Friday, November 18, 2016

MTBoS A Day in the Life Project: November Reflection

This is my monthly post for November for Tina Cardone's "Day in the Life" project. Even though today is Friday, there was no school for the students -- just a professional development day.

If you really want, you can read my "Day in the Life" for today's PD day:

8:15 -- I arrive at my school.

8:30 -- The PD begins. A speaker has flown all the way from New Jersey to here in California to discuss today's PD topic, "Responsive Classroom." You can read more about it at the following link:

9:55 -- We have a ten-minute break. During this time, I check my email and receive a response from the Green Team, who wants to implement a special science lesson in my class. Please see previous "Day in the Life" post, dated yesterday (for Parent Confences/day before Thanksgiving break). for more information on what the Green Team is.

10:05 -- The PD resumes.

12:30 -- We have a 45-minute break. Lunch is provided for teachers -- chicken with mac and cheese.

1:15 -- The PD resumes.

2:00 -- The PD ends. I decide to spend some time cleaning up and organizing my room.

3:15 -- I go home for the day and head for my computer to type up this blog entry.

I know -- this is rather pointless, especially since I already submitted a PD post in August. So today I'll write more on Cardone's special reflection questions. Notice that I incorporate some of what I learned at today's PD into the reflection. The Survival stage of my first year continues:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I'm thinking back to Tuesday, November 8th. (No, the decision I'm about to write about has nothing to do with the election!) Due to a combination of strange events, instead of teaching in my classroom, I was subbing for the middle school math/science teacher at our sister charter school! On that day, I made one decision I'm proud of -- but unfortunately two of which I'm less than proud.

I made my good decision during the first block of the day, seventh grade math. My counterpart left a multiplication table for the students to complete in three minutes, but some students told me that I was wrong and that they're supposed to get four or five minutes. So I told them that if they took extra time, there'd be less time for Playworks Classroom Game Time to follow. That ended the argument.

My first bad decision occurred during sixth grade science. At both charter schools, the official policy is that students are not to eat or drink in the class, not even water, and my counterpart teacher's note specifically stated that all water bottles are to be placed near the sink. One girl claimed that she's allowed to drink water, and some other students backed her up. I yelled at her.

My second bad decision occurred during seventh grade science. The students had a worksheet where they had to distinguish between physical and chemical reactions. Some students were confused, but they claimed that they were finished and went to the computers. They told me that they were on IXL (there's that dang IXL again!), but instead everyone was just playing around. I yelled at them.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

Obviously, I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving break. As far as class is concerned, I'm looking for the opportunity to teach more science in my own classroom via the Green Team program. Notice how at our sister school, science is a separate block of the day (and IXL is squeezed in), whereas at our own campus, IXL gets its own block and science is squeezed in.

But here we see what my obvious challenge is -- I'm yelling way too much. Both the sixth and seventh grade classes at my sister school began the class civilly, but by the end I was yelling. In both cases, the yelling began after I tried to enforce an unpopular rule -- no water in the sixth grade and work the entire period in the seventh grade.

During my previous two years as a sub, I rarely if ever yelled at the students. But this is because I almost never enforced unpopular rules. For example, I let the students eat and drink, especially if the regular teacher doesn't explicitly forbid eating in the sub notes. Similarly, if the students should be working on the computer and they listened to music on headphones instead, I'd let them, since there were much worse things they could have been doing. I knew that trying to enforce rules would lead only to arguments.

But all of this has changed because now I'm a teacher who must enforce the rules. Whenever I do so, I end up yelling -- whether at my home school or the sister school (where I know what the rules are).

When I returned to my home school, I tried to avoid yelling. For example, two days later I had some students who were out of their assigned seat. Fortunately, I was in the middle of a game of Fraction Fever, where the classes were divided into two teams trying to win. So it was easy to deduct a point whenever a student left his seat. This typically worked -- the student returned to his seat without argument after his team complains that he cost the team a point.

It's easy to avoid arguments during an activity that is fun, such as Playworks or Fraction Fever -- all I have to do is take time away from the activity or points away from the score. But I need to be able to manage the class during normal lessons. The week after the incident at my sister school (that is, the week just completed), there were four days of school, and all four days I yelled at some point.

-- On Monday, an eighth grader complained about the Parent Conference week schedule. Nutrition is at 11:05 everyday, but this is after two periods on regular days and three on shortened days. (Other middle schools often do the same -- they have break after 2nd period most days, but after 3rd period on shortened days.) She insisted that it was break and that I couldn't tell time, so I yelled at her.

-- On Tuesday, I started a STEM activity which required the students to divide into pairs. I wanted to give each pair a STEM textbook, but there were so few of them I didn't even have enough for every pair (much less every student). So I told them they could break into groups of three. But then four students wanted to make a group. I informed them that they couldn't, since four is too far away from the two intended by the text. The students refused to make a smaller group, so I yelled at them.

-- On Wednesday, I gave a quiz to all three grades. In every case, some students would not be completely silent during the quiz -- once every stopped talking, some seventh graders would make sound effects, everyone would laugh, and then the talking would resume. I yelled at the students the entire time. Then I quietly wrote on the board that the only the first 14 quizzes (about half the class) would be graded, and everyone else would get a zero. Only those students who weren't talking saw the message and avoided the zero, but some of the students getting zeros are the top kids in the class.

-- On Thursday, the eighth graders were doing a science lesson with my Bruin Corps member (again, see yesterday's "Day in the Life" post). This was a life science lesson, but it appeared in the eighth grade standards according to our online software. One girl (yes, the same girl from Monday) correctly noted that she learned this lesson in seventh grade (under the old pre-NGSS standards) and therefore she'd refuse to work on the lesson. I was about to login to our website and show her the standards, but she continued to complain before I could get to the site, so I yelled at her again.

So now we look at our PD -- Responsive Classroom. Some of the things we learned at the meeting can help me avoid yelling at the students. These include:

-- Developmentally Responsive Teaching
-- Reminding Language
-- Redirecting Language

These last two especially can help me avoid arguments. Let's look at, for example, Monday's argument and how I could have avoided yelling at the eighth grade girl:

Me: After this class you will go to English class.
Girl: No, we have nutrition now.
Me: For a participation point, who can read me the schedule written on the board?
Another Student: After this class we go to English.
Me: Thank you. You get a point.

That ends the argument, since now it's no longer me against the girl, but me and another against the original student. The other student is given an incentive -- the participation point -- to side with me and the correct schedule instead of the girl saying the wrong schedule.

A similar trick could have worked with the same girl on Thursday. I ignore her when she says that she won't do the science lesson and have another student read the standards from the website. It's even possible that the original girl wouldn't have contradicted me on Thursday -- she might have shown me more respect, because I'd have shown her respect by not yelling at her on Monday!

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

This post is already getting long, but I'll add that the relationships we form with our students is part of the guiding principles of Responsive Classroom.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal is to be the ideal classroom manager. This post shows that I'm far from my goal, but Responsive Classroom can help me reach it.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

There's nothing else for me to share, as I've shared so much already.

My next monthly post is December 18th -- oops, that's a Sunday, so more reflection! My next personal post will be on the day that I meet with the Green Team -- hopefully Monday.

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