Wednesday, December 1, 2010

...and now back to confessing

I realized that my favorite part of writing in this blog is the confessing part, and have a good one along with a decent victory to relieve some of the sting.

I am about to give a test tomorrow, only to realize that I haven't even given back the previous test students took 2 weeks ago. Why is that? Well there are lots of reasons, none good, to explain how I have managed to file these tests away in manila envelopes and not look at them for 2 weeks. One that comes to mind is that tests take hours to grade, the essays are usually depressing, and the whole handing back process takes class time that I haven't been cognizant to schedule. The bottom line is that I just suck at grading. It is like doing bills, like tallying up how much in debt you are. Granted, this year grading has revealed by far the best results of my teaching thus far, yet I still find it so difficult.

Having said that, I did a test review activity today that really worked well - at least for what I wanted. I broke up the unit - Renaissance and Reformation into 7 categories - written summaries that take up a page and have a picture or something. Then I distribute these to students in even numbers. Students read them for review, write a synopsis on a 1/4th sheet of paper, and then get 3 minutes to discuss their reviews with an "expert group." After that, they get mixed up, one from each topic, and they have to paste their summaries on a poster. Each group member is responsible for creating two meaningful connections between their topic and two others. For instance, the student with Humanism could say that the focus on the individual inspired the Reformation, another topic. They would draw an arrow and write a brief explanation next to that arrow. Each student is graded on their two connections, the group is graded on the quality and completion of their poster. In several classes we had 5 minutes at the end so I swapped posters and had groups identify the strongest and weakest link of the other group.

Overall, the results were better than expected. I saw students discussing and analyzing content in a way that I have rarely seen in my 3 years. Perhaps the most satisfying is to hear students say that they would rather just have a quiz because this activity is making them think too much. "Don't worry," I respond, "you get a test tomorrow."

So test Unit 3 tomorrow, Renaissance and Reformation. Grading the tests, Units 2 and 3 will be a bitch, but I'll get them back next week sometime and we can move on through world history. I will be done with the age of exploration, the scientific revolution and the enlightenment before the holiday break.

Monday, November 22, 2010

At the end of the 1st quarter of my 3rd year.....

I've got this blog bookmarked on my safari browser bar under tcc. I so rarely use that link that it has been shoved off to the side. I think as I grow increasingly busy, I don't have as much time to blog. That and I can tell that I am reaching a point of validation as a teacher in a way that makes posting on this blog less therapeutic and borderline imposing or even pretentious. Then I remember that I am probably anonymous to anyone reading this, and based on the stats email I get every month, people still look at this blog. They are probably searching BCTR Blog or something.

In the time since I last wrote, I've worked with MSDE on world history curriculum, helped to write the new BCPSS modern world history curriculum, and worked with BCTR in a training capacity. I look forward to interviewing for selection events in the next month or so. I find that experience to be exhilarating and inspiring to see so many committed to urban education.

I pulled a classic throw some loose plan together before I left home for school, only to start reviewing my plan around 11pm and realize that it is bullocks, and will never hold water tomorrow. Granted we are nearing the break, but have found that one of my keys to happiness as a teacher is to never settle for crappy lessons unless it is absolutely unavoidable. I've had a few this year, and of course they suck, and students know they suck. But in my 2 completed years I've accumulated enough good ideas that I don't have to do the brunt work every night. That is because I've been fortunate to teach the same subjects this year as I did last.

So I'm teaching about the Protestant Reformation tomorrow, and thought I would use some random reading and graphic organizer that related the PR to the age of exploration, only to find that it was a wholly inadequate worksheet for 1/2 of my PR coverage. So, as usual, I decided to go to multiple sources that will be given out to groups, and then summarized to create a more complete picture by the end of 47 minutes. I will throw the final bits into docs tomorrow morning and print them off. Next year I will put the finishing touches on them. Actually what happens is my 1st and 2nd period are the dry run, and then I tweak it for 4th, and finish off the completed product for 7th and 8th.

One thing I have been doing differently this year is publishing my plans online using a program called Gradebook. I use a mac, but it is also on PC. I have a website, well 2 websites, but can publish both of my class calendars on my website for parents and students to see. This has been good for me to stay on top of my plans, and I am positive that I will be so glad next year to have my year outlined like that. My organization is so horribly negligent that I usually just go to my last years folder to see the various stuff I taught. I don't always have a fleshed out lesson plan neatly placed on top of the previous day's plan for me to go back to. Not until now, at least.

In my 3rd year, I am developing strong opinions about the purpose of my courses. In teaching freshman modern world history, I am far more concerned with teaching students strong reading, writing, analysis, and study skills than with them memorizing long lists of content. Students will forget much of the content that I teach them, but the patterns that we reinforce with each unit, and the way that I force them to ask and answer clear questions that come directly from standards or test questions will stick with them.

In a lot of ways, some of my personal quirks that make teaching so difficult for me have also, in some part, helped me reach a level of success. I feel constantly underperforming; horribly insufficient in my inexperience and lack of expertise on history. I could teach a lesson and then write a 10 page paper about all of the things I could do better. In a sense this is a blessing and a curse, as I am constantly reflecting on how to do things better, but never quite feel the sense of completion or achievement that I might allow from time to time. I have students say they like my class, or that I explain things well, but I am still trying to get a clear sense of what the kind of progress I want to see out of my students looks like and how to make that happen for each and every student.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Busiest week of my life ...

The busiest week of my life is now winding down. Surprisingly, everything went down as I hoped. For some reason I stopped by my own blog for the first time since December, and saw some comments ... I didn't think anyone looked at this.

I had originally intended to document my experience with BCTR in some sort of journalistic fashion, where I provide all of these tormented heart-wrenching accounts of one new teacher's struggle to help close the achievement gap.

However, pretty soon after starting as a new teacher I realized that I didn't have the time, or the will to maintain the kind of every day blog. I've got lots of stuff that takes priority over this.

So I had relegated this blog to a narrative with one-self. I pretty much write to my future self, trying to honestly document my experience. As I read back to earlier entries I feel my stomach sink when I think of the anxiety surrounding my first few days. I think it is terribly important to frequently check in with that emotion, it helps remind me how far I've come, how far I have to go, how much this all means to me, and how much I've learned to take in stride events and situations that caused me once to lose sleep.

At this point, I'm on track to be certified this year. I passed the Praxis pedagogy with plenty of room to breathe (I highly recommend buying the ETS booklet they offer to prepare for this test). I recently found out that I'm going to be teaching both MWH and AP HUG next year. I couldn't not be happier about my subjects. I wouldn't want to teach anything else ... besides economics, which I will likely pick up year after next.

My soundtrack as of late is all things Diplo. He produces santogold and m.i.a., but also puts together the best long mixes. There are a lot more, but I don't have any more time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

2nd year update: No time to play

So I'm well into my 2nd year of teaching and have actually been ignoring this blog and focusing my efforts on building my class websites. I created two wordpress blogs for my World History and AP Human Geography classes. They have been time consuming to say the least, yet really fun to create and tweek. My favorite part is that students have their own accounts and can actually contribute posts to the class blog, which, in all honesty, I'm still trying to figure out how to best utilize. The best part is when we go to the computer lab to do research, I can have the instructions, links, and resources available there for students so they just get right to work, and I have to walk around and make sure they are looking at the right sites.

This year has been very different, yet equally challenging as my first year. On one side, teaching World History for the second time has been a lot of fun as I have a much clearer sense of what I'm doing, talking about, and where we are going as a class. It also helps that we have great freshman this year. They just seem so much calmer than last year, though I think my improved classroom management might also have something to do with it. I took 2 days at the beginning of the year to review all of the policies and procedures, and it really paid off in holding students responsible. Still, I've noticed that in the last month they are starting to test the policies and I've had to make phone calls and dish out detentions, which I do using a staples receipt book so I get a hard copy of their detention notice. When they come I mark it off. If they don't come by the date I set it is a phone call home.

AP HUG has been awesome and impossible. If I could choose any class to teach it would be that. But there is just so much content to learn and then try to teach I've really been struggling to create a coherent curriculum, especially in lieu of the fact that there kind of isn't one. There are the AP HUG points that students are tested on, but no so much any advice as to how to teach them. We did get nice new Rubenstein textbooks that are mostly effective at delivering content. I really look forward to learning as much this year so that I can put it towards next year.

Other than that I am pretty much neck deep in the daily grind of planning, grading, revising, venting, copying, explaining, and then some relaxing and sleeping.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First year summary/Summer of bureaucracy

I find it interesting that at the end of last year, my first year of teaching, I felt some sort of pressure to eloquently summarize the lessons learned from my first year of teaching, but I don't think I'm going to do it. Instead I will spend my precious summer time rewatching the entire wire series with my wife (1st time for her... welcome to balmore), finding a good used car for my family, and listlessly working at North Ave at the headquarters of Baltimore City Public Schools. If anything, the latter has likely numbed my senses for whatever expectation I had for a summer full of achievement and thoughtful reflection in preparation for my second year of teaching.

I have casually accumulated a simple list of thoughts that summarize my first year:
  • I learned that I love teaching and know that eventually I will become the kind of teacher that I would like to be.
  • I am thoroughly sobered and humbled by what it takes to be a good teacher, and the efforts of the amazing teachers that I have the privilege to work with.
  • Next year is going to be much more fun - and much harder in many ways.
On a more puzzling note, I have had the opportunity to work this summer at City Schools HQ, a monolith of bureaucratic insanity and statistical worship. I've even had the chance to meet some of the top dogs, who, in all honesty, are less dissapointing than most I've met there. The building has a sort of invisible ectoplasmic aura surrounding it, almost like in Ghostbusters 2. All those who enter into its inner chambers will experience of the sadness, political manuevering, raw gossip, and desparate insecurity that give the monolith's invisible forcefield such a healthy, thick, shiny, pulsating quality.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The end of my 1st year teaching.....

In the next week I'll be posting an exhaustive reflection on the end of my first year of teaching .... when I get a moment. Today is Friday and I must celebrate the last day of my first year - by going to Super Walmart and buying groceries with my family.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spring Fever ...

Spring has come and has me feeling strangely nostalgic. As I walk into my classroom on these humid spring mornings, I have flashbacks to the beginning of the year, when I had no idea what I was doing.

Now, I still have pretty much no idea what I am doing, but I am slowly getting my footing. Even this entry is an attempt to delay my finishing a brief mini-lecture that I'll be giving tomorrow before a quiz (that I spent 3 hours today creating).

By this point in the year, I am done with my BCTR content seminars - bi-weekly meetings designed to teach new teachers how to plan their units backwards, which they might actually be able to do in 2-3 years. I'm done with all of my formal observations - satisfactory. I'm almost done with my last literacy in the content area at Hopkins.

In fact, with HSA's at the end of May, that means there are about 3 weeks left to teach. That is frustrating because I'm not as far in world history as I would like. Next year will go much differently.

I've found that as the year goes on, I have less and less to say about anything. I'm always neck deep in work.