Tuesday, March 11, 2014
This is my first classroom observation of Marcos Hernandez. My feedback reflection will follow.
During a lunch break conversation with colleagues, I was explaining to them my teacher leader project. I was emphasizing to them that we need to resolve to share, advocate, and mentor more in our schools. There is this dominate culture of teacher isolation. The reform efforts have also geared more towards the corporate interest in education. However, despite all the politics and debate. I think it's time we reclaim our role as experts in all education matters. It's important for me to mention right now that COLLABORATION is the greatest asset to all educational experiences. Collaboration allows for the sharing of experiences and we can help each other advance in our profession through the good and the bad. It's time that we build solidarity. Bring critical issues to the forefront and bring about dialogue and discussions. Let's take it out the faculty centers and teacher's lounges and really advocate for what is best for our students. This must become the new way of life for those of us who chose to excel in the teaching profession.
Through this blog, I am advocating for more teacher collaboration. All students deserve the right to be educated and it should not rest in the hands of corporate reform movement of competition.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I made this video as an inspirational video for my students at my previous school West Pullman Elementary. The school has been on academic probation for the longest but still tried our best to make the AYP goal. Watch this video!!! I'm pretty sure the feelings are mutual in most Chicago Public Schools.
Lean on Me is a 1989 dramatized biographical film written by Michael Schiffer, directed by John G. Avildsen and starring Morgan Freeman. Lean on Me is loosely based on the story of Joe Louis Clark, a real life inner city high school principal in Paterson, New Jersey, whose school is at risk of being taken over by the New Jersey state government unless students improve their test scores. In 1987, Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, is plagued with numerous problems, especially drugs and gang violence. Furthermore, the students scored poorly on the state's test of minimum basic skills.
During the opening credits sequence, after a teacher is brutally beaten for trying to break up a fight and the state legislature has recently passed a law proclaiming that schools who cannot meet minimum test requirements will be put in receivership, Mayor Bottman (Alan North) consults school superintendent Dr. Frank Napier (Robert Guillaume), who suggests the school hire elementary school principal Joe Louis Clark, aka "Crazy Joe" (Morgan Freeman), who was a teacher at Eastside High 20 years before, as the new principal. The mayor is reluctant at first as he knows about the trouble the radical Clark has caused in the past, but Clark, nonetheless, is hired. At his first meeting, Clark reprimands the entire faculty for their inability to control the students and their failure to get the test scores up. Tension arises immediately when Clark dismisses hundreds of students from the school who are identified as drug dealers or abusers and troublemakers. A meeting between the parents of those students and the academic board only fans the flames.
The next day, Clark runs into one of the expelled youths, Thomas Sams (Jermaine Hopkins), who asks to be let back into the school. In a dramatic rooftop scene, Clark gives him a sharp lecture about crack and what can happen to Sams if he keeps on using it. Clark then dares Sams to commit suicide by jumping off the roof, but Sams, breaking down in tears, refuses and promises to clean up his act. Clark grants him a second chance to turn things around. However, another expelled student manages to get inside the school and attack another student before Clark comes to break up the fight. Knowing he is breaking the fire code, Clark orders all doors chained and locked during school hours to keep drug dealers out, and enlists security guards to keep the fire chief out of the school. Clark's unusual methods lead him to clash with numerous teachers and with his vice principal Mrs. Levias (Beverly Todd). He fires one teacher and suspends another for clashing with him in front of the students, though the suspension is reversed by the superintendent.
The students take a practice version of the basic skills test, but only 33% of them pass it (the minimum passing requirement is 75%). Clark embarks on a campaign to prepare the students for the real test, culminating in a motivational assembly the morning of the exam. Over the school year, the students bond with Mr. Clark, not just as a principal, but as a father figure. Clark highly values school pride, and several times throughout the film insists that all students learn the school song and be able to perform it on demand.
Meanwhile, one parent, Leona Barrett (Lynne Thigpen), whose son was expelled from Eastside by Clark, aligns herself with the mayor in an effort to oust Clark. The fire chief eventually catches Clark with chains on the doors and Barrett makes a tape recording of him ordering them removed during a surprise inspection. Clark's arrest comes after a key scene involving Kaneesha (Karen Malina White), who remembers Clark from grade school. Clark is offering counsel about Kaneesha's unplanned pregnancy just before he is arrested.
That night, while Clark is in jail and the mayor is preparing to remove him, the entire student body converges on the Central Office of the Paterson Board of Education. They demand that Clark be released from jail and retained as principal. Mrs. Barrett tries to convince the students that Clark has made too many wrong decisions and is not the right man to be principal of Eastside, and asks that they return to their homes before any trouble starts. The students claim that Clark cares for them and has done so much good that they will not accept anyone else as their principal, and shout down Mrs. Barrett with chants and cheers.
Eventually, Clark is freed from custody, and to good news, more than enough students passed the basic skills exam, which means the current local school board will retain control over the school. Then Clark leads his students in singing Eastside High's school song. The closing credits feature scenes of graduating Eastside High Class of 1988 seniors, including Sams as a future Eastside graduate.
First, I would like to say it’s been a pleasure having Mr. Patterson as a coach as I work my way through my first year of teaching. After our first initial SWOT analysis of my teaching and students, I definitely needed the support and mentoring of others. I found myself struggling like many first year teachers in lesson planning and classroom management. Mr. Patterson made me aware of different strategies in regards to classroom management. One strategy is to take on different roles according to my students’ needs and requirements of various activities. I am able to be the resource person, the mediator, the supervisor, or the provider of extra support when students’ are not actively participating.
When I first began teaching, I was ambitious but I found myself thinking about lessons through the lenses of a teacher’s point of view. I found myself in the center of the action, directing everything. Mr. Patterson explained to me a strategy that he learned during his first year to look at teaching through the learner’s point of view. I have come to the reality that my students benefit most by me focusing on what they as learners are doing and what is happening in their minds especially as I plan my lessons. This experience has helped me see that it is ok if I am not in the center all the time, if I just walk around and help learners during group-work, or if I am not busy at all, because they do not need me for some time. At first I worried about such times in a lesson –but now I see that actually this is an important phase and I can relax in this new role as a resource person who is only active when needed. I can only guess what my role as mediator in the classroom might be. I have seen my mentoring interfere a few times when groups of children were fighting or insulting one another however, I guess this is another role that is not directly related to the teaching of the language but it is also important so students feel taken seriously and feel comfortable in class. If someone is treated badly or excluded, they cannot learn well because these personal issues get in the way.
Mr. Patterson also encouraged me to use my resources more efficiently. We designed a syllabus for my classroom that I will use next year to provide my students with a blueprint of what Manley Career Academy Freshman Seminar is all about. I learned little small things as well. I have to design the handouts very carefully. They should be structured clearly so that my students can use them easily and effectively. I’ve also learned that I should always make a good master copy that I can keep for later use. Therefore, I have to put a lot of effort into the materials because the students should see that I do my work in a responsible way. As a consequence, they should handle their own work in a responsible way as well. Mr. Patterson also reminded me that teaching materials such as paper for specific exercises should be printed on good paper so that the learners can use them effectively (thin paper might tear). In that way I can also use them again (I have to make sure to get them back after the activity). It is also clever to laminate cards that will be used often.
As you can see, I am benefiting from these coaching session provided by Mr. Patterson. I am aware of his project to get more teacher collaboration so I am happy to discuss the various conversation we had that has benefited me in the classroom.
Monday, March 3, 2014
It’s a pleasure having Mr. Patterson providing me with instructional support and coaching. He has some good feedback for me especially his experience working in various programs and educational institutions serving minority students. One challenge this week was getting students to use targeted language in the activities I had planned for the week. When I was watching the classes I noticed that many of my students tend to speak Spanish in groups when they get into hot discussions about a topic. In role-plays or information gap activities it was easier for them to keep speaking English because they used the English prompts and that seemed to get them started the right way. I asked Mr. Patterson about this and he suggested I adopt the idea of using some form of language police in group work (one learner makes sure that everybody speaks English). The “language police” received a badge (printed and laminated) from the teacher and was responsible that his/her group would speak English in this lesson.
Also Mr. Patterson and I agreed that we would not ever correct students’ mistakes when they tried to express something difficult in English. Many of them make a lots of mistakes –I would let them finish and then just summed up the request/ or comment in correct English. I believe my students should never feel embarrassed about their mistakes. The goal is to get them to become naturally articulate in expressing themselves in English so it’s important for them to feel that they had communicated their ideas successfully. I think this is really important, otherwise the learners will not want to speak in front of the class.
Mr. Patterson also offered me advice on a classroom management strategy to maximize my students during a lesson. This was one of the most difficult things for me in my first teaching hours. It helped me a lot to use name-cards for the students, because I could call their names if somebody wasn’t working. I also noticed that it is difficult to interrupt a class when they are working in groups. My students can get quite noisy and I didn’t want to shout into the class in order to be heard. Mr. Patterson showed me how he used the two-finger signal. When the two finger signal of the right hand is raised it means “Please listen to me.” and raised the signal as I have done. The students know that this means that they should stop whatever they are doing in order to get some short instructions or information. Whoever notices this also raises their arm and spreads the information. It worked really well and within half a minute everybody seemed to be listening. I was glad to bring this strategy to my classroom.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
TAKING A STAND!
I support the movement of Chicago Public School’s students, parents, and teachers who refuse to administer the ISAT test this upcoming two weeks. What’s the point of even taken the test when only 11 CPS Schools are actually meeting the standards required? As I reflect on my teaching experiences and volunteer experiences, I immediately think of all the inequalities and bureaucratic policies passed down from federal department of education to the state department of education to the various districts of education. Now, it is time to take a stand.When I was recently asked if I thought teachers today needed to be activists in my graduate class, I didn't hesitate in my answer. "Being a teacher, almost by definition, means being an activist.” That might come as a surprise to those teachers who have never wrote a letter to the editor, marched in a rally, or "Occupied" anything but their classrooms. But I'm holding to my belief, as firmly as some teachers hold their protests signs declaring things like, "Let Teachers Teach" and "Protect Our Students": being an activist is an essential part of being a teacher. I had my first opportunity to really be an activist for my students during the CTU vs CPS strike of 2012 over contract negotiations. I had the opportunity to really stand up for what I believe in and be a part of a larger force of change.
For most teachers activism is an everyday thing because students and their needs are every day. There's a lot to watch out for in our classrooms these days aside from whether a lesson is hitting home. A student who can't read the board because her family can't afford glasses. A cough that doesn't go away. A young boy who refuses to go to recess because he gets picked on. A nasty bruise on the arm of the girl who doesn't do her work. The immigrant student struggling with a new culture and a new language. The issues are real -- poverty, neglect, abuse, poor health and nutrition, bullying, depression, low self-esteem -- and they are all a part of an average school day. I probably deal with these issue on a daily so where is the respect for our teachers.
Good teachers don't complain, they just act, doing what needs doing to help their students learn. It may be a home visit, a talk with a school counselor, an offer to tutor after school, a walk around the playground at lunchtime, or a spare change collection in the teachers' room for eyeglasses. Some teachers (and it's a growing number thankfully) feel the need to address these concerns in a broader context, "taking to the streets" to confront such issues as health care, drugs, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, immigration, the current educational policy itself. But whatever teachers do, they take action, becoming activists for their students.
It wasn't any different for me, my lifestyle growing up reflects most of my students and that allows me to grow better relate to them. I wish it wasn’t so hard to get policy makers to understand that students' living conditions have a profound impact on their school success. For me that meant paying attention to who came to class with a cut forehead or bruised cheek, who hadn't showered for a few days, who acted frightened or paranoid, or who didn't show up at all. I feel like the youth I work with these days have few to no advocates. My role as their teacher required that I be that advocate and take action where and when I could. Many times that action meant carefully, diplomatically negotiating the volatile power structure that makes up our school system. But how could I do otherwise? How could any teacher do otherwise?
But you know what I realized? My students began asking questions about my background. My undergraduate experience, my legislative intern experience, and the fascinating stories I told them of lesson I learned. Then, it hit me. Most students learn how to act by observing how we act in the everyday world. It was something that my most troubled students made me conscious of. Society has lots of rules. Some rules make sense; others make no sense at all. Even though they knew it was against the rules my students would ask me to do things like sneak in some candy or to let them take colored markers back to the block. Pretty innocent things, but I refused. "Why not? It's no big deal," they'd complain. "Nobody will find out." I knew they weren't interested in my sermon on honesty and integrity. That was okay, though. My words were beside the point. What was the point was that I would not break the rules. I acted in a way that they didn't like but that they knew was right. The same lessons go on whatever the school setting. Students learn how to act by simply watching how their teachers act, whether it's following rules, treating others with respect, or just showing up day after day and doing their job.
Unfortunately today's education reformers not teachers are the ones who are defining -- and limiting -- what it means to be a teacher, and there's not much about activism in their definition. According to these pundits, a teacher's job comes down to one thing: Get kids to pass the mandated tests. It is a shortsighted definition that is harmful not only to students but also to the teaching profession itself. But any teacher will tell you that we are much more than test-preparers. To be a teacher is to be an activist in ways that are familiar and unfamiliar, that are comfortable and uncomfortable, and that are mundane and at times, as we have seen throughout our history, heroic. So again, I support teachers all around the country doing brave things. We have a duty to teach them to be better human beings, civilians, and thinkers, which are important values to take from school.