Saturday, August 27, 2016

Week Two of Student Teaching

I'm still loving it. In case you're just joining me, I'm student teaching high school special education. The first part of my day is spent in a Life Skills classroom for high school students, grades 9-12. I look forward to this part of the day most of all. I'd love to have a class like this.

I wonder if there will come a time when I will wake up and not want to go to my student teaching assignment. I mean, not that I'm not tired. I'm exhausted. My feet hurt, my legs hurt, my back hurts. I'm no spring chicken anymore. But I'm loving every single minute of it.

But, seriously, someone needs to learn to write straight and neatly on the SMART board...

It looks so easy, it seems so easy, but for the life of me, I can't seem to write neatly or straight on this thing! I've got to get the hang of it before they ship me over to the Elementary school to student teach there in six weeks! My students are so sweet. They laugh at me and tell me I'm doing fine. The evidence says differently. We laugh together, though, and I think it's good for them to watch me learn something new. "I will be queen of the SMART board!" I chant. Everyone except a student with autism thinks I'm funny.

"You aren't queen of anything," he shouts.

And I move on to other things, but one of the students, whose heart I've won, says, "But you're the queen of Chromebooks. You know everything about Chromebooks."

Well, not everything. But he doesn't need to know that. Fact is, though, I know more than the supervising teacher and, as it turns out, a lot of teachers. I'm frustrated by that. And by the fact that none of the teachers have Chromebooks. They all have MacBook Pros. So, as I'm demonstrating on a MacBook Pro via the SMART board about adding extensions and apps to Chrome. I finally gave up and had my adult son bring his Chromebook from home.

They (I'm not sure who "they" is) switched the students from iPads to Chromebooks this year. Every student has one, and there are too many students who don't know what to do with them. I even had students who didn't know how to email their teachers, access their documents in Google Drive or know how to open a new document in Google docs. To me, there should have been at least half a day devoted to showing students how to use them, and another day training teachers.

My classroom door Monday before school
I guess there was an in-service, but I don't think very many teachers went and I don't think they remembered what they learned anyway. And I'll just stop right there for now in my ranting before I get in trouble. But I'm so thankful I understand technology and love technology. And I found out this week that I also love teaching technology. That was a surprise to me!

I get to teach the Life Skills unit on Technology and I'm so excited that this is my unit. It will be the unit I'll submit work to my college on, too. And since I'm thinking about getting my Master's in Education Technology, it's like a sign or something. I don't know. It's just such a great fit and I'm so, so happy about it.

So, in technology this week the students were introduced to their Chromebooks, learned how to navigate to all the important places they needed to go such as Google Drive and Google Documents. They learned how to bookmark, how to change their theme on the Google search page, find their Quizlets and assessment pages and were introduced to how to make an infographic in Piktochart.

In math we're working on perimeter. It was my idea to have the students do actual measuring of items in the room because I'd learned from visiting with them last week they were all body smart. Sure enough, they enjoyed the lesson, but the best part? The supervising teacher discovered they didn't know how to measure. There was a learning gap she hadn't thought of, or even imagined they had. So this week we'll be talking more about what the little lines on the ruler mean.

The students also started their "Banking." They make deposits and withdrawals according to worksheets they are given. It's a pretty big deal for them to be able to learn how to fill out these forms. And it's difficult for them. I love teaching this Life Skills class because these kids, unless they have severe emotional difficulties, really want to learn these things.

I'm in charge of Social Skills lessons on Wednesdays. We talked about friendship and the conversation got pretty detailed. I'm using the task cards I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. There are so many great ideas on that website. I had planned about three activities but we only had time for one of them. We talked a lot about what a good friend is, how a good friend will keep you from destroying your life and encourage you to make good choices. The kids hung on my every word. Those were powerful moments for me. I'd love to be able to teach social skills all the time. But wait, didn't I just say I'd love to teach technology? Oy vey. I love all the teaching things!

Friday was Cherry Popsicle Day so we made Popsicle treats to have ready on Friday. The kids were so excited when I suggested we add Mountain Dew to them. Pouring was hard for some of them. And when I asked for one of them to use soft scrub on the stains on the counter, that was a mistake! He poured almost half a bottle on the counter. I'm learning. I'm learning.

In the afternoons I continue to help with algebra, English and science. I got stuck on an algebra problem at the board and one of the students was super disgusted. I was embarrassed. Oh well. You can't know everything about everything. And I never claimed to be a math whiz. The girls in the class were sympathetic, though. So that's something.

I don't pretend to be a know-it-all teacher. I let the kids know that I'm learning just like they are, that I need them to help me learn to be a good teacher. I think that makes them want me to succeed as much as I want them to succeed.

Thursday was another academic day and Friday was National Dog Day. I taught a lesson on the demands of dog ownership and had the kids take a poll on whether or not they should own a dog. We made hot dogs in a dog-shaped warmer and we watched the movie Snow Dogs while I helped a student who'd been absent a lot catch up on his work. I didn't make him leave the room, though. He'd been bullied a lot right before he hadn't been showing up to school, and I didn't want to give him more reasons to hate coming to class. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do. I don't know. But he seemed fine with working on the work he missed while in the same room as the movie. He got most of it done. And later, he even showed initiative right before his bus left to come back to the room and pick up a paper he needed to take home and get signed. I was thrilled.

In the middle of it all this student teaching excitement this week, my editor sent me the edits he wants me to make on the autism book I wrote and sold. I guess I'll do that in my spare time... How will I keep my eyes open? I come home utterly wiped out.

Of course, much more happened this past week but my eyes are heavy and I need to close. I'm ready for week three. On week four I'll have my first evaluation. I'm nervous! Scared. Excited. All the above. I am counting the days until student teaching is over and I can call myself a bona fide certified teacher.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wrapping up my first week of student teaching

I did it! And I've lived to tell the tale!

First word in teaching the first week of high school: Flexibility.

Second word in teaching the first week of special education high school? Double-jointed flexibility. Not. Kidding.

But this is exactly why I majored in Special Education. I love the challenge. And it feels good to know that all that work I put into my education was well routed. I hit the correct target. I'm in my element.

Pretty strange words from someone whose friends are all retiring. Here I am starting a new career. But you want to know something? When I'm at the school working with kids? I feel young. I guess I've not felt old yet, anyway. I mean, I have a young outlook on life. But when I'm with the students, I feel as young as a person my age can feel. I'm doing what I was born to do.

Wednesday in Life Skills is Social Skills day. The students wrote in their journals, we reviewed the class rules with a funny PowerPoint of memes I put together (me? use memes to get a point across? seriously?) and I had them answer a very, very simple "yes-no" survey about how they learn best. We also played a game that I called "My Job-Your Job." This was a great activity to do on the smart board because I was able to see right away what their level of functioning was in terms of academics.

I'm happy to report that I had many more plans than we had time for. I had several other things I wanted to do but we'll do them next week. 

Thursday was a short day because we had a three-hour fog delay. This messed me up a lot and is the reason why I still don't understand the schedule. For one thing, the Wednesday schedule is also different because of early teacher collaboration. And then we had that short day on Thursday and I just gave up trying to figure the schedule out and just followed the bells. (I had a written schedule but was I ever near it? NO.)

I was really excited about Friday because I had a couple of fun activities planned. First we checked homework planners and then moved on to our Life Skills activity. I wanted to see how well the students could follow an easy recipe. The activity I chose was perfect for it.

Each student received a "Recipe for Success" card (pictured above). We discussed the different attributes that contribute to success and that "Recipe for Success" was a metaphor for the things that help us succeed in life and in school.

After explaining they needed to match the ingredients with the labels on the bowls, I turned them loose. It was revealing! (And the M & Ms were very popular!)

I love to match a theme to different school days, and I learned it was National Soft Ice Cream day! So we made ice cream in ziploc bags. We even made vegan ice cream for one of my students who can't eat dairy. The students loved it. And it gave me a lot of joy to see a student smile and comment when he hadn't said a word or smiled all week. "This is better than store ice cream." They all ate every drop. I wish I had pictures of it (I completely forgot to take pics) but you can watch the process we used here:  

That afternoon I was called on to tutor students in Algebra! (Yikes!) And I did it! I wasn't sure I'd be any good at that, but I surprised myself. It made me feel so good to help students understand the process because math has always been a challenge for me. I explained to them that I had to have tutors in college for math, and they warmed right up and really listened to me. It's like it boosted their confidence or something. I'm going to ponder on that.

Probably the greatest privilege I had this past week was helping a student who was very depressed and likely suicidal. It was a little disconcerting for me because no staff was close by when he came in that morning falling apart emotionally. Thankfully I was able to draw on my youth pastor/counseling skills for that. There are some advantages to being old enough to be these kids' grandmother. I was able to calm him enough for my supervising teacher to take over when she was available. I was frustrated that I had no authority to assure him that we'd get him every support and help he needed. But I did reassure him that my supervising teacher would be there very soon to talk to him about his need for a change in his schedule, etc.

So there you go! My first week of student teaching. I have so many fun things planned for next week and we start on our academics in Life Skills. I can hardly wait!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Open House and First Day of School

In my last post I explained the drama that led up to the first day of school. Today I want to share what happened during the open house the night before school started and our first day.

The day of open house was intense. My supervising teacher was dealing with a lot of responsibilities due to being the special education department chair. I have never seen a teacher--or person--work as hard as she does. And late into the night.

For the open house I made these cute popcorn labels to put on packages of microwave popcorn for the students who visited:

While my supervising teacher was busy with other things, I made cupcakes for my students for the first day of school. I made gluten-free ones because one of the students can't have wheat. I loved the way the label turned out:

When the first day of school arrived, I was super excited. I could hardly sleep the night before. It was a good thing I was excited and had plenty of adrenaline because I used every bit of it. My supervising teacher was needed elsewhere all over two different buildings. For me, it was sink or swim! Fortunately, she was able to return to the room for the most important details of the first homeroom meeting where students received their schedules and other important papers.

But once that meeting was done, I was on my own for most of the morning. The Life Skills class and I greeted the new school year together. They loved their cupcakes and we had fun doing our "getting to know you" worksheets and playing the "Getting to Know the Student Teacher" game. Students drew questions out of a bowl. Some of the slips of paper had "You Won a Prize!" and students could choose a snack-sized candy bar from the prize drawer.

I also sent home the obligatory letter to the parents introducing myself as well as a sheet I filled out for my students to let them know a little bit about me as a person. I was hoping I'd hit on something that we'd have a mutual interest in (that's why I listed so many hobbies). (If I don't have that worksheet posted at the time you're reading this, check back later. I need to scan it in.)

The Life Skills class is a three-period class. Once it's over, I take a student who needs support to lunch and eat lunch with him. Then it's prep time but to be honest, I was so busy running errands and tracking down copies (our department copier doesn't work) that I had very little time to even think about prepping.

The next few periods (resource study halls and English 11) were uneventful except that I never saw my supervising teacher until the last period. And while I don't remember why I ran hither and yon that day, I do know I was dripping in perspiration and "glowing" with happiness at the end of the day. It was a footrace to be sure. But I loved every second of it, and I couldn't wait to do it all over again.


After school, I got to meet with my clinical supervisor and totally fell in love with her philosophy. I knew her as a professional  (she was my sons' high school principal). Now I'm a student and she's perfect for me. I am so blessed and know I'll learn tons from her.

What was it like the first day you student taught? I'd love to know!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I survived my first week of student teaching!

What a week it was!

I am student teaching for special education at the junior high and high school level at Manchester Community Schools in North Manchester, Indiana. My first day was baptism by fire, and I loved every second of it.

The first day of school was Tuesday, August 16. I'd already spent about ten days at the school helping my supervising teacher get ready. There was much to be done since she is the special education department chair for 7-12 grade. And since there was also a huge change in the daily schedule and a large staff turnover, she had copious amounts of administrative duties to take care of.

One of the biggest hurdles she had to cross was making sure each student had the support they needed in every class. That's an enormous job. Honestly, I don't know how she keeps it straight. She only has X number of para-educators to go around. And now, with the school starting a new program called Student Resource Time (SRT) each student gets a 30-minute period a day to get academic support while the teachers collaborate in their respective departments.

She had to work closely with the administrators to get all the kinks worked out in arranging for paras. Not only for the regular SRT, but also for the special education students. She also had to make sure those students who needed a 1:1 staff person were covered. I don't know how she did it, but somehow, she got it all on paper. I won't go into the other stresses she experienced with disgruntled staff, but we all know that when there are major changes, there's going to be someone who's unhappy. We humans like our routines and are pretty good at voicing our displeasure.

On the Monday before school started, the school had a teacher's meeting and they went over all the changes and more. I left still confused about how the schedule was going to work, and to be honest, I still am. When I understand it well enough to explain it, I will do so in a later post.

While the students are in SRT the teachers then go to PLC: Professional Learning Collaboration. I'm fascinated by this idea and process. And I find myself extremely eager to get involved. But down, girl, down! You're a student teacher, not part of the team (yet)!

I also got to meet my clinical supervisor who will be evaluating my teaching. I love her! I am so,  so, so blessed to have the input of two very professional teachers and administrators. Really, I struck gold in terms of having the very best to learn from.

Some super hilarious things happened while the supervising teacher (I'll call her RB for the purpose of this blog) and I were preparing. She had a ton of computer problems, and well, her computer managed to shut down three out of I think five of the school's printers. It kept shooting paper out full of code after she'd only sent one little document to them. We looked like Lucy and Ethel trying to get the copiers to stop. I've not laughed that hard in years.

In future posts I'll share some of the ideas I implemented, and how the first days went. I'm so blessed to have a supervising teacher who leads with an open hand. She listens, appreciates my ideas and is willing for me to try them. That really makes my experience tons of fun and whole lot easier. 

How was your student teaching experience? I'd love to know! 

Can you guess my new mascot?

As soon as I get my badge, I'll announce my new school and position. So excited!!