Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wartburg West Post-Reflection

Looking at this opportunity, now thirteen weeks into it and almost finished, I think more than anything I looked at this opportunity to come out to Wartburg West as an adventure where I would have to be on my own. I have grown up in a very sheltered home and spent a few summers at home before heading out to Montana last summer with a group of three other individuals. But when I look at the Wartburg West program, I see opportunity, opportunity, and more opportunity. An opportunity to grow, an opportunity to flourish in a new setting, and an opportunity to continue to develop as an individual that will successfully add to the culture and world around him. I think, looking back at it, that this type of experience was something that I yearned for and was looking forward to having ever since I started at Wartburg. I wanted some type of experience that would give me the opportunities to grow and I had a hunch that Wartburg West would allow me to do this – so here I am. Looking at the experience that I have had here, I must say that this is one of the best, most beneficial, and overall exciting opportunities that I have ever taken advantage of in my short life.

This experience has been new for me, because I have honestly never worked harder, been more overwhelmed, and still had a lot of fun all at the same time. Student teaching, well that and coaching and everything else that goes with student teaching, has been so busy. I feel, and have felt, throughout the entire experience, that I did not even have time to work out, hang out with friends, or even cook some nights. That experience was new for me, because before I have always had a very structured and ordered life, which this was, it was just more me directed instead of schedule for me. I can eat when I want, go to sleep when I want, and get home from school when I want – I am not under the Mensa hours on campus or have another meeting to get to when I get back to my dorm room. My schedule was completely and totally dictated by me, which was a new experience for me. Also living in the city has been a really new experience. I have lived close to and in near proximity for quite some time, but nothing like living off two of the main streets in Denver. There has been or is a siren ever thirty minutes on the weekends and probably every hour during the week. Not to say this is a bad thing, but it did take some adjusting to throughout the first few weeks. In addition, when I look for a community to live in later in life I will make sure to stay away from major streets and intersections. The noise is a little unbearable at times and I am glad that I can run away to coffee shops, friend’s houses, or other locations in Denver that are much quieter.

As I close out this semester, I fear that I have not learned enough through my student teaching experience. I feel that I have learned a lot of information about classroom management, teaching, lesson planning, unit planning, and overall being a teacher, but somewhere it does not seem like enough. I feel like I have only scratched the surface into what teaching really is. Maybe that is the feeling that you are supposed to have as you close out student teaching, because a lot of information and comfort comes from actually doing it yourself and on your own during the first three years of teaching. However, I still struggle with the fact that I am honestly scared for my first year of teaching. I want to do a good job and I feel like I have learned a lot; however, how do I prepare for my first year in a constructive way in which I can take that fear and harness it into an energy and a desire to do the best I can during that time of growth and survival?

As I came into this experience I had many preconceived notions and ideas about urban life, everything from the noise to the homeless population. I think now that I have truly lived, interacted in, played in, and spent time in the city that I can really feel somewhat educated on the topics that present issues to the masses. I do not completely understand all the issues; however, I do feel that I have grown in my understanding and knowledge of some of the topics. That being said, it has been nice to see the interns and their presentations over the community projects that they have been involved with and to actually be forced out into the community to experience and understand the environment around me. I have really enjoyed being able to get out, whether that is with alumni or for class, and really experience everything that Denver has to offer – from the professional sporting events to the artistic events and to the really fun and interesting neighborhoods. It has been an urban experience where I have grown and began to understand some of the tough issues, like homelessness, affordable housing, and water that face a large metropolis.

My goal before coming out here was to have a contract signed and read to go for the fall before I left on April 10th. Well, let’s just say that has not happened yet, although the possibility is still there it is unlikely). What I have realized very quickly is that school districts do not start hiring or really actively seeking positions until a little later in the spring than I would have liked. Nevertheless, I have had a few nibbles and a few positive comments from school districts in the Denver area about possible jobs. I have not signed on the dotted line; however, I have gotten the feeling that I will find a job. As one school administrator said, “You will find a job Randon, the only question is if you want it to be with us.” So I will wait for someone to offer me an official interview and then go from there. That is all I can ask for right now, but I have resolved that I do want to pull the Wartburg West move and come back to Colorado and Denver in particular. This is an awesome place, and I knew that before, but honestly I love it out here and plan on coming back to teach – even if that means subbing for a year and then finding a job. Colorado is calling my name and so here I come later this fall.

When I came out to Colorado I was looking forward to living in a building near other people doing the same exact thing. In fact, I was looking forward to knowing someone else in the really big city of Denver. So living in this community has been awesome. I have been able to get to know some other people really well and form closer relationships with others. My roommate and I have gotten along just fine throughout the experience and I look forward to continuing on the relationships that I have made here at Wartburg West over into May Term and the future.

Living in Denver for the past twelve and almost thirteen weeks has been an adventure at times (“wait, was I supposed to turn there” or “how much is it for the bus again”), a real experience in the classroom (and one that I could not have imagined or asked for anything better), and a true learning experience (cooking, cleaning, driving around a major city, dealing with work, play, school, and the balance of everything in between). This Wartburg West experience has been beyond everything else an experience that has changed my life. I have mentioned how hard I have, and will continue for the rest of the semester, to work throughout student teaching, but living in this great city with nineteen other people has been a blast. I have formed closer relationships with some and formed new relationships with other students. It feels that this apartment has three unique families, the interns, social workers, and the education students, that all together form one really big family in which everyone is appreciated, challenged, and nurtured and I have really appreciated that feel for the last three months.

Wartburg West has challenged and nurtured me to lead a life of leadership and service as a spirited expression of my faith and learning, both in Iowa, here in Denver, and into the future wherever that may be. This experience has had a large impact on my beliefs, ideas, and future career plans, but I do not believe the full impact of this experience will be felt until months or even years after.

Overall, I feel that it would be appropriate to finish a post reflection with a few thank yous to the many people who have made this such a life changing experience – the support back at Wartburg to make an experience like this happen, the alumni network here in Denver that constantly takes new students under their wing every three months, the Bocks for everything they did to make this dream a reality, my cooperating teachers for teaching me more now than I have ever learned before (I will not know the depth of my experience for many years to come), my friends (both back in the Midwest and here in Denver) and family (you know who you are) for supporting me during these fourteen weeks away (and for visiting me during it), and finally to my Lord for constantly teaching, challenging, and walking beside me throughout this entire experience. Without all of you this experience would not have been possible or as rewarding as it has been. Thank you very, very much.

The International Cast of Characters

So my Thursday and Friday were a little crazy last week. In fact, I would say it was a cultural experience of its own. On Thursday I drove up to Greely, CO for a job fair (check out another post coming soon about that experience) and when I drove back it was right in the middle of that nasty Colorado snow storm that we had here. It took me over three hours to travel back, in the time that it would have taken me about an hour normally. However, one thing I learned really quickly was that even though Colorado residents live near the mountains they honestly have no idea how to drive in the snow. Really, I saw more cars in the ditch than on the road at times. It was a little weird that a mini van from Minnesota was passing Colorado residents, but then again I guess I should be – I should be able to drive in a little bit of snow. Needless to say, I finally got back to the Wartburg West apartments and then I waited a little while and drove out to the airport to pick up my parents. Got them in and then was driving them to their hotel and I turned around a corner and bam – the check engine light came on and it all went dead. The Rugglemiester had come to a stop and for no apparent reason. So I got out and checked everything over and kicked off some of the sludge and ice that had covered the vehicle by that point and then got back in. The van started right up and I thought it must have been a short in the line somewhere and now it is gone, but then right as we got to the top of the next hill it did it again – check engine light, loss of power, and engine shut off. So there I am stuck in a van with my parents and about ten minutes away from the hotel and twenty minutes away from my roommate. So I did the same thing I did before, checked everything, looked around, and then tried to start the engine. No luck, yet again. So I tried it again, still nothing. There we were, three Minnesota residents stuck with a broken down Rugglemiester. So here’s where this story gets good, so I was talking to my roommate and got him to come and pick us up, but we still had this van sitting near the intersection on a major road in Denver. What were we going to do? Thankfully a really nice guy from area offered to tow the van to a gas station just around the corner. So we jumped at the chance (it turns out that he had pulled out two ambulances and a variety of other vehicles that day too) and he towed us there and we waited for my roommate to pick us up. The next day I walk down to the recommended auto garage in town and talk to Yang, a Chinese man who is running the shop for the morning. I tell him everything that happened to the van and he agreed that there was a problem, but that he could not fix it until they got it into the shop. So he took down my information and told me that he would call back with the tow truck information. Awesome, I’ll get the van towed and then hopefully it will all get fixed that day. So I walked the few blocks back to the apartments and as I was nearing them I received a phone call from what appeared to sound like a Middleastern accented individual. Through his broken English I understood him asking me if I needed a tow and I said yes. Then I repeated for him the location of the vehicle, make, and license plate information so that his tow truck driver could go get it. Sounded good, but then ten minutes later someone with a very Hispanic accent called me and asked the same information. He said that he was the “tow truck driver.” Ok, I thought to myself, I am finally making some headway here. Then about an hour later the “tow truck driver” called me and told me that he was with the vehicle, but when I described to him the vehicle again I heard him say, “Darn it, I think that is the other one,” which I could only infer to mean that he had begun to tow the other vehicle that must have broken down in that lot. The language barrier was a little interesting at times. So finally the “tow truck driver” got the van to the auto shop and he was unloading into a garage filled with Mexican Americans. It was quite an interesting experience, all of them talking in Spanish about my vehicle. In fact, I really wanted to know what they were saying, but that was not going to happen. So the vehicle got in and now I had five Mexican Americans working on it and I did not understand a word they were saying. It was hard to step back and really give them your baby, your lifeblood, your mode of transportation when you do not even understand what they are saying, but I did because I knew that it was the only way that it was going to get fixed. So from there I leave and go hang out with my parents and get back in the afternoon to check on the vehicle. So my dad and I talk to the Caucasian owner of the shop for an hour and a half about a whole variety of stuff, including getting my van repaired. So all in all, between the variety of people in contact with my car it has been a very culturally diverse experience.

During the event, the whole episode with the “tow truck driver” especially, I was a little upset about service that I was not used to – deadbeat, white, low-income mechanics doing hard work to fix people’s vehicles. Instead, it seemed like I got an international cast of brothers who all seemed to know, respect, and understand each other like no other. I was angry at times that the individuals on the other end of the line, the “tow truck driver in particular,” did not understand my instructions the first or even the second time, but eventually it all worked out. Having a large majority of Mexican Americans work on my vehicle was very interesting, because it was a new experience and I had never seen someone of that background tackle a mechanic job like that before. I guess there is a first for everything. During the event I was really upset and wanted everything to work out right; however, now I understand that everyone was doing their job and trying to make some money off me at the same time.

This experience tells me that at times I can be very prejudiced about individuals based on previous behavior. For instance, I got a little short and snippy with the “tow truck driver” when he did not understand my instructions, most likely because he did not understand my language or native tongue. So that made me really upset at the time, but looking back on the situation I was really frustrated because I wanted everything to work out and it was not – at least not the way I wanted it too. In the future I need to be mindful of what I say and really be open minded with all individuals until I actually meet them in person. The “tow truck driver” was really different off the phone and in person, so I think I need to pass judgment on other individuals until I meet them in person. The same principal fits the Mexican Americans also. They worked really hard on my vehicle and think they may have figured out the problem, but there is no reason for me to assume or be frightened because of them only based on the language they speak or how many of them.

Currently I am waiting for my vehicle to be fixed by the international cast of individuals, which I hope comes soon because I would really like to have the Rugglemiester back in action. Furthermore, I will wait to pass judgment on others until I meet them. Finally, I will not assume stereotypes of people until I have proof from that individual that they fit that mold. I want to remain as open and honest to myself and to others when considering their interactions and relationship with me. All in all, I hope they fix my broken down van quickly, but most of all I have learned that an international cast of characters can come around a broken van and teach me, the driver, a lesson or two in relationships and stereotypes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Giving Feedback…A Reflection

To start, I’ll be honest that the first time I was asked to give feedback on a student paper, a little over four years ago during my first field experience, I was a little worried. Would I do it correctly, would I mark the right boxes, would I actually give the student something that they could work with to improve their writing, vocabulary, or other Language Arts skills? From that point until now I have grown exponentially. Now I do not fear away from the red pen or at least in my case the black or blue pen.

For the last eleven weeks Anne and I have been working on completing her graduate school project about the “No D Policy” and the last cycle was her helping me to give better feedback to the students so that the students can improve their scores in the writing area specifically. We did this by collecting two copies of student work throughout the time that the Assignment-Change the World paper was going on. At first I we graded the same paper. She graded it first and then I graded it second. Then we moved to collecting two copies for everything, which worked out really well. We would both take the copies and then sit down and give the students feedback. Then after the grading and feedback individually we would get together and conference about what each other marked. It provided for the students two sets of feedback and for me a standard to see what Anne was giving feedback on and what I was and to compare notes. Now that the project and unit are over I thought that it would be appropriate to reflect upon my own feedback to the students.

At the beginning of my student teaching experience I was very hesitant to give feedback to the students, because I worried about them standing up to me and saying that I was wrong. However, I soon gained the confidence, through the double feedback process, that I was in fact marking some of the right things. Looking from the beginning of the unit until now I have grown in my feedback giving ability. At the beginning I was giving feedback on everything from stray marks to uncommon sentence structure to spelling mistakes, which I think is appropriate at all times, but that was all that I was giving feedback on. At the beginning of the double feedback process I missed the boat, because I was focusing on the small and needed to focus on the paper or paragraph as a whole. I discovered this by looking at conferencing with Anne about the papers that we were reading through. I would mark the little stuff here and there, which Anne would do too, but then I would totally forget about the big picture – how does this paragraph relate to the thesis, does it prove a point, does it actually build on the previous statement, or does it relate to the topic sentence for example. Anne did this and I learned from her example. So one thing that I improved upon was looking at the big picture in grading. Now before I move on to another paragraph, especially when I was grading the Assignment-Change the World papers, I looked back at the thesis and the topic sentences to make sure that they matched. I also reflected on each paragraph before moving on to check and see if really does prove a point. I learned that the big picture is as, if not more, important than all the small stuff.

I also learned to sweat the small stuff, but with an intent in mind. Giving quality feedback was something that we talked about in teacher education for about a day or two. We were given student papers to grade once, one time to give feedback before actually heading out for student teaching. Maybe that is something that Wartburg needs to take into consideration when planning their courses for the next year and following years. However, the only real models of feedback that I had were from previous teachers. They all have given feedback in a multitude of different ways, but they have always marked up the small stuff (the commas, punctuation, passive voice, etc.) so this is what I started to do when I arrived at Arapahoe. This is what I had done at other teaching placements before and no one had ever said anything about doing feedback in a different way. However, I learned from Anne, and the double feedback that we did, that you do not mark just to mark, but instead you mark with intent. Anne was marking the same small mistakes that I was, but she was doing it because there was a reason behind it. I would say the same thing was true for me, I was marking because there was a purpose, but Anne had that big picture in mind. Let me put it this way, I marked the spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes and that was it. Anne marked those things, but then she also marked other elements that we were looking for in the paragraphs (the point to the paragraph, the make the point – where the students connected the piece of evidence not only to the topic sentence of the paragraph, but also to the overall thesis). That was small stuff, but she was also looking for that in addition to everything else that she was marking. I learned this and started to look for it in student writing thanks to the double feedback process. As a result, I think that students began to receive better feedback that was more pointed. For me it was not feedback that was all over the place, but it was marking with intent.

Another aspect of my feedback that changed throughout the last eleven weeks was the actual format of the feedback. Eleven weeks ago I was marking a few things in the paragraphs and then writing down at the end of the feedback a paragraph stating what I thought the author needed to change in order to make their overall paper better. It was a start, but it was not exactly effective because I was missing multiple things in the middle of the paper that I needed to be marking like how the topic sentence relates to the thesis. I might have been mentioning that below in my reflection paragraph on their paper; however, it was not effective telling the student that they needed to improve their topic sentences if I had not marked out which ones they needed to improve. So I quickly moved away from an almost 80 – 20 type of feedback where 20 percent of it was marked in the paper and 80 percent was my written feedback at the end of the paper. Now, after reflecting, refining, and adding in the intent to mark papers I believe it has turned completely around. It is now about 80 percent, if not closer to 85 or 90 percent marked in the paper with major comments along the sides and then 10 to 15 percent a small reflection paragraph at the end of the paper. This paragraph usually reflects some of the major problems that I see in that student’s paper, usually something that comes up time and time again too. I have found this new revised format for feedback to be a result of the double feedback that I went through with Anne and the questions from students. They would often read my paragraph at the end and then ask questions about what exactly I wrote, which then would require me to go back and point out what I wrote. Instead, now the comments are directly in the paper and by the time they get to the reflection paragraph at the end they probably know what I am going to write based on the comments above. So throughout this process the format of my feedback has improved immensely.

One other piece of feedback that I struggled with at the beginning of the process was marking everything on a student’s paper that was incorrect. What I mean is that if a student had an incorrect citation and they incorrectly did that citation format over and over in the paper I would mark the first few and then stop. I figured that the student is smart enough to figure out that it was marked a few times, so they can fix the rest of them. Well through experience, as they did not ever fix all the mistakes and through Anne’s comments to me I decided that in fact it is my job and my role to mark everything for the students. If the student chooses not to fix it then it is their fault; however, they do not know it is wrong if I do not mark it. So for the past few weeks I have been marking everything, even if it is the same mistake over and over again. The students need to know that it is incorrect. Yes, it does take a lot of time, but in the end it is better for the students and the quality of feedback I believe has improved in that regard.

Another aspect of feedback, because so far I have focused strictly on the written, is the oral feedback given in class and through individual writing conferences. At the beginning of my time at AHS I met with students and proceeded to point out every little error in their writing and not give the students any say in the grade they received. I am hesitant to write this, but I sometimes remember moving on and giving feedback to a student that it appeared they did not understand or completely comprehend at that point and time. Now, this has changed. I now approach oral feedback as more of a collaborative approach, but with me, the teacher, still in control of the situation. In class and a student asked for feedback on an individual paper I usually approach it two different ways: One, by asking the student if they see any major problems that they want me to look at specifically and two, by throwing the question right back at the student and having them give me their thoughts before I start. The students figured out quickly that what they thought they had issues with were probably exactly the things that I had hesitations or problems with too. Once I had established this part of the feedback with the student, then I focused on how collaboratively we can fix this. I would, once again, probably ask for their suggestions in changing the specific section and then I would also offer my suggestions. From there, I would set-up or leave the student with a goal in mind. Either, “Fix this and I’ll be back to check it in a little bit” or “See if you change this, this, and this and then tonight e-mail it to me and I will give you some feedback on it.” I really focused on making this process a little more collaborative. In writing conferences my style of feedback has also changed. I used to start off the conferences telling the student that here is what is going to happen, “I am going to grade your paper and if you have any questions feel free to jump in.” Not exactly the most effective method of grading, nor is it constructivist at all. So instead, now I start off asking the student: “What do you think you did well in this paper” and “What do you think you still need to work on?” This provides a framework for my feedback and for their focus as I provide feedback. Then I inform the student that, “We will work through the rubric together and I will not continue on to another section until you understand and comprehend the reason behind that grade and what you did well and could improve. In addition, this is a collaborative process. I will offer feedback, but this is your paper. You tell me what you see and if this grade is unfair.” So from there I start off the conference. We collaboratively, with me as the teacher and the lead, work through the paper section by section. Before I hand down a grade from the sky, or at sometimes I felt that the students thought that was how it was, I ask the student what they thought of that paragraph or that section. I want their feedback and input before giving the grade. Then after I give the grade I make sure to explain it fully with the student. I ask him or her if everything makes sense and if that is fair. I want them to truly understand what the purpose of the grade was when they receive it and what they can do to improve it or what they did well on overall. Also, if I am looking for a specific piece of a paragraph, for instance how the quote relates to the overall thesis, making the point as we referred to it in class, and I do not see it I will ask the student to find it for me. Sometimes they do and then that leads to a conversation about clarity, but if they do not then they completely understand why I am giving them the grade that they deserve for that part. That method I have found is a lot more effective than just handing down the grade. So I think that orally my feedback has also grown significantly throughout this process.

Looking back at the last eleven weeks of grading and feedback I still see some room for improvement. I need to make sure that what I am grading has that overall intent and purpose behind it, that I mark with intent, and that I am not giving false praise. The false praise is something that I have learned a lot about from Anne. At first I was giving praise right and left, especially to work that did not receive the praise that I was providing. I think that part of that had to do with not knowing the students that well at the beginning of the semester and what exactly they are capable of and another part of it was handing out praise that was entirely false. A good job needs to really mean a good job and a well done is another two steps above that. However, I need to learn how and when to pull that type of language out more effectively. When is a good job really a good job and when is it well done? What if a student is consistently turning in good work, does that warrant a good job every time? What about a student that only turns in a few assignments and they are not good quality. Does that deserve a good job because they completed the work and at least turned in the work? These are questions that I need to resolve and I am sure I will with time. As with riding a bike and teaching, I really feel that my quality of feedback, and specifically my praise, has been limited to only things that are really good. However, I believe that statement is true for the writing portion of my feedback, but it still comes out when speaking with students. After going through a paper that needs a lot of improvement I provide them with a “good job” to encourage them. This needs to change to something with the same type of intent, but a different phrasing. Maybe, “This is an ok start, keep improving, I know you can do it” or something along those lines. I think the main thing to improve this is to be constantly aware of the situation and to reflect on my feedback once again when I start to teach in the fall and at important points throughout the teaching experience. I feel like the false praise piece has come a long way, but there is still room for improvement.

I really feel that Anne has done a good job helping me to grow as an effective teacher in the area of feedback specifically. The conversations around the double feedback that we gave the students were especially helpful. I was able to take notes about things that I was missing and she was able to take notes about things that I picked up on and things that we both did well.
Overall, I was worried that the amount of feedback that the students received was going to be overwhelming, but I feel that from an educational standpoint a student can never have too much feedback, especially the kind of constructive feedback that I feel Anne and I were providing for the students. However, I think the interesting thing for me was that at the beginning of the double feedback process I took an entire page of notes as we went through the papers discussing all the feedback that we both gave - An entire page of notes of things that I needed to fix, improve, or change for the next time that we give feedback. By the end of this process I really felt that my notes had come down to a few minor things that could be improved. I was not missing the major “rocks” you could say in editing and feedback, but instead they were small things that could always be improved. Furthermore, I really felt that Anne and I were marking more of the same things by the end than different things. At least that was the impression I received when we went through their drafts for the last round of double feedback. That placed some confidence in me that I have improved and that at least by Anne’s standard of feedback, I am closer to giving effective feedback than when we started. In fact, I now feel that I am giving that effective feedback that the students deserve and want and I feel that this process has spurred on this growth in me as a teacher. I really feel that this double feedback project has been one of the most effective and educational things that I have done while in student teaching. I have learned, grown, evaluated, and now continue to grow in an area that I think is so integral to student growth – feedback. I feel like I can constantly improve, but I have come a long way in giving effective feedback.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Am Alive

Many of you have wondered, where has this blogger been lately? It even got to the point yesterday that Mr. Karl Fisch, the technology director at AHS, was getting e-mails from his friends asking if I was ok. Not only that, but I have even had people post on my blog asking where I have been.

The short answer – life has been a little busy. Student teaching, trying to graduate, soccer, life outside of school, family concerns, and a desire to take care of my own self (i.e. exercise and sleep) have outweighed the desire to go ahead and write. I know, that isn’t exactly a great reason, but it is the reason nevertheless. Although, I have been looking forward to this time when I can really reflect, grow, and look forward to the final two weeks at AHS, for over a week.

Well here I am sitting in an amazing coffee shop, and I can’t wait to update you all on my life. So here goes…please read on.

Bridging the Gap…Is This Where I Fit?

So a week after Prensky I sat at home reflecting on my trip, and one thing kept coming up time and time again – we need to teach them how. At first I was a little confused about what I was thinking. Prensky came to Wartburg and the Cedar Valley in Iowa and said some really awesome things about the transformation that needs to happen in education and some very broad ideas – like that we need to start integrating more technology into the curriculum in more effective manners or my favorite idea from him, that cell phones should be used in the classroom.

Prensky had some awesome things to say, and I really admire him for exactly what he is doing and what he writes. However, I struggle with taking what he says and making it personal. How am I realistically going to take his ideas and apply them to the curriculum? How am I going to effectively start integrating technology into the curriculum? What does that look like? Who does that affect and in what ways? What are the specific ways that this needs to happen in the future?

So at the question and answer portion at his keynote speech last week one of the questions from a fellow student teacher was how or if cell phones should be used in the classroom. Of course Prensky said that they needed to be and then he went on to actually explain some broad ways to do that, like poll students, use them to access the Internet, give projects to them that demonstrates their higher order thinking, etc. Nothing wrong with those answers, really, it is just those are good answers, but not exactly practical for tomorrow in class.

This is my big issue with Prensky, and others like him, that and also a large majority of conferences, meetings, trainings, and other events – that they leave you inspired and excited to go out and make a difference, but then you arrive to the class on Monday morning or the next day and really want to integrate what you learned into the curriculum, but you just do not see a practical application. How do I actually do that in my classroom? What does that look like? It is a problem that I, as an educator and novice conference attendee, have run into multiple times. How do I bring this back to my classroom?

So what if someone created a conference where the information was relevant, that actually started the conversation, the most important part of the learning, and allowed people to actually talk about and figure out real life applications to their learning’s? I think that Karl Fisch, Bud Hunt, Mike Porter and others have done this with the Colorado Conversation Learning 2.0 conference that they started a few years ago. However, not everyone can attend the conference so how do we take that idea and farm it out to a whole bunch of different places?

Maybe that is where I, or someone else or a complete company of people, step in to help the education world change. What I am proposing is someone or some “it” let’s call it that has physical, real life, tried and true examples of things that have worked in the classroom and that are easy to implement and put into class on Monday? What if that person existed and could do a training session, or multiple training sessions, with faculty, staff, and educators in simple small group, one-on-one, or large group settings to help make a difference one educator, one school, and one district at a time? Topics could be effective ways to use the cell phone in class, how to actually get movie creation into your class in an effective and realistic way, how to teach in a constructivist learning style, or even better – some easy and simple ways to get students engaged in your classroom through a low tech means.

I’m not saying that this has to be me, although I basically have already started to do this in a number of places and with a number of faculty and staff. It started at Wartburg with a passion for teaching, technology, and connecting the two, led to training faculty and staff at Wartburg in that way, and spread home to help my mother out with some training in her elementary school, then back to Wartburg and training my fellow education students (because the education department was not preparing them for the future of education so I took matters into my own hands and worked some technology trainings into the class), then out here to Denver and working at Arapahoe and learning everything that I can and bringing that sense of optimism and curiosity to the classroom that allows me to really engage with the students and teach them using the tools of technology on a daily basis, then back to Waverly and working with some middle school teachers on how integrate what I am learning at Arapahoe and other places into their curriculums, and now back here to Denver where a school that I interviewed with for a possible position has asked me to come over and train a few of their teachers too. This idea and concept of teaching other people has blossomed into an opportunity to go out and help other teachers get better. Now my question is, does this continue to grow, expand, and develop into a career at some point or is this just a side thing to teaching? I guess to answer that question I will have to wait until the future.

Overall, I see a huge gap between the ideas that “we need to change the face of education in the 21st Century” and the ways, ideas, and people training others in the ways and ideas of how those changes are actually going to happen. I am talking concrete, easy to use, tried and true methods of how this will happen and can be integrated on Monday in class.
Let me give you an example…so Prensky’s answer to the cell phone question that I brought up earlier in this post, were these broad ideas that students should use them. Nothing wrong with the answer, really, it was just that the answer was not exactly practical for tomorrow in class. After the session ended I called over my friend who asked the question and told her about a website called that actually allows you to create slides where students can text in their response to a question. Really easy to set-up, easy to use, and something that could be implemented into her class the next day. She said ok and I thought that would be the end of it.

The next day at 8:52 am I received a text from my friend: “I love polleverywhere! It works great and the kids love it!!! Thank u soo much!!!”

That’s it, right there, that’s why I love telling other people about technology and equipping them to make a difference in the lives of their students.

So will this be my job in the future? I do not know. However, I do know that it is a passion of mine and something that is desperately needed in the education profession right now and into the near future.

Denver – The City of Healthy People

So today I decided to head on over to Washington Park to meet up with some friends, for those of you that do not know, Washington Park is one of the largest parks in Denver. At this park it was packed to the brim for a wonderful afternoon in March for volleyball, running, biking, working out, walking, eating, hanging out, and a whole variety of other activities. It was truly amazing to see so many Denver residents out and about on such a beautiful day.

However, what I saw in Washington Park is the norm here in Colorado. I believe it was named one of the most fit and in shape populations in the country and rightly so. With the weather here, and it has been a mild winter I understand, there is no reason not to be outside, although there is something here that I have not seen anywhere else that I have traveled – people outside exercising. This phenomenon of mass amounts of people outside and exercising is incredible. You can’t sit on any street in Denver and not see a few people running by and then many more biking by all within a matter of minutes. But it is not just one lone individual out exercising, often times they come in pairs, threes or even fours. This city is unlike any other, they want to be outside, they are outside, and they enjoy it. Not only the exercise though, the menus at restaurants feature some very healthy food and everyone that I have come into contact with also eats really healthy and they drink the most water out of anywhere that I know (part of that is the altitude, but another is their active lifestyles). People here are healthy, excited about where they live, and all in all I would have to say that based on what I have seen so far, Denver is the city of healthy people.

Still Learning

So there are only two weeks left in my time at Arapahoe High School, it has gone so fast, and I am still learning. It feels like, and I know this will be true, but I just am constantly learning something new about how to teach, what to say, how to push a kid just a little farther, or something that I can really apply to my teaching.

So just yesterday I made this mistake during sixth period. I really wanted to introduce a project that the students are going to have to turn in on Friday, April 3rd that involves the students interviewing family members. I made the mistake by trying to explain the assignment in the last two minutes of the period, the period before Spring Break begins. That is completely my mistake. It was stupid and really I know better. All important assignments need to be announced at the beginning of the period, even if they do not completely apply to the students at that point and time. They should still be announced then. So needless to say, I learned yet again not to do that. Thankfully, last time I did that I kept going and the students did not get anything out of it. This time I did not make that same mistake. I stopped myself and said forget it, but then I learned from the experience and do not want to make that same mistake anymore.

It feels like I have learned so much in these past eleven weeks, although at the same time it feels like I have only touched the edge of the iceberg in what real teaching is all about. Although, real teaching involves learning and that is what I have been doing and will continue to do for the rest of my time at Arapahoe High School and my career.

Life is Precious

This last week at Arapahoe his been tough. A former student who graduated last year was found dead as a result of alcohol poising in his fraternity house. His funeral was on Monday. Then on Wednesday a ninth grade student died because of a complication with pneumonia. Two students in two weeks – gone.

It was quite an interesting experience dealing with the students in the classroom those couple of days as they grieved for the losses in their lives, but also the loss to the school.

So I watched and learned something that they do not teach in teacher education programs – how to deal with grief. Throughout the day on Wednesday I watched as both Anne and Kristin dealt with the situation that was affecting so many students. They did a wonderful job modifying lesson plans, basically throwing them all out the window, and really focusing on what the students needed – time to grieve. Arapahoe had extra help on had to deal with the tragedy, but let me say that this experience was hard.

How do you, as a teacher, grieve the loss when you are supposed to teach material? That material does not even seem relevant anymore. How are you supposed to teach the material even a few days after the fact? How do you deal with some students grieving, while others cry out for normalcy and a routine?

Let me say that it was a challenge, but we made it though. Wednesday was a day where learning was not the focus and for obvious reasons. Thursday and Friday we moved on with material, but with the caution and understanding from the students that if they needed to go for any reason that they were totally allowed to do that. In addition, I also presented the Grief Loop to my tenth graders because I thought it would help them understand the natural process of grieving that everyone goes through. I think it went over really well.

All in all, the process of grieving is something that everyone handles individually and I am sure that once we are back from Spring Break the process will continue. That being said, it was a tough week at Arapahoe that made me realize even more than ever that life is truly precious.

Every look at the mountains, every conversation with family, and every time I get to get up front of a class it could be my last. You never know what will happen in life, but one thing is for sure – it is precious.

Trying to Find a Job is Hard Work

Ok, I am not going to complain here, but I do begin to wonder about this whole job hunt thing. When will it end?

So I started the teaching position search in January and here we are in March and I want it to be over. I will be honest, it is no fun when everyone else around you in other majors in college basically have their lives all put together and they know where they are going this fall and what they are doing. Me, I am currently an unemployed teacher. Anyone have some advice?

So I went to a job fair a few weeks ago and began to thrown my hat in the ring, the only problem – there are a lot of rings. Like the blog post about that fair said, it was tough because some people will not even look at you because you are a student teacher and others just are not even hiring in that area. However, I am sick of the game and I am sick of waiting too. I want to have this hole, this huge insurmountable hole in my life filled. I want to be happy and to do that I want a job. Sooner would be better than later.

I got back from the job fair and started going online and filled out the applications for those school districts that I was interested in. I truly believe that a job is a lot more than just a job at this point. I feel that a job needs to be right for both parties – the employer, the school, and me. Needless to say, I do not want to rush the subject either, but at the same time in this economy do I take the first position that is offered to me or not? But I guess I would need to get an offer first.

So I applied to some positions a while ago and still have not heard from the parties involved. So at what point do I start sending e-mails and calling people up asking if my application is complete or if they need anything else from me? I have to wonder, what else can I do to make myself stick out from the crowd? Any suggestions?

That being said, I know that I have an impressive resume and that my experience and awards speak for themselves, and I know that somewhere, sometime I will land a job. It is just a lot of hard work looking around, applying, waiting, and then hoping for an interview.

Here I go again, though, this next week on Thursday and Friday. 125 + rings to throw my hat into, only which ones do I seriously consider? That is the question…back to the grind of the job hunt.

What is Definition of Covering Material?

Last week at one of Prensky’s sessions in Iowa he brought up the idea of covering material. As individual teachers, we each need to determine for ourselves what “covering material” means to each of us.

What does it mean anyway?
Reading it through once
Annotating and asking questions
Doing activities
Teaching each other
Using a computer program to apply the learning
Completing a project
…And the myriad of other options are basically endless.

So as I planned this unit I am currently teaching on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time I struggled with this question in my own classroom. How can I make sure that the material in this book is covered? Do I do activities? Do I do projects? Do I have them read it aloud in class? What do I have them do?

I came up with something somewhere in the middle of all of that, but it all related to the focusing questions for the unit, which have to do with relationships. So I am focusing all of my activities, projects, in-class activities, and other things all around this one idea – relationships. However, I still struggle with how do I know if I have covered the material? I guess it comes down to the question of what I think “covered” means, but also their final project too. So in that light, I press on to make sure that they can answer those final unit questions well based on the text that we are reading and their own lives. If they can do that then my definition of “covered” for this unit is complete.

However, the more I think about it, the more that I realize that “covered” is a relative term based on the focus and purpose of the activity or the overall unit. So in that regard, it does cause self introspection and a desire to make sure that everything is related to the focus and purpose so that I do, in fact, cover the material.

Technology…trials and learning’s

So last year I came across this really cool website called that allows you to put in pictures, text, and music and the website creates a video for you with transitions and really cool effects. So for a while I have wanted to use this software/website in class for something and it finally came to the perfect opportunity. In tenth grade we are about to start the unit on The Kite Runner and our two main questions for the unit are: How do families define us and how do we define family? So for class yesterday I had students bring in pictures of their “families,” whatever that definition is for them, and create an Animoto video that would encompass those examples and their definitions. To aid in their preparation I created a video myself (Here is the link).

What I quickly came across was that not all of the students had brought in pictures, meaning that they had not completed their homework even though I had mentioned it to them for multiple days in advance. Learning number one, make sure that I am very clear and specific when I say “bring in pictures of your family electronically.” Do I want that in a Word document, individual files, what exactly? I need to be clearer in my explanation to them.
Then after that my students, the ones that could proceed, started to make their videos. Being that they are all Digital Natives I thought they would have an easy time with this; however, this was not the case. Many of them had some trouble finding the easily marked “Add text” button. Learning number two, you can never show them too many times how to do something. I showed them in front of the class, but obviously this was not enough. Maybe show them step by step in the front, but then what do you do with the other students that are behind or cannot keep up? Set a time limit on each section and then help the others that are behind catch up?

After the pictures were in then the students needed to answer our two main unit focusing questions with text in the video. Once they found the add text feature they were a little lost as to their answers. Learning number three, this all comes back to preparation. How did I prepare the students to be ready for this part of the assignment? I had hoped that they would be ready to go and could think of answers on the spot, but this was not the case. Instead, these students needed time to think about this. So I should have given them that time and made them do it outside of class maybe in a blog post or something. Overall, there just needs to be a little more thought put into exactly what I want the students to do and how to get them from the point of prewriting to the actual software.

Which leads to learning number four, make sure all the prewriting and pre-thinking is complete before ever having students touch the technology. Technology is a tool and it can be used very effectively to aid to student understanding. However, it should not be used as the focal point of the lesson, a really cool element, if that is all it is. In this lesson the focal point was answering those two unit focusing questions through the video; however, technology was at some degree a cool feature to add to the lesson. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have used it, but instead I should have used it in a wiser manner.

We will see what their videos turn out looking like after the break. For the most part these students did not have all their materials or the right music with them at school so they had to complete it for homework. Learning number five, maybe in a situation where the students are going to need materials or music from their home computer that the actual assignment is set-up in class and I teach them how to use the software and the pre-writing is done in-class. Then maybe the actual assignment is done at home that way they have access to their own materials and can spend as much time on it as they would like. I limited them to 35 minutes. That is a little short for some and a little long for others. It should have been homework over break, but I live and learn.

Animoto is a really great tool, if used effectively, and there is an educator license for free too. If you haven’t heard of it I would encourage you to check it out. If you have heard of it, then how are you using it in the classroom? Did you have the same questions and problems the first time that you used it?

Are They Really Natives?

So yesterday in English World Literature class I was watching a senior struggle with playing a DVD on the computer – a pretty basic task I would think and a question came to my mind: Are these students really Digital Natives?

Digital Natives is a term that Marc Prensky coined to label all students that grew up with digital technology in their lives. Watching this student, who I know had grown up with lots of technology, struggle with a DVD player really made me consider whether or not he is a digital Native. This student was not the first though, I have had students in other classes have trouble with presenting a PowerPoint to the class and still others that do not know how to effectively navigate the Internet or turn on the wireless feature on their computers. It is interesting to me how Un-Native these supposedly Native students can be.

So in the spirit of Prensky I have determined that there are varying degrees of “Native-ness.” I understand that this is not a word, nor even a term that many are familiar with; however, I do believe that it is true. Some are very Native and blow me out of the water time and time again with their knowledge, although others struggle with the simple functions of a computer even though they are familiar with the concept. I think that these students have grown up with the technology around them, yes, but they do not all know how to work it effectively, or better yet, make it work for them effectively. So then I struggle with where my students really are at on the continuum. It is a challenge then to assume that they all know how to use a computer, probably, but then anything like creating an Adobe PDF document or altering a picture using Photoshop are out of the question. So what do I need to teach and what can I assume that they know already to use? I guess I need to poll them and figure it out.

So I encourage you all to also figure out the “Native-ness” of your students or yourself, because I am finding really quickly that some are highly advanced and others struggle with the basic function of a DVD player on the computer.

Teaching +1

I am constantly realizing that teaching is so much more than just standing up in front of a classroom and delivering content (I know that is the old style of learning, but just stick with me here). Teaching is all the grading, preparation, planning, yes I know that. But teaching is so much more…it’s like teaching +1.

So I left to go back to Iowa for the whole Prensky situation and another thought that occurred to me while I was on the plane was that teachers are not only teachers. They are CSAP proctors, student organization advisors, coaches, counselors, writers, learners, presenters, friends, parents, and so much more. I am talking about the iceberg and Titanic example here, but more so the definition of a “teacher” does not even begin to come close to what teachers do on a regular basis. I know that other professions have a lot of responsibilities, but honestly teachers probably have the longest list of “other duties as assigned / volunteered for / asked to do” that I have other seen.

At the same time, it is that long list of other things that makes teachers and teaching exactly what it is today – no longer do we just deliver content, we teach and then some.

The Lost Classroom

As part of my introduction to Prensky while I was on campus I decided to write a poem about technology. It is currently a PowerPoint presentation that in a few weeks I plan to turn into a YouTube video, but for right now I thought I would share it here in verse form. I hope you enjoy it.

The Lost Classroom
By: Randon Ruggles

I am part of a Lost Classroom and I refuse to believe that
We can change this
I realize this may be a shock but
“Schools are preparing students for the future”
Is a lie, and
“Learning can only happen from the front of the classroom”
So at the beginning of every semester the Digital Immigrant
teachers will tell their Digital Native students
They will be ignored
My school will know that
We will have the right mindset because
is more important than
I inform you of this
At one time
Students were engaged in the classroom
but this will not be the case in the future
The Immigrants are unwilling to change
Experts say
Classrooms of today are similar to those of 100 years ago
I do not believe that
We will engage our students
In future classrooms
Lack of technology will be the norm
No longer can anyone say that
Teachers truly care about their students
It will be evident that
My profession has ceased to change
It is improbable to assume that
There is hope.

And all this will come true unless we choose to reverse it.

There is hope.
It is improbable to assume that
My profession has ceased to change
It will be evident that
Teachers truly care about their students
No longer can anyone say that
Lack of technology will be the norm
In future classrooms
We will engage our students
I do not believe that
Classrooms of today are similar to those of 100 years ago
Experts say
The Immigrants are unwilling to change
but this will not be the case in the future
Students were engaged in the classroom
At one time
I inform you of this
is more important than
We will have the right mindset because
They will not be ignored
So at the beginning of every semester the Digital Immigrant
teachers will tell their Digital Native students
“Learning can only happen from the front of the classroom”
Is a lie, and
“Schools are preparing students for the future”
I realize this may be a shock but
We can change this
and I refuse to believe that I am part of a Lost Classroom.

Prensky Presentations

As part of my undergraduate program at Wartburg I am required to complete a major undergraduate research paper / thesis of sorts. In May I will defend this thesis in front of a group of faculty at Wartburg and will hopefully publish this paper in the following year. That being said, it has been a large undertaking for the past four years of my life in which I have dedicated a large amount of time, energy, and finally hard work into a document that is still to be finished. The whole paper is about technology in K-12 education and how I, along with others, have recognized a shift in the past few years. Now the education field stands at a crossroads of indecision. Do we embrace the new technology and change how we teach our students or do we continue to teach in the “old ways.” I propose and strongly suggest that we change and suggest some practical ways to begin to engage students in K-12 classrooms today.

That being said, when I started the research process for this project a while ago one name continued to come up time and time again. That was the name of futurist, educator, speaker, writer, and consultant Marc Prensky. As I read his latest articles and stayed up on his work throughout the past few years I determined that he was leading the way in educational technology. In my work with faculty at Wartburg, as the Senior Educational Technology Assistant, I knew that Prensky’s work was one that the faculty needed to read, digest, and apply. So I got this idea in my head that Prensky should come to Wartburg and speak to the faculty, hold a panel discussion with the students, and then also work with area educators to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum. It was an idea that I had been throwing around in my head for a year before the ocean parted and an opportunity came up at Wartburg for him to speak. However, the stars did not align and it was not possible for him to come at that point. So I kept trying and spoke to the Dean of Faculty about the opportunity for him to come to campus and speak. She was hesitant at first, but I think I made my case pretty strong about Prensky asking questions and really stimulating discussion about technology being integrated into the curriculum. So this time it worked out and Prensky was able to come to campus and speak and what was even better was that Wartburg flew me back, from Colorado, to assist with the whole two-day event.

I helped to pick him up from the hotel, introduce him to various groups that he met while he was on campus, and even had the privilege of introducing him and a group of my peers in a panel discussion on one morning. I was by his side at the President’s table for lunches and dinners and assisted him with smaller necessities, like Internet. Finally, I walked him out to his car as he headed back to the airport. All in all it was an awesome trip, not only for me, but I truly think for him also.

What Prensky did while he was on campus was to ask the questions to the campus. How are we engaging our students in the classroom? How are we allowing students to be a part of the process in planning the classes, the technology, and the campus as a whole? How are we crossing the Digital Divide between Digital Immigrant, those that were born before digital technology and the Digital Natives, those that were born with digital technology at their finger tips? How are we teaching in a new constructivist manner that really engages the students in their learning? Prensky asked a lot of questions, but then he also gave a lot of answers too. They were answers that I had heard before, because I have read all of his material, but ones that took on a new meaning in my life.

The context when learning a new skill or listening to a discussion for the third or fourth time always makes it so that learning can exist continually. So as a student teacher in a classroom of laptops and Digital Natives, I really took what he was saying to heart and started to apply it into my classroom right away. Others, especially the faculty, were a little hesitant as to what Prensky was saying and suggesting for them to do.

One important idea that I took away was that college professors do not need to have any sort of teaching degree to actually teach in college. They need to have no teaching classes, no experience, no anything but a Masters degree and / or a PhD depending on where you are at. That’s it. So there is no surprise that students complain even more, or at least I think so, about the quality of teaching in a college setting than they do about the teaching in a high school setting. I mean we talk about the Digital Divide like there is a large problem in K-12 education, and there is, but I think an even larger and untapped divide exists within the college and university setting. These professors are older, more experienced, and generally have little to no experience actually teaching (except maybe for the small percentage that have done some form of TA or other experience). That raises the question of, so who is teaching them how to be teachers? Who is teaching them to be the people that inspire our children on to success now that they have finished high school? Who is teaching them the newest and greatest technology so that it can be integrated into their curriculums? Who is challenging them to become better year by year and class by class? I know the structure of the college or university is different, but it is one that like the K-12 profession is evolving. Like I mentioned in a previous post, as a high school educator right now I am worried for the future. Worried that my students who are engaged in the classroom, who are using technology in the classroom, and who are exciting about learning because it is relevant and rigorous and it is about relationships will not be served, satisfied, or even close to happy with the education that they will receive in a college or university setting. So then, how do we change this? I think the first part is exactly what Prensky did, ask the question. The second, third and fourth steps still need to be figured out. If I were to suggest a few ideas, it would be conversation with students, support from administration, and a change in paradigm of teaching to a more constructivist approach.

Someone or a group of people need to challenge these universities and colleges to change, but who that individual is has yet to be determined. Prensky did that for Wartburg, but who else carries on his mission, vision, and ideas into the future has yet to be determined.

Overall, my trip was really successful. I was able to see my roommate, my friends, have about fifteen other meetings on top of the whole Prensky stuff and still manage to get back in time to teach on Friday morning. It was a whirlwind trip, but one that I that was very successful. Having Prensky on campus was really good for Wartburg and it was amazing to see the lives that he impacted while he was there. Not only the ones that were present at his keynote and other sessions, but the lives of the students that will get changed as a result of his comments during those two days. What is even crazier to think about is that it all started with one student, a love for technology, and a strong desire to make a difference in the world around him through an influential speaker. What is even crazier to believe is that individual is me. However, I don’t want the credit or the fame, but I do want to start to see a change happen in the world of education - A change that will benefit the students of today and most of all the students of tomorrow.

The R.M.S. Titanic & My Life

As I was growing up I had a love for, and still do, studying the R.M.S. Titanic. That was the world’s largest ship, in 1912, which ran into an iceberg and sank in the middle of the ocean causing a massive loss of life due to the lack of lifeboats. Well the main problem with this ship and its mighty collapse was not the fact that it was built well, because for the most part (an historians probably disagree with me here) it was, but rather that they ran into an iceberg. Icebergs are unique things only displaying about twenty to twenty-five percent of their mass above the water line. That being said, there is so much more under the surface, hence why the Titanic sank, but it is the same way with people in my life.

In the Language Arts office for the past few weeks it has been really awkward at times – specifically between Anne and me. For some reason, because we both have had writing conferences and she is always busy at work, which is a good thing I think you need to be, but we have had some awkward moments where I have not gotten a chance to run my lesson plans by Anne or after school we have not gotten to debrief. Then when I left to go to Iowa (look at the next couple of posts here) there was a lot of tension about me not getting things to her on time and not following through on other things that I said or wrote that I would do (which are both completely my fault). Basically what I am getting at is that there was a little bit of a miscommunication and a time of awkwardness between us. Honestly, at times it did really upset me because I struggled with the fact that I was not doing the right things or that I was not making her happy (which I know is not the end all in life, but in student teaching at that time it seemed like it), but it was mainly me just stressed out and getting upset about things that were going on at school. I could have taken the initiative and gone over to Anne’s desk and approached her about my stuff, but at the same time I did not feel like that was ok for some reason. So as I left Colorado and went back to school I was frustrated with the situation and mainly with me – because it was my fault and no one else’s.

Although, then as I sat on the plane heading back to my home away from home, to Wartburg College, I started thinking about something that Kristin, my other cooperating teacher, told me before I left. She said, “Randon, remember that Anne has a lot going on in her life and she is a little stressed out right now.” That’s when it hit me – I was making the same mistake that the Titanic did. I was totally discounting everything under the surface, the other 75 percent of Anne’s life. Not only is Anne an amazing teacher, but she is planning a wedding, trying to finish graduate school, being a mother, and a whole host of other things that I do not even know about.

So I was taking her disappointment with me at face value, which at some point was true – she was upset and disappointed with me – but at the same time, she has a lot of stress in her life and I needed to take that into account too. That is not to say that like Anne, I think we all only see part of the person we are working with. I mean I am student teaching, working for Wartburg in a number of capacities, volunteering with the women’s soccer team, completing three other college courses, planning multiple events in Iowa from Colorado, trying to maintain relationships in Iowa, living here in Colorado by myself for the first time, trying to find a job, consulting with other school districts about their technology use, and doing all the other things that I am trying to do all at once.

What we see or know on the surface is probably like 25 percent of the person. I needed to start taking that into account with Anne and being a little more patient with her and understanding that how busy I am and the stressors in my life are very similar to Anne’s. She was upset at me for a good reason, but at the same time I need to understand that in everyone’s life there is a lot more that does not meet the eye.

I think that I knew this before, but now it has been a realization that makes sense and is something that I can apply to my life in tangible ways. So the past few days I have been patient and waited, and Anne and I have had some good conversations about teaching.
The mistake on the Titanic caused a massive loss of life, and this mistake by me caused a minor rift in my relationship with Anne that I think is on the way to healing.

The Groove

As with many things in life it is a lot easier to continue forward when you are in a groove, a rhythm, a routine of sorts – the same is true for teaching. So after about eleven weeks of teaching day by day and coming in before anyone in the department (because I think better at school in the morning then I do late at night in my apartment) and probably leaving school (after soccer) after about everyone in my department I think that I have gotten into a groove.

It is really hard to explain, this groove, but I feel like I have a good handle on the school, the staff, who to go to and for what reason, how to make phone calls home, how to handle tough situations in the classroom, and just really feeling comfortable in front of the students (not that I wasn’t before, but just that it is a lot easier right now because I know them). From there it has been really feeling like a valued member of the department and of the school – from CSAP proctoring (which I did not have to do, read on and you’ll find out why), to soccer, to administration members saying hello – Arapahoe has become a comfortable and good place for me to student teach. Now it has also become a much better place for me to teach now that I have balanced and put together my life, teaching, and everything else into a groove. It feels good. I am happy, energized, comfortable and now ready to finish out the last couple of weeks of student teaching.

The Joy of Soccer…The ABK Way

For the past eleven weeks I have had the privilege of assistant coaching on the women’s varsity soccer squad at Arapahoe High School. I have been the crazy goalie coach that drives the “Rugglemiester,” aka the silver minivan that I get the privilege of driving around town, and sometimes participates in practice with the women. For the past few weeks we finally started game play and won our own pre-season tournament, a tournament that has been going on for the past twenty years. This team of women, the coaching staff, and the overall ABK (Arapahoe Ball Kickers) program has been impressive from the start. The fact that we started coaching and getting ready for the season nine to ten weeks before tryouts was incredible. Not to mention the intensity, desire, and will that these students have for doing their absolute best on the field.

And it has all paid off in the fact that we won that tournament without a number of our starters, who were at a national recruiting tournament. From there we did receive our pre-season rankings and let me say they were impressive – I knew that ABK was good, but this good was like out of my league. The women’s soccer team that I am working with started out the season ranked number one in the state of Colorado and number five in the country. And here I am, a student teacher with a passion and love for goalkeeping trying to coach their goalies on to success.

And either I have done a good job, doubtful even though I have tried, or the defense and my goalies have done a good job keeping balls out of the net – because we have only allowed one goal the whole year, five games. It is not everything, but it is at least a start.
Being a part of this team has been a privilege from the beginning. I knew that AHS had a soccer team, but then I looked and found out how good they actually are. It was impressive to me, when I arrived, that they did not have a goalie coach, but I was excited about my opportunity to fulfill that void for them, at least for a while. So I have worked hard teaching, meeting with students after school and really putting that part of my student teaching first, and then I go out to soccer whenever that has all gotten over. But it has been a journey and one that I have been honored to be a part of.

In eleven weeks you begin to learn the ropes and really get a handle on the rituals and the excitement surrounding ABK soccer. The pre-game meetings, the visualization that happens, the chants, the parents, the booster club, the overall program and its strength. It has been impressive to be a part of and in three weeks, when I have to leave and go back to Iowa to graduate, I know it will be hard to leave these women. The women who for the past roughly fifty-five practices I have gotten to know and appreciate - these women are driven, they want to win it all, and they know that soccer is not the end all in life, but for right now they make it a priority because they want to represent themselves, their families, their school, and ABK well. So they press on in pursuit of their goals in the only way that they, and now me, know how – the ABK way.

Obtaining Control

So if you have followed me in this journey for a while you know that I have had some issues with my ninth grade class and overall classroom management. Well Anne and Kristin, at the suggestion of their friends and other coworkers, went out and bought me The First Days of School. I went through there and read the section on classroom management and then started to apply some of the ideas to my classroom and also take from there some of the overall ideas and apply those to all my classes. Needless to say, it has gotten better, but it is not completely there yet.

So I rolled out the three strike policy a few weeks ago. The students receive a warning for anything that they are doing that violates the class policies (i.e. talking while I am talking, not raising their hand to add to the conversation, etc.). With a warning I make sure that the students understand what it is they are receiving it for, otherwise they are really confused in the end. From there, if the student continues a certain behavior that is unacceptable they receive one strike. If the behavior continues after one strike, then it goes to two strikes. At two strikes the student is sent out into the hallway and the parents/guardians get a phone call. At three strikes the students are sent out into the hallway and a referral is filed with the student’s assistant principal. These strikes accumulate by the week and so far only one person has gotten to the second strike.

The struggle has not been if the students will follow the policy, but instead how will I enforce it. The first few days were really rough because students all across the class were receiving strikes and it was hard to get them back under control. However, then the students began to realize that they did enjoy the class a little more structured when they could actually add to the conversation. It was hard for me, really hard, to be consistent with all the students. Some students added to the conversation constantly, and because they were doing that they were receiving more strikes. However, those that just sat there the entire period and did not always add to the conversation did not receive any strikes – just because they did not say or do anything in class. So then I ended up punishing those students that were making my class the special, conversational place that it was. Then these students got upset because they really felt that they had a place in the class, and that they were actually adding to the conversation. So that was a tough challenge between making these students feel like a welcomed and valued part of the class and also that they needed to follow the class policies like everyone else. So for a few weeks, and still to today, it has been a tough road to run. Handing out strikes and then explaining to the students why they received a strike while others did not – the consistency piece needs to come and it has over time. The class has started to come back, but I still need to come up with a good way to get back their attention after doing an activity with them or having them work in pairs.

The struggle, now, has been not how strict I want my classroom – because right at the beginning the class was dead silent all the time. Which for some might be a good idea of a classroom, and for me it really felt that I had control; however, it was clearly obvious that the students were not enjoying the classroom. I needed to be a little hard, especially at the beginning and I do need to continue that as I move into the last two weeks of student teaching, but how hard do I really need to be? How much conversation can I handle in one class? How much talking to a neighbor can I handle, especially while I am teaching? What if the student is checking with another student about the assignment for tomorrow? Then that is constructive learning, but at the same time it is while I am teaching and that does not make sense. So now I need to maintain a balance, but I need to come up with that balance in my classroom first. This is the balance between what I will allow and what I will not allow, the balance between students talking and me moving them away from their friends, and the balance between students talking and adding to the conversation by raising their hands and those that add to the conversation without raising their hands. I think that this balance is something that I have not figured out yet, but it is something that I need to continue to formulate and figure out in these last two weeks.
Yesterday in class I had a great conversation, multiple times, with one of my most troubled students that I have had a tough time with throughout my student teaching. Furthermore, my students followed my directions, for the most part, and they participated in the class discussion. Yes, they were typical ninth grade students and did not always stay on task and were chatty, but all things considered (the last period before Spring Break), they were good. They respect me, at least I think so, more than before, and they are trying, and I am trying, to regain control of this classroom.

We have made a step in the right direction and they are coming back. We are still a little way from where I would like it to be, but then again my goal has now become to get them finally to the point where Anne and I have them under control with one week left in my experience.
Reflecting on this experience, if I were to redo everything again, I think it might have been helpful to see Anne teach this class once or twice at the beginning before I took it over. I am only a student teacher and really had no idea, what so ever, how to deal with a group of ninth grade students sixth period. That way I think that I could have seen her style of teaching with them. However, at the same time I have learned, grown, and really evolved into my own teacher through this experience. There have definitely been really tough days, days when I have had to figure it out and really motivate myself, and other days when I know that I could have been better. Trying to define what this class is like, the classroom management part of it specifically, has been one of the biggest challenges of my short student teaching, but probably the most important one for sure.

I have grown, they are coming back, and I will continue to grow and obtain control for the last two weeks of student teaching. Thank you to everyone for their thoughts, suggestions, and overall words of encouragement these last few weeks as I have dealt with this challenge. Now I will try and figure out the balance…yet another challenge…yet another growing opportunity.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Job Fair – Round One

So today I ventured out to a new experience, one that I had heard a lot about but not experienced – the job fair. So this morning I got up and put on my Sunday best and headed out to a school and into the dog pen. I got here, along with a lot of other people, a little early and got registered. Then I stood in line and waited, and waited, and waited some more for the doors to open. Then finally they did and all of us, I would have to guess somewhere around 550 teachers, educators, and support staff all searching for a job.

So there I was, a student teacher thrown into a huge gym full of people. Armed with my resume and a smile I approached my first school district to talk to them. Of course there were lines, but some places were worse than others. Last night I made my short list of schools that I was interested in, so I started off there. The format is that prospective educators have about two minutes to impress the representatives of the district with the few words and ideas that you have. So that’s what I did, I said a few things about student teaching, technology, finishing my degree program, and then trying to ask a question to keep the conversation going. From there they would probably tell me, at least at most places, that they do not have any openings right now. So I would hand them my resume, tell them thank you, and then move on.

That’s what I found in a lot of districts, but in just a few I had a little more luck. If you make it past the first round of interrogation and approval, then they grant you a thirty minute interview later in the day. At first I started to wonder if I would even get any interviews. I kept getting turned down by school district after school district, because of a lack of openings. As I was waiting in line I met a friend who chatted with me for a while and then she encouraged me to throw my plan out the window. My short list, what did it really matter? Of course, make sure that I hit those schools, but other than that I have nothing holding me to Denver. Why not go around to every table and get my information out. So that’s what I did, I hit them all up. Mostly I got turned down, time and time again. One school district in particular would not even look at student teachers. Which, I think is good for the students and parents in their district, but some student teachers are fantastic and I think worth looking at – I am included. However, I guess I somewhat understand the policy. That was frustrating; however this market is hard. The jobs are few and far between, so I kept trying. Then I finally got a huge break with a large district outside of Denver and that made me really excited. From there I tried a few other places and then started getting the line, “We would love to interview you today, but our sheet is already filled up.” They only have so much time to interview so many candidates, it makes sense, but I feel like they fill them on a first come, first serve basis, which I believe they are leaving out some quality candidates. I was excited, though, because even one school district told me, “We’re really interested and if anything opens up today, like someone does not show up for an interview, I will call you.” That was really nice to hear. In addition, I also got an interview at a smaller district that will serve as a preparation for the larger school district. I was able to schedule it right before too, so that was a good thing.

All in all, there were a lot of people, a lot of standing in line, and very little progress. A few interviews, that was good, but overall I’m still not ready for school on Monday and this ate up my day. I understand that finding a job is really important, but I want to make sure that it is worth my time. Many of these districts were like, did you apply online? To which I thought; No, if I had time I might take you up on that. Which leads me to the kicker – It will be this week when I carve out time for me to actually get on the computer and actually get things situated. I am watching a few other school districts and a few other jobs around the state and this week I have to make time to start applying.

So my first interview was with the really small school district. It was good to go in there, see what questions they had, and then move from there. They strongly encouraged me to apply to their open position.

My second interview was with an interviewee that was really excited to meet me and interview me. My interviewer was really impressed with my resume and “everything I had done in my short life.” She said, “It was one of the best resumes I have seen in a while,” which made me feel good about my accomplishments and that my resume was attracting attention. From there she asked me a few standard questions about education, teaching, and then she asked me about publishing relevant material. I took that and ran with it. I showed her how my students were publishing to Wiki spaces, blogging, Fishbowling in class, and really publishing to the world. I also told her about how we are using cell phones in the classroom and really trying to make the content that the students write worth while to the students and publishable to the world. From question three on, I do not think she went back to the “prepared questions.” Instead, we just had a chat about engagement, technology, teaching, and middle school students. At the end of the interview, my interviewer strongly encouraged me to apply for a recent posting of an opening at 7th and 8th grade. I was a little hesitant at first to even think about and acknowledge teaching middle school students, but then my interviewer told me a little bit more about the school district and how it is growing and how it passed a very large bond last year. To that end, they will be hiring many teachers and spending a lot of money on technology and a brand new P-20 school that will open in 2011 I believe. So it was a great interview that actually went over time, but made me excited for teaching and the prospect of a job in the near future.

This whole career fair thing is very daunting at first and even seemed like part of it was not worth it, but I really felt that at the end of the day I had two good jobs to look into and start applying to. I had built up confidence in my skills, resume, and presentation, which all was very helpful, and I had even had some interview experience. Now off to the search for the online applications and the time to fill them out. The search continues, but all in all it was a good day.