Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Teacher's Teachers

I always wanted to be a teacher.

 I loved playing school, even when I was alone. One Christmas, Santa gave me a stand-up chalkboard, with white chalk and colored chalk.  Now I had all the latest technology to be a real teacher!  Teaching my imaginary students, I created fabulous classes.  One bonus, which I didn't realize until much later, was that my imaginary students always eagerly complied with everything I asked them to do!

In junior high school, I joined Future Teachers of America.  I don't recall many specific activities or meetings of the group, but I do remember that we could prepare a lesson and teach a class. I have no idea what I prepared or what class I taught, but I do remember that I had fun---and I was a real teacher. We also tutored students in our former elementary school.  I listened to a little girl read---this tutoring must have been during the spring, because I remember sitting with her on the steps by the playground in the sunshine.

My school memories, of course, include many teachers. Some of these special people stand out for me.  Allow me to introduce them:

  • Miss Sauer, my first grade teacher.   My family moved to a new house about one week before school started, and I didn't know anyone in the neighborhood.  For the first few days of school, I cried when my mom left me in the first grade room.  Miss Sauer was so sweet to me. As far as I knew, I was the only student she had in that class.  She made me feel cared for and special.

  • Mrs. Wingassen, my fifth grade teacher.   I had the measles during fifth grade, so I was out of school for many days.  She asked everyone in the class to make me a  get-well picture, which she put together into a booklet.   When I got these pictures, I was a very happy girl.  During my childhood, everyone got mumps, measles, and chicken pox, which required long absences.   I imagine we often made these  pictures for other students who were out for long periods, but I only remember the one my teacher created just for me.  Academically,  during this year my teacher introduced  the class to content about all 48 states (yes, I said 48!). With the help of Mrs. Wingassen, I became hooked on finding out about many places in the U.S.   Place names like Schenectady, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Boise sounded puzzling and magical.
  • Miss Seifert, my elementary music teacher.  Music class was always a  mixture of fun and hard work.  In fifth grade, Cincinnati Public Schools created a 5th and 6th grade school choir to sing in Cincinnati's May Festival.  All students auditioned, and surprisingly, I made it as one of the representatives of my elementary school.  (I owe lots to  my mom who taught me the alto part of "Silent Night", just for fun---hooray, that was the audition piece--lucky me!).  Miss Seifert joined us during our rehearsals on several Saturdays at Cincinnati Music Hall.  Because of spending this extra time with her, I interacted with her on a personal level.  For a treat one Saturday afternoon, she took all of us (about 10 students) to see the  movie "Operation Petticoat".  The title is so fresh for me because the experience was so memorable!  How could a girl feel anymore special than to see a movie with her teacher?? 

  • Mr. Stewart, my 9th grade Algebra teacher.  I was no math whiz, to say the least!  Those math concepts always took a bit longer to sink into my brain!  My dad, an accountant, tried to help me, but honestly, his patience had its limits.  How could his daughter not understand something that came to him so easily?  Fortunately, my teacher offered to help me.  I probably went to his room at least two days a week after school to get extra help.  He explained everything again, showing extraordinary patience. He treated me with great respect, and I always looked forward to the times he helped me.
  • Mrs. Vail, my Socio-Economics teacher.  All seniors were required to take this class, which included sociology, economics, and government.  Each day, I loved going to her class.  She had a fabulous grasp about the kinds of information we would need when we entered the adult world.  One activity caught my attention from the moment she gave us the assignment.    We had to visit different grocery stores to  compare prices of a variety of  products.  I know this work doesn't sound very innovative today, but this was 1967. (The most real-world activity I remember until that one was a math problem requiring me to figure when two trains would meet, one going 50 mph and one going 76 mph.  Heck--I had never even ridden on a train!)  I never forgot how engaged I was in the price comparison project. I now realize Mrs. Vail was way ahead of her time---she gave us an authentic, project-based learning experience. 
     As I write about my teachers, I wonder why each one has remained so clear in my memory. Then I realize the answer!   All together, Miss Sauer, Mrs. Wingassen, Miss Seifert,  Mr. Stewart, and Mrs. Vail are a composite of a masterful educator with all the "right stuff" to help me become successful:      caring for me , teaching with  patience,  giving me academic challenges, offering engaging work, and treating me with respect.

     These teachers, and many more, helped me during every stage of my education.  Because of them,  I have been able to " go confidently in the direction of (my) dreams" , as Henry David Thoreau once recommended to all of us.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Teacher's File Cabinet--It's not what you think it is!

  Many people think that a teacher's life becomes super easy after a few years, because he or she can go to the file cabinet, take out an old lesson plan, and ,"voila",  have a lesson for that day.  No matter how long one has taught, lesson planning involves more than pulling a worksheet or test out of a file.
Source:  Hub Solution Designs
   Familiarity with course material, understanding the timing aspects of a lesson, and just plain confidence do ease a teacher's task.
 Let me show you, however, how a lesson on "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Poe might be very different for me this year:
(This scenario is fictitious, but I think it is realistic.)

  • Last year I had 4 English 11 classes of 27 students each.  This year, because of an increase in enrollment, I have 5 classes of 27 students each. I want all students to have an individual copy so they can annotate as they read.  (This is an important skill when helping students read literature closely.)
  •  I need to make 27 more copies of the short story.  Oops....the copy machine is not working......oops, the second copy machine needs toner....oops......the next one works, but the copier jams after 3 or 4 copies, but I finally get my extra copies.
  •  Ok, now I have a copy for each student!
  • I must reread the story.  Even though I know the story well, I need to  read it again to make sure I haven't forgotten anything or thought of something different about the story. I haven't read the story since last year. I need to look at any notes I have and may add some.
  • This year I have an ESL student (English as a Second Language)  from Somalia who is a very hard worker, but has great difficulty reading independently.  I need to look at her schedule to see when she can go to the Writing Lab for extra help.  I may also email the ESL teacher.
  • I also have 2 students on IEP's who require different accomodations.  One needs extra time on assignments and one needs to have the story read orally (I'll get the info to her intervention specialist),
  • Now is the time to figure out the timing of  reading the story. 
  • I will read the first few pages with the students to set up the setting and atmosphere Poe uses.  They'll  need help with words like tarn, miasma, fissure. How should I handle vocabulary needs with my classes?
  • Students will read independently until Madeline appears, about  5 paragraphs. 
  • Review:  narrator, Roderick, symptoms of his illness, and Madeline's appearance.
  • During all of this, students annotate their copy, following guidelines I have given them.
  • Because the story can't be read in one period, I  must decide what to assign for homework--or should we finish in class tomorrow?
  • We have shortened periods tomorrow for an assembly, which will also affect my planning.
  • After discussing the events in the story, I will introduce possible themes. 
  • Students will be assigned to use quotes from the story to support each possible theme.
  • I will have students work in pairs on this assignment----this is the first time these classes have done this, so I have to plan for how the pairing will work.
  • Students also need to take notes on how Poe uses the setting and atmosphere, the plot, the characters, and the hidden workings of the human mind. Later, they will need this information to write an essay on Poe's style.
   The lesson I described doesn't contain lots of innovative, cutting-edge ideas! I haven't even mentioned  goals and learning targets when studying Poe.  My purpose here is to show the process involved in working with a lesson which I have done many, many times.  Also, each class is different, so I may need to do some things differently because of the nature of the class and students.

As everyone in education knows, we teach students, not content.  However, the content, the materials, and the process matter.  The success of my students depends on my work before class even begins!

One aspect of teaching I have loved is planning and searching for new ideas.  If anyone mentions that teachers simply rehash old work, please remind him that we are not robots and our students are not robots. Teachers don't simply turn on a start button each day, going through some mechanical movements.

Source:  123RF, royalty free photos

 Change is constant in education, even for the very familiar! 

If you want to read "The Fall of the House of Usher", here is a link for you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A big thank you for teaching a student teacher how to teach!!!

I was lucky in 1971--I had a fabulous student teaching experience! 

Athens, Ohio, in the Hocking Hills of southeast Ohio, is not close to a large city.  My friends and I wanted to student teach in a big city-- practicing our skills in the true adult world.  The large city where OU placed student teachers was Cleveland, Ohio, about as far as one could be from Athens and still be in Ohio.

My placement was teaching 8th grade social studies at Harding Middle School in Lakewood, a Cleveland suburb.  My excitement of getting an apartment with my friends outweighed my nervousness at being thrown into a classroom.  We found a landlord who specialized in short-term leases for student teachers. We four co-eds thought we lived in Windsor Castle!  Spacious, close to the bus line, and in the city, this apartment was perfect. Amazingly, one roommate and I were placed at the same school, so we took the bus each morning to our school.

Mr. Mulling, my supervising teacher, was the reason my student experience was a perfect introduction to the classroom.  First, he let me observe him for a few days.  Each day we met to discuss his lessons and his planning.  Then one day, he told me I was going to teach.   "Yikes, I'm not ready" was my first thought.  But he knew I had to jump in.

He next required me to write out my lesson plans, giving me the format I had to use  Today, requiring lessons plans in student teaching seems like a no-brainer, but I knew others who were not required to plan and write as much as I was.  At the time, of course, I felt somewhat put-upon.  Now, I know that requirement helped in my first teaching job and still helps me today!

He stayed in the classroom for one or two days while I executed my well-written plans.  Teaching seemed very easy!  Good students and good plans made for a good day.  Then, it happened; he left me ALONE in the classroom. 

Each day became more challenging as the students realized I was "in charge".  They tested my authority each day. One day I chastised a class, reminding them that they wouldn't act up if Mr.Mulling was there.  At wit's end, I finally went to get Mr. Mulling, sure he would "have my back" with this group.   My jaw dropped when he said, "No, Linda, you need to handle the class on your own."  He probably gave me a few suggestions, but I had no time for a lengthly educational chat. The  class could be hanging on the ceiling by now.

 I don't remember specifically what happened when I returned, but I do remember that I "handled the class".  Again, he knew the right course for my successful teaching experience.   I'm sure I had some discipline issues later, but I had learned a most valuable lesson---I had to learn how to plan for possible discipline problems and how to think on my feet,  because certain aspects of classroom management cannot be predicted!

I finally need to thank Mr. Mulling  for allowing me to be creative. One of my final, planned activities was an extensive class mock trial. If he had reservations about the extent of my project, he never told me.  What he did do was ask me questions about every aspect of it, allowing me to come up with the answers. Now I know he was helping me think through the entire project, without telling me what to do!

On the big day of implementing the project, my boyfriend (now my husband) was visiting me at school.  He helped by reading the introduction of my script.   He still remembers the words: "Today on a cloudy fall morning, in Spain's prison courtyard.. . . "  I can't remember the rest of the role playing, but I do remember the feeling when I realized I had survived a huge, successful activity.

 I learned recently that Mr.Mulling died this past November.  Even though I'm sad that I can't tell him about my retirement, I am so pleased that I had called him about 10 years ago when we were visiting Cleveland.  I told him how much student teaching had meant to me, and I told him that I had been in education for many years.  I hope that phone call meant as much to him as it did to me----it was a small way to pay back his kindness to a 21 year old many years ago.

My dad used to say to "get it from the beginning", whenever my brother or I started on a new venture. 

Mr Mulling,  you were a master teacher before that term became popular in education, touching many young lives. Thank you for helping me to "get it from the beginning", which led to  my 37 years in the classroom.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Zooming from the 70s to the 2000s

Yesterday, my daughter asked me if I realized when I started teaching in 1971 that my year of retirement would be somewhere in the 2000s. It took me a few seconds to even wrap my brain around the question!

When I started teaching, I never thought about retirement at all!  In fact, I didn't think too much about retirement until a few years ago.  My husband and I were busy raising our daughters, and we didn't seem to have time for a breath, let alone time for thoughts of retirement planning.  Some of my teaching friends started to retire, and it hit me that I would someday be there!!!

I remember when my dad retired as an accountant for Cincinnati Metro.  Dean and I planned a huge surprise party for him.  My mom was in on the surprise, but what she didn't know was that my brother was flying in from Kansas City for the big event.  I'll always remember my dad's face when he came to our house that Sunday, and we told him guests would soon arrive to celebrate his retirement!  Even more memorable was the look on both of my parents' faces when I said, "And one of the guests has already arrived".  My brother walked in from the kitchen!  My mom gave him a big hug and kiss! I'm pretty sure my dad's jaw dropped! Many of my parents' friends joined us that afternoon, and we had asked each one to write a note to my dad.  The notes ranged from profound to funny to silly.

I still have those notes in a scrapbook we made for my dad.  I think it it time that I read them.  Of course, my dad isn't with me for my retirement, but I bet the sentiments his friends shared will have just as much meaning for me today.  And I humbly say that my dad would be proud that I have taught for 37 years and have earned my retirement.

So back to my daughter's question.  Key futuristic dates I recall as being significant were 1984 (because of the novel) and the year 2000.   (Has it been almost 12 years since we all worried about Y2K?)

I realize that if I  had thought of the end of my career when I started my career, I wouldn't have had much of a career. Teaching has been a journey, as trite as that may sound.   Anyway, what fun is it to read the last chapter of a book before starting it?