of the teachers will not be coming back, I am well aware of how hard it is stay in the field of teaching. Knowing that the principal and superintendent will have to look hard to find replacements, I am at a loss as to their behavior. Why would they be anything but supportive knowing that they will have to find new applicants after they drive the first year teachers away. Being supportive is in their best interest. New teachers should be treated as an investment for each district. Amazing programs to train and retain teachers are created, but until the individual school districts find good leaders, the shortages will remain.
I always thought that teaching was a lot more of an individual effort. My thinking was naïve. Although I still feel that one teacher can make a difference—one student at a time, those efforts are limited by the tone set at the administration level. Young, idealistic teachers are often targets for administrators who feel threatened by newcomers who have little to lose by taking a stand. The older teachers, fearful for their jobs, do exactly what the principals ask. Our school has had two principals and I have watched as veteran teachers jumped through the contradicting and conflicting hoops of both leaders. Why not seek out and promote creativity and ideas from new faculty?
Students also receive mixed messages from administrators. When instructional time is not valued, the students will not value instruction no matter how hard teachers try. I never imagined the amount of interruptions, unplanned assemblies, etc. that plague my school. I am not placing all the blame on the leaders of schools, however if they have high expectations and operate in more regard for the students and the teachers, then literally level of the school would rise accordingly.
Even though the questions raised in the article centered on teacher training, a lot of the real training happens at the experiential level on the job. That is the bottom line. Therefore, the leadership of the school district becomes responsible for the training of new teachers, not the colleges and universities. As I said new teachers should be regarded as an investment for each district. If young, idealistic teachers felt their ideas and enthusiasm were validated (especially by the principal) they would stay in teaching. If new teacher orientation at each school was well-structured, teachers would stay in teaching. If the adminstration handled discipline issues well, classroom management would follow, and teachers would stay in teaching. I could go on and on. I am not trying to imply that school leadership is the sole factor in a good school or in making good teachers, however the problem does not occur in recruitment. Recruitment and selection criteria are very selective, TFA, for example, only accepts one in eight applicants. The problem occurs on the job, after the fact; when high hopes are met with unprofessional administrations.
The Equity Myth
Is equity the answer? My answer is still yes, despite reading the article on Edgewood. I agree with the statements from Jimmy Vasquez, “Everyone wants a quick fix, but there is no miracle for Edgewood…You can’t erase generations of poverty, oppression, and racism in a single decade.” His statements hit home. Of course more money isn’t the only answer, but it certainly helps. And well-spent money probably makes the most difference. Sometimes when I look at my school and how much federal money goes into it and how little ends up helping, I feel like the situation rivals those Save the Children scams to help starving children. Of course low-income school districts are more prone to be victims of fraud. They are easy targets because no one in looking. I don’t even want to think of about the kind of crazy construction contracts that have been made. All of that aside, nonetheless, I am still not willing to accept one example of a school receiving equal funding as an argument that money does not make a difference in the educational experience of school children. I remember debating on what college to go to and weighing the cost differences between colleges. I remember my mother telling me, “With education, you get what you pay for.” And it is true. What is also true is that change takes an incredible amount of time. Since becoming a teacher I am much more willing to accept this. Maybe in another twenty years Edgewood will have much higher test scores and graduation rates similar to those in a richer school district.