29 March 2010

Classroom Arrangement

I admit it: I am very anal-retentive when it comes to how my classroom is arranged. I really like for my rows to be straight. I even go so far as to line them up on a particular tile line on the floor. However, I have also learned that I can let students rearrange once class has started. Early on, I let students know that I like for my classroom to be left a certain way. While they are in the classroom learning, rearrangement is fine. I just need them to do little things like put books away where they belong and pick up their trash. Would I love for them to sit in nice neat rows facing the front? Sure! Is that what I require? No. I have learned to give a little to get a little. Good classroom management is all about compromise and this demonstrates how I am learning to compromise with my students.

What about you? Do you have a particular way you want your classroom arranged? Or do you just let students sit any which way? Do you have something other than the traditional desk for students to occupy?

This is an excerpt from my final assessment piece for my Classroom Management class. I am to address my theory of classroom management and incorporate as much of what we have discussed as possible into the paper. One of those areas of discussion was classroom arrangement. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Its a struggle for me but I am learning. I have a lot to learn about education contrary to what some may believe about me. I'm sure that's because of what I write here. I guess I sound a little holier-than-thou. Oh well. You don't HAVE to read! ;-)

28 March 2010

Classroom Management, Week 5

It is just about time to wrap up the 4th module in the MACI program. We only have one class period left. During this module, I have really begun to genuinely value the act of reflection. I'm not really sure why or just what happened to cause it, but slowly my outlook on reflection has changed. This seems quite strange since it was the last module which was called Reflective Writing, but I guess, as usual, I'm just a little slow and things are finally beginning the sink into my brain.

When I went through the teacher education program at SNU, I was taught to reflect. I've written so many reflection papers about other papers and "artifacts" that I can't even begin to count them all. Seriously, I did reflections on reflections. It got old. I was all reflected out. I didn't even want to look at a mirror for fear I would reflect! However, at this point in my life/education/development, I am beginning to see the value in thinking about what I did and what I should be doing. Thinking about what I had hoped the outcomes of a lesson were going to be and realizing that I fell short/met/exceeded what was hoped for in the lesson.

More often than not, I fall short. This point has been driven home recently as I have thought about the first half of this semester. However, as I look back over the previous 2 3/4 years, I feel satisfied about what I've been doing in my classroom. I've built some relationships with students, especially in my advisory time, that I think may have a lasting impact on, at least a few, of those student's lives. That's really what my idea of classroom management is: building solid, meaningful, relationships with students. I hope that I can help students make good decisions in their lives. Lord knows I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life. I don't think it "was intended" for me to make those poor decisions, but if students can gain some insight into "what NOT to do" in their lives, at least the hardship in my life will not have been for naught!

I recently read a blog post about what its like to reflect on your practices in the classroom. Striving for perfection leaves you, at times, feeling unfulfilled and empty. This is usually because you NEVER get to the point you can be satisfied. So, here's the meat of this post: do you stop striving for the best and enjoy the status quo in your job/education/life or do you continue to work harder knowing "it will never be good enough"? I'm sure you know the answer here is to keep working harder and striving to do the best that you can. I don't mean to be the best teacher. I mean to be YOUR best. Be the best teacher YOU can be. There's a big difference.

In our family, we take trips and we try to tell our kids that the trip is much more about the journey and a lot less about where we are going. There's an awful lot to see along the way and if you keep looking for the destination you are going to miss something. I think the situation of reflecting on my teaching practice is similar: its more about the process and a lot less about the product. I KNOW I'll never stop integrating new ideas/strategies into my physics curriculum. I KNOW none of my lessons will ever be good enough for me. The only person I compare my practices to are my own. I don't really care what anyone else is doing in my building/department. Its not Me vs. Them. Its Me vs. Me! I'm not in competition for some End-Of-Instruction percent passing rate with another class. Its kind of like a qualifying race of some kind: I'm simply racing myself. It doesn't matter what anyone else says or does about my practice of teaching because I know no matter what anyone else says it will never be good enough for me! And I'm the only one that matters anyway!

How about you? Do you think about what you do in life? Do you ask yourself whether or not you met your goals? Do you even set any goals? If so, don't get bogged down in the fact that you might never achieve what you set out to do. Relish in the thought that you are achieving at a higher level than you would have if you hadn't tried so hard! That's the only thing that gets me through the day. Thanks for reading.

22 March 2010

Classroom Management Week 4

Its been a difficult finish to the first 9 weeks of this semester. It seems that my students are as unmotivated and uninspired as any I have encountered in 3 short years of teaching. The real questions is this: what is it that causes this problem? What am I doing differently than any other year/semester? Actually this whole year seems to have been filled with students with whom I am having difficulty in forming relationships.

I know there are classes of students that are "difficult" but what am I doing differently? I've heard teachers talk about the new freshmen this and this senior class that. I'm not sure I buy it. If it is the students, what do I do? Do I simply chalk this up to experience? Or do I continue to do my best at building relationships? Well, that's a dumb question. Of course I keep trying! Its a little bit like the healthcare debate. When things don't go our way, we just want to whine and complain until things go over the edge into ridiculousness, instead of looking for a way to solve the problem. If you aren't part of the solution, you are the problem. All I can do is keep a positive attitude and do my best. Students either will pick up the responsibility for their education or not. At least I can look forward to another year of doing the best I can. That's what's great about teaching...you get a second chance to be the best over and over!

I don't mean to sound like I dislike this current group of students. In fact, its quite the opposite. I genuinely enjoy class everyday. I just don't fell as if I am getting through to them. It doesn't seem that I am "making a difference" like I have in the past. Is it me? Is it them? Does it matter who it is?

I'll just keep trying to do what it is that I am best at: teaching Physics.

Prayer for the teacher:


When I feel anger towards a student, please help me to remember that I may be the only person who listens to them today.
When students don't act like I expect, please help me not to lower my expectations, but to gently remind them of those expectations and give them an opportunity to be successful.
When I begin to doubt myself, please help me to remember that I am needed and not to become jaded and grouchy whenever I speak of students.


21 March 2010

Why do I use Technology in my classroom?

As I sit here, procrastinating paying bills/doing homework, I am considering a meeting with a colleague this afternoon in which we are going to discuss classroom technology integration and twitter as a Peer-Learning-Network. I decided to ask myself why I use these things in my classroom and just share my thoughts on my journey to this point as a technology-oriented teacher.

A little history

I am not a typical new teacher (yes, I still consider myself a new teacher with a lot to learn!). I went back to school as an older adult (mid-30s) and began teaching at the age of 37. I've always been interested in technology, a bit of a computer nerd you might say. While in school, I was sorely disappointed in the training I got in technology. Because I respect SNU as an institution I won't go into specifics, but it appears (this is an simply my opinion) that they are not adequately training teachers to integrate technology into the 21st Century classroom. Those things said, I didn't really set out to make my classroom a technology-heavy educational setting. It kind of just happened.

To the credit of Putnam City Schools, I first got interested in technology integration in a class offered by the district. I was motivated to go to the class because it meant I would get a district supplied laptop for the duration of my employment and who doesn't want that! (I've heard about teachers applying and not being accepted and then dropping it at that; to them I say "Apply again!") But the result of the class and the direction of my classroom went/goes much deeper than just a  "free laptop".

About the time I took the class, I had just completed the SchoolCenter teacher webpage class in our district and had begun to build an informational website for my students. It was in its infancy and has grown to consume a lot of my time. However, based on the analytics from SchoolCenter (a feature I love!) I can see that many students (or someone) is visiting the site on a regular basis. The calendar feature is probably the best part since its a way for me to keep a planner/schedule that students can access from any internet-connected computer. The classroom website and the textbook-supplied website for my AP Physics homework were the two driving forces of technology-use in my classroom. I really began to use my AP Physics class as a bunch of guinea pigs by integrating the use of the calendar, discussion boards, and online homework.

I got a really positive response from students about both components (the online HW and the webite) and that really encouraged me; especially because I was (at the time) feeling very inadequate about my methods and my classroom in general (this was the time of my first year that I think many/most new teachers really begin to doubt what they are doing - 3rd quarter of the first year). The positive feedback from students was like a drug, I wanted/needed more and began to look into other areas in which I could get technology integrated into my class. At this time, I also realized that there were (and still are) laptop labs in my building which are not booked solid and I figured out I could use one of them regularly, as often as several times a week, if I wanted to do so.

I felt technology was a way to get students using something with which they were familiar (technology) to begin to get exposure to an abstract and at times difficult subject: Physics. Many students were (and still are) very afraid to take Physics. This stems from a fear of math and is whole separate post, so I'll just leave it at that. I felt that if I could get the word out that students use laptops often in my classroom that my enrollment would increase because students like using technology tools to learn. It seems to have done just that. Next year I have 56 enrolled for Pre-AP Physics 1, so far. That's an increase of nearly 100% over this year. Wow! I just now calculated that! Pretty encouraging.

Stay on Target!

So, what now? What am I doing and why am I doing it?

  1. I am still using the teacher webpage. Its a great way to have students see where we are going with the calendar, access documents we use in class such as study guides, homework answers, and I have even begun to host tests there for my Physics 1 classes (paperless classroom, here I come).  I'll see about a separate posts on integrating googledocs as a way to give paperless tests sometime in the near future.

  2. I still use the online homework component of our AP Physics textbook. Its self-grading which saves me a lot of time and allows me an opportunity to have the rigor of a true college classroom. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean its easy. I just mean its easier for me to give a larger load of homework that is on par with what these students will experience in college (its AP, right?)

  3. I began using a wiki in my classroom last year as a paperless research project. It began as a scientist research project (wherein students researched a particular historical scientist and created a wiki page) but has evolved into something that I think will be much better: a textbook. My thoughts are that students can create a textbook, using our current textbook as a guide. We use Turnitin.com to keep everyone honest about plagiarism. I absolute do not want students cutting and pasting from one website. I encourage synthesis of information and expect that they have a basic understanding of the writing/editing process since they are (usually at least) juniors in high school.

My future plans? Undecided. I'm not sure I can add anything else. I am heavily vested in social networking. I believe in transparency and teach my students the same. I do add students to my social networks for a couple of reasons. Primarily because I communicate with them about schoolwork via social networking.  A significant amount of the wiki project is done on student's own time, as homework, and social networking is an easy way to communicate quickly. This blurs the boundaries of our classroom and extends instructional time, all at no cost to the taxpayer! Secondly, I believe in leading by example. If students see that I am a how I use social networks and that I don't post pics of myself in compromising situations online, that sends a strong message that these are powerful tools that can be used for "good or evil". We talk some about digital citizenship in our classroom and we discuss social networking in that context.  It all boils down to transparency.


Why do I use it? I've built a network of people who have similar interests/goals and I follow them. I don't imagine many people get much out of what I post to twitter. I do, however, get a lot out of what others post. Its a great way to see what others are reading. I think of it like a food taster for the King. I am the King and my network is out there constantly tasting my food and passing along that which is good. I know, that seems a little self-centered, but it works for me and I like the analogy!

I apologize for the long post. Maybe someday I'll learn how to do several small posts instead of one gigantic one! Thanks for reading.

07 March 2010

Classroom Management Week 3

Our assignment this week is to answer the following question: What have you learned and how will you use it?

I hope this post doesn't sound too pompous, but as I play it through in my head, I'm afraid it is going to be that way.

Honestly, as far as classroom management goes, I'm not really learning anything (new). That doesn't mean this class isn't useful to me, because it is. I am getting a huge amount of reinforcement for what I am already implementing in my classroom. I am also getting a gentle reminder of the reasons I started teaching in the first place. Its a calling. It's an opportunity to reach out to human beings who might be hurting or needful of a stable person in their lives. It's a chance to be someone who is there for students when many, if not all, others in their life might NOT be there. It's the ability to help students make decisions that will affect the direction of the rest of their life. Without trying to sound cliche', it really is a mission field. All of these are thoughts I have had since the beginning of this class. None of those are new thoughts, but its a helpful reminder, especially in this 3rd year of teaching when I have been feeling a little jaded.

This year, my honeymoon with teaching ended. I've had a different view on students. Part of this is because I've been pulled in so many different directions, usually because I've volunteered for some committee or decided to present at a conference or possibly because I've started a master's program! Bottom line, things have been different this year and its been good to be in contact with other teachers who are interested in honing their skills and becoming better at their chosen profession. This positive peer-to-peer relationship I've built with the teachers in this program have really influenced me positively. All of that to say that my learning in this class has been a great experience.

In general, I'm just being reminded of what's going on in class. I am able to share things we have talked about in classroom management with my students and that (hopefully) lets them know I am interested in being a better teacher. It sets a good example for them to continue their education beyond what is expected of them by their parents. I hope this shows them that they are at an age at which they should be thinking about taking responsibility for their education and their life. Mom and Dad have an idea of what they should be doing, but in the end, the student is the one who has to live with the decisions they are making right now.

I'll just chalk my lack of new learning in this class up to my advanced age upon entering the classroom and the fact that my wife is the best teacher I know. She always has something helpful to say or do whenever we talk about what's going in Room 301.

01 March 2010

classroom management, week 2

I was reminded of a chink in the armor of my classroom management on Friday afternoon. It wasn't really a great situation. It's a good time to reflect though.

I was sitting on duty during our required tutoring time on Friday, stationed at the end of new gym hall watching the hall to the new cafeteria, the hall to the old cafeteria, and the hall in front of the gym. Part of this station includes watching the doors that come in to the school from outside. The doors had been locked by a principal as soon as tutoring started. There are many athletes who like to loaf around in the hall in front of the gym and they let their friends inside, even though the doors are locked. I tend to think skipping tutoring is it's own punishment, so when there are athletes milling around there, I let them be. I've got too many other areas to worry about and that's not a battle I want to fight. However, the doors being locked IS a battle I've decided to fight. Students are supposed to go to Pirate Hall to enter the school because there are principals on duty there and they are better prepared to limit student traffic in and out of the school than I am.

So here's when the chink was revealed. A student left school before the doors were locked and came back after they had been secured. She was extremely upset when I refused to allow an athlete to let her in through those doors. She showed her frustration by telling me I was Number One with the wrong finger. I simply waved her towards Pirate Hall and decided I would deal with her ugly attitude if I saw her again in the hall that day. Sure enough, she tried to walk by my duty station, all the while sulking and generally being ticked off. I asked her to come talk to me and proceed to tell her that giving someone the finger wasn't really a polite way to interact. She stood there and said nothing. I think I may have gotten louder because I got frustrated. My biggest problem was the sarcastic tone with which I spoke to her, especially at the end.

My initial plan was to talk to her and let the whole thing drop, but she pushed a button when she refused to acknowledge what I was telling her. This made the entire interaction about ME and that's not the what was supposed to happen. I tried very hard to not use the old "that's not how you talk to a teacher line" and tried to make it more about being disrespectful in general. As I think back on the situation, the main thing I could have changed was to simply send her to the office immediately.

By the time the exchange (which was rather one sided) she had only uttered five words: "Mmmhmmm" and "Oh My F***ing God!" I see this as a problem because I didn't engage her and resolve the situation. In fact, I feel now like I may have escalated it because she was even more upset.

I recognize I can't fix every single thing that comes up, but my personality makes me want to. Its a curse. The other problem I have is with disrespect. It drives me bonkers and makes me go from zero to insane when students are disrespectful. I suppose that comes from two things: the way I was raised and my military training. I'm a lot better at dealing with this than I was 2 years ago, but occasionally, I still lose my cool and get loud. That's why this situation is so frustrating; it hasn't happened in a very long time.

If you are a classroom teacher or administrator, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you are someone trying to sell me something, don't bother because I'll mark your comment as spam. As always, thanks for reading.