Monday, July 25, 2005


last blog of the summer

This is the last one for Mrs. Monroe's class. Here's a list of suggestions to make the program better:

1. Interest-free loans: Since we don't get paid until the end of August, some of us are going to be pretty strapped for cash this month. Especially because deposits on rent, electricity, and phone service aren't cheap. I had to write a check for $900 for my landlord before he even gave me the keys to my house. That's the whole summer stipend right there. Plus, we have to buy furniture, appliances, groceries, and transportation (gas) to and from our humble abodes. We have guaranteed jobs (right?) so a loan from Ole Miss could be paid off easily in the coming months.

2. More classroom management practice: I'm sorry, watching one role playing scene of a student getting mad about a final grade does not cut it. We need practice disciplining students. It will be our biggest challenge and I find it quite absurd that we haven't done it yet. I am sure we will run into situations in the first few months that far exceed what Joe and Joel told us. I know Ben is planning this for next year's group, but it needs to be hands on. Watching others doing it isn't good enough. And as ridiculous as some of us may feel disciplining each other, I do think it should be included in the 9 lesson plans we just did at Lafayette. Content delivery is important, but not if the students aren't listening to the teacher. I was surprised and disappointed by the lack of preparation in this area.

3. Teacher certification: There has got to be a way to get us certified before the last week of classes here. I start teaching - teaching, not teacher work days - a week from thursday. Not only am I screwed for rent and utilities if I receive substitute pay but I have the added burden of applying for certification myself (on top of everything else that accompanies being a new teacher). How about the day after we sign the contracts? We're all committed to the program and teaching. Ben, you've got to be able to find a way to make it happen. I hope there isn't a problem, but it would be a huge setback if there is. You want to make this the best alternative route program in the country? Ensure our teacher pay from day one.

That's pretty much all I can think of right now. I love the MTC and it's hard to say anything bad about it, but take the above considerations seriously. It will only improve the program.



moving in

This weekend I really started moving into my house in Marks. My parents came up to help out, which was outstanding. I couldn't imagine what it would have been like without having them come up. Things like mopping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms...i never would have even though about doing them. We worked all day saturday and about half of sunday - until they had to leave that afternoon. We stayed saturday night in clarksdale at Ground Zero Blues Club. We went for dinner and to hear some music, but they had these sweet apartments above the club. They rent them out for $75/night and they are NICE. We went to bed pretty early, around midnight, because we had to start working at the house at the crack of dawn to finish up some things. The morning drive back to Marks was nice, we saw the sunrise over the delta farm lands.

Today I went back to my house with Adryon and Jess. They really helped get the house more in order. I really owe them a lot, they worked harder and faster than I thought possible. And they cleaned my windows - something I certainly would not have done. The house is really starting to come together. I have some furniture and blinds on most of the windows. One more solid day's work and it will be liveable.

Monday, July 18, 2005



I never know what to write when I do this. I'm not much for keeping journals...

I watched myself give a lesson on numerical and variable expressions last week. Besides being about the least stimulating topic I can imagine, I watched it on a three inch lcd panel, so please understand why I am less than enthusiastic about this. First of all, I find it really hard to critique myself on a topic like this. The material is as familiar to me as my own name, and the same is true for my group. So I have no idea if I am effectively delivering the content. I need seventh graders with seventh grade brains to determine that for me. The lesson I gave made sense to me, but then again, it made sense to me before I watched the tape.

What I have been trying to work on is allowing silence to creep into my lessons. I have a tendency to shy away from not talking. I guess I feel that unless I'm telling my students something every minute, they aren't learning enough. It can be distracting, though, if I don't let concepts sink in. This simulation with the teaching groups feels more like a performance than a real lesson, so I feel as though I am constantly being watched (which is true). But my students will not be judging my performance at the front of the classroom the same way. They will be learning material (well, hopefully) and won't have time to concentrate on me the whole time. I need to give them this opportunity to soak it all in.

I also saw on the tape that I pace a little bit. I've been trying to work on it, but I think the problem is that, in these groups, there are only four students. In three steps, I can walk by all of them, so "walking the classroom" is walking back and forth, back and forth. When I have 25 kids, there will be a little more variety in my manuevering.

Okay, I need to post this so I can get it up by midnight.

Monday, July 04, 2005



I just saw Life Aquatic...brilliant movie. But a David Bowie song got me thinking. The song is titled "Life on Mars?". Well, wouldn't it be funny if Bowie had it right 30 years ago? I mention this because a student in my class thought it would be neat if there was life out there. And that's why we do that thing we do...for the children.

Right before my first lesson, i was pretty nervous. I had sat in on the class for a few days while Matt and Kate had their way with them. They looked like a pretty unruly bunch if they weren't interested in what was happening at the front of the room. I also noticed they responded well to the threat of a quiz at the end of the material. My job, then, was to keep them interested and scared. The second was the easy part. Focusing their attention proved to be the most difficult task of the summer session. Demonstrations only go so far, and often they make a mockery of the whole process. I decided to give them the opportunity to make a perfect on the quiz by telling them every single question I was going to test them on the next day. Everytime something important came up I said, "You might want to write this down and remember it. It will be number so and so on tomorrow's quiz." Overall, this was extremely effective. Not only did a strong majority of the students pass (every single one in the second period), about 30% scored a 100. I thought this was cool, but the best part was yet to come. A week or so later, when I was teaching the energy unit, I asked them questions on the previous material (Newton's 3 laws of motion). Collectively, the class remembered everything! I was shocked. Plus I had a lot of fun up at the front of the room.

Demos and group activities are key. If a kid isn't interested in learning, you need to make him or her actively involved. One student, who I was able to tame after two or so lessons, came up to me after class one day and asked why we didn't do lab activities everyday (we were doing acid/base indicators). I thought about it, because it was a valid question. I explained to her that there are two types of scientists: the doers and the thinkers. The doers are the lab rats, feverishly working on a experimental evidence to further bolster or disintegrate a scientific theory. They seem to have the best job because they are actually doing something. Theorists, I explained, derive joy from a completely different activity. I tried to make her imagine what it would be like to think of an entirely new way of doing things - a new idea. Once we were in agreement that such an instance would be really cool, I (hopefully) got her to understand that most new ideas in science come from pencil and paper. And that these great theorists worked on regular old problems that their teachers made them do. But they found mistakes in the science. These theorists essentially proved their teachers wrong and dictated to the doers, the other type of scientists, what they should be, well, doing.

Granted, that may be overreaching a bit with a 14 year old, but it was cool she listened anyway.


reluctant disciplinarian

Reluctant Disciplinarian was a very easy and interesting read. A topic as subjective as teaching ought to be presented in this way more often. Everyone has their own styles; different methods work better for others. Rubinstein provided us with an overview of what worked for him. More importantly, he gives the reader common mistakes he made in his first years teaching.

While reading the text, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a really good point. I should write that down somewhere.” Sadly, I never did that. With every turn of the page I found more and more ideas that sounded extremely helpful. One day this summer, I will definitely reread the book and earmark certain pages with mistakes I know I will make.

I appreciated the humor in the book. Discipline was boring as a student; it sounds even worse as a teacher. Making the book an enjoyable read allowed some of the fundamental, yet often overlooked, aspects of discipline to sink in. His personal anecdotes helped me visualize myself at the front of a classroom making his mistakes or trying his techniques.


cold calling

Of the three questioning techniques we discussed, I found cold calling to be the most effective. Calling on students that weren’t paying attention was particularly fun. I know Mrs. Monroe said that shaming a student was a bad idea, but I did get some sick satisfaction out of making a student feel embarrassed because he was sleeping or not paying attention. For a (very) short while after that, he paid attention. On the flip side, a student that was paying attention allowed me to praise that student and hopefully create a desire for that praise in the others.

I did find one problem with this method, however. And it is related to a larger issue in education: do you teach to the smartest kids and help them realize their full potential, or do you try hardest to bring the worst performing kids back on track? Personally, I would teach to the smartest students. If a student is interested in a subject and shows promise for greater understanding, isn’t our job as teachers to help that student along at all costs? What if the other students don’t care? But then somebody could counter that I’m showing favoritism amongst my students. Oh, what to do…what to do…

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