Blog #3: Touched My Heart

I have so much I would like to say in this blog that I genuinely don’t know where to start.  I really want to share some of my experiences within the classroom, but I feel like I have shared everything within small groups.  I really want to talk about my reflections on the classroom environment my teacher has created and critique it to my best ability, but I feel like that would lead to a lot of rash decisions and judgments th

at I am not yet qualified to make.  I would also really like to discuss the various experiences outside of the classroom that have impacted my growth throughout this experience, but I feel as though that might be slightly boring or dragging.  So, while typing all of this and thinking this through, I believe that all of my desires would be sufficiently represented by expressing how much I’ve learned about my self as not only a teacher, but asa person.

I started out this experience being very frightened to be teaching in an urban setting.  However, throughout these past two weeks, I have realized that some of my fears are minute to all the riches that also live within the city of Philadelphia.  I have realized, for many different reasons, that I would definitely be able to teach in this setting.  I am excited to be able to make a big difference in children’s lives that might not be able to get the same opportunity from someone else and I was thrilled to see myself engaging students and forming relationships within just this short amount of time.  Although there were many rough times throughout this experience, I believe they were the most rewarding in my growth and development as both a teacher, and a person.

During the two weeks in the classroom, I’ve had the opportunity to teach very often.  Two lessons I taught were in history and math.  I tend to think of myself to be very good at understanding and teaching math, and for history, I am usually able to find fun and interesting activities or analogies in order to engage the students into wanting to understand.  However, I have only taught first graders before.  I was very confident teaching that age group because if I made a mistake or if they did not understand right away, I always seemed to be able to find new techniques or explanations to explain to them in smaller terms.  They also did not necessarily have the knowledge to tell me I was wrong and catch me off-guard.  With this group of fifth graders though, I was very nervous that the class would not be responsive to me and/or I would not completely be able to control or maintain order while trying to teach.  I was rough to start out, but within a day, the students started to act positively to my teaching and ended up really engaging in every lesson.  I learned that I CAN be a good teacher and I WILL be a good teacher as long as I don’t forget to be confident in myself and my ability to portray lessons to those who are younger than me.

On Wednesday of this week, I finally had the opportunity to teach kindergarten while my fifth graders were testing.  I realized in this short three hour time period that I really do want to teach younger students.  Just looking back at my reaction to my teacher telling me she was sending me down to kindergarten tells me this.  I love being able to say silly words and names and how they react to it in a way of which you become a stand-up comedian for a few short seconds.  I really feel myself light up when I’m around them.  However, I would not change my placement for one second.  I am very glad that I got the opportunity to find out what grade I actually want to teach and why, versus just going with the grade in which I am most comfortable and familiar with.

This experience has really opened my eyes to more of my own strengths along with placing me around people in which I have many similar interests and ideas with.  One of the more rewarding things for me during this seminar was being able to be surrounded by college student who also believe in teaching as much as I do and as just as passionate as I am.  It is really discouraging to continually get the negative response of, “oh” after telling someone my major is elementary education.  I would never had guessed how many people almost frown upon those who choose education as their major.  I feel as though I am almost looked down upon by others who are not in the major.  It was very nice to see not only the rewards in the classroom that keep me going, but also how this experience opened my eyes to the types of conversations I can look forward to with those who share my interest and love of teaching.

I like to describe my teaching style as one from the heart, and the many friends and colleagues I’ve been able to interact and connect with during this experience have definitely touched it to immense depths that I can not even begin to put into words.

Careful, The Stage Is Slippery; However, The Show Must Go On

I have been providing you with more fun entries lately, but in this one I really want to shed some light on what I feel is important.  I hope that you will take away something positive from this entry, but if the following bores you, I am sorry; I feel as though it is important to share some things that I have noticed.

After spending 2 weeks in an urban classroom, I have made a lot of adjustments in my views of what teaching is, how to be a good teacher, and how to make a positive impact in students’ lives.  The fact of the matter is teaching is not as easy as you think it is.  I have many friends that are in engineering, and other ridiculously hard majors, that tell me my classes are easy and that I should not be complaining about my workload.  Well let me tell you something, teaching is not easy, not in the slightest bit.  Is it fun and rewarding, absolutely, but only if you work hard at it, it doesn’t come easy, just like everything else in life.

I think that I should share the 3 things that I feel are the most important concepts that I have learned about teaching in the past 2 weeks.  I obviously do not know everything about teaching, but I feel as though I have vastly improved my knowledge about what is crucial and what can be placed aside during teaching.  I challenge everyone that reads the following to respond, tell me what you think.  I want to know if you agree or disagree, and if you do disagree tell me why and what you would change.  I feel it would be really valuable for both parties that are involved.

The first thing that I have learned is that when you are trying to manage your classroom there are 2 important things that you need to possess and display to your students.  The first if these is that you need to show that you care.  You need to care about the students, you need to care about the material, and honestly you need to care about yourself.  Each and every student needs to be cared for, and I have seen that strongly displayed throughout my classes.  My students act out a lot, they are loud and that could seem disruptive, and it is, but that is not the only thing that it is, there is a lot that is under the surface.  I did not buy that fact until I heard about the horrible home lives that a lot of my students have, and how that the attention they get here, be good or bad, is the most of the fulfilling moment of the day. You need to care about the subject; I have seen the students not care about other subjects in my school because the teacher does not care.  If you want your students to respect you and the class, you need to care about the knowledge that you are feeding them.  And, for real, don’t laugh or brush this off, you need to respect yourself.  You need to be confident in your abilities, and you need to be strong in your discipline.  I am the type of person that hates to be “mean” to other people.  I cannot do it.  It pains me inside, and that really hindered me earlier in the week.  The kids didn’t respect me because I did not respect me, and that was a problem.  As soon as I started to trust myself, the class respected me a lot more.

The second thing with classroom management is that you cannot relax.  My teacher, albeit a really good one, specifically at classroom management, told me that he has not been doing as well because he is getting laid off, and it shows.  Each day the kids have gotten worse and worse, because they get away with more and more.  It is really hard for me to sit back and watch as all my students talk, yell even, to others across the room, while taking a test.  But it is his class, and I can see that this is a valuable lesson.  I just need to learn from it and never give up, never back down.

The second thing that I have learned is that every student can do all the work.  All my students are smarter than they display to an outsider, they just put on a fake skin, a label that they feel they have, that they need to be dumber to fit the stereotype.   I hate this.  When I actually worked with my students, one-on-one or in small groups, I have found that they are more than capable of doing work correctly.  I feel as though the most important thing to do is show the students why the work is necessary, why they need to try and put in effort.  If I can successfully convey to them the importance of math skills, not necessarily being able to graph a parabola, but the fact that by doing the worksheets you can enhance your critical thinking skills, which will help you in other aspects in life, aspects that you think are actually fun and important.  In my practicum classes, the students have yet to be given a reason why they are doing these problems, and because of that the students are not trying to work any harder, actually they are doing less and less work, as the work gets harder and harder.  It really frustrates me that the students do not care, because I know that these young men and women can do all the work, but they just will not try.

The third important thing that I have learned it that by involving students into your lessons, the more beneficial for the students, and actually fun, the lessons become.  The students in my classes are bored a lot of the time and that is why they become distributive.  Whenever I allowed my students to come up and use the white board, two things happened.  One is that more problems were completed, and because of this number two occurred, which was that the students were more engaged.  When these two things happened, my students were smiling more, talking yes, and seemed to be having a good time.  And, if you ask me, when was the last time you had a good time learning math?  That was probably the coolest part for me of this whole experience, seeing my students enjoying mathematics.  I feel as though if students are more hands on involved with the lessons, they take away much more because they feel as though they were able to express themselves and prove not only to me, but also to their classmates, and more importantly themselves that it is actually okay to be correct, and that is feels good when you have a correct answer.

I have learned that I have potential to be a great teacher.  I have the drive, I have the determination, and I have the adaptability to be open to new ideas and techniques; however, I have also learned that I need to work on a lot of things.  I need to be more assertive; I need to get over that fact that being stern and strict is not being mean.  I need to learn that not every student is going to like you and be happy with you all the time.  I need to learn that being a teacher only begins with the material in the book, it doesn’t end until you want it to.  I want to learn how to push myself to allow my students to reach higher and higher levels of learning in both the school and the world environments.

No matter what I want to be the bests teacher, role model, and difference maker I can be in each of my students lives.  That is the sum everything that I feel I have learned during the experience.

And no matter what…

The Show MUST Go On.

Called to Teach

My first three days in the school were full of so many different experiences and observations.  Upon arriving at my school on the first day, I was surprised to see that the school had moved into a new building.  With a traditional school look, the school was equipped with all of the new technology, including SMARTboards in every classroom.  My second surprise was finding out that I would be student teaching a special ed 2nd grade class.  Never really having worked with special ed students I was not really sure what to expect.

Willard Elementary School

At first glance, Room 114 looked like any other 2nd grade class in the building.  Taking a closer look talking, reading, and working with the kids, it was apparent that some had learning disabilities and others were simply very far behind.  When I talked to my mentor teacher about the class being special ed, she explained in detail how her class was the IEP class and how children ended up in her classroom.  Every child had a different story…some had learning disabilities, some had severe behavior issues, and others simple started school late (meaning 2nd grade was there first year in school; the child did not attend kindergarten or 1st grade).

Yesterday (our third day in the schools) I was able to take some time and have a very open conversation with my mentor teacher, Ms. Yeager, about everything I was observing.  The kids had been pretty calm that day and since it was Friday and the end of a review week, Ms. Yeager decided to let them watch a movie.  It was during this time she asked me did I have any questions, did I have any thoughts, and what were my comments on the class or different incidences so far.  Our conversation really helped me process different things I had been thinking since the first day but didn’t really know how to say.

Being in a special ed class with children that have behavior issues really made me realize the monumental task I was taking on by wanting to become a teacher.  I don’t think really realize all of the obstacles we have to face and overcome in order to do our jobs.  As teachers, we have to deal with our students misbehaving and trying to maintain order in our classrooms; if you can’t get control in your classroom then you can’t teach; then you have administration breathing down your neck because you’re not keeping up with the curriculum; then you have parents cursing you out for any number of reasons; and on top of all of that—you have special ed kids that need extra help in order to get back on track, yet you cant give them that help because the whole class is acting up.  In a nutshell, taking into account all the things we have to deal with as teachers, it can be very overwhelming.

In the conversation I had with my mentor teacher, I was able to be upfront with her and share the overwhelming feeling I felt.  Ms. Yeager was straightforward with her comments—“Sometimes you simply have to make it through the day.”  Yes, we all want to be good teachers, but before we are teachers we are also people, we’re not perfect.  There will be times when we’re ready to snap, when we want to give up, and when we want to cry.  And it will be during these times when you find out if teaching is simply a job or if it is your life.  For some people, teaching may be what they want to do and they will probably be very good at it; but for me, I know that teaching is what I am called to do.  

Ryan Kinzler Blog #1 Note To Educators

Honest statement – I signed up for this class because I need it for my major, nothing more, nothing less.

Another honest statement – I could not be more excited to see what I can take from this unique experience opportunity.

Those two statements contradict each other in many ways.  The first statement echos the sounds of an uninterested, unenthusiastic, and uncaring individual, while the second seems to resemble the polar opposite.  How could this possibly be the same person?  Well, I am actually the voice behind both of those statements and I am here to explain why I have changed not only my outlook on this experience, but also my expectations for myself when I do enter the teaching profession.

I was eager to go to Philadelphia and take part in this course (and basically get it over with), but it was not until Thursday May 12 that I understood why I was going, and what I was to take from this experience.

On Thursday I went to go observe math classes at my high school.  I had been emailing my calculus teacher about setting this up  for a while, and needless to say I was excited.  As I pulled into the school parking lot, with my sister in the passengers seat, and walked into building 3 with some of my friends, I had a feeling of nostalgia rush through my body.  I was ready to go take in the sights and sounds of high school calculus once again. However, what I did that day was nothing like I had envisioned.  As I talked to my former teacher, I had the funny feeling that I was not going to be observing in her class. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner.  I was not observing her class.  Actually I was not going to observe any class I had in high school, instead I was observing all the lowest levels of math offered in the high school.

My teacher told me, “Ryan, you were a fantastic student, but you only know how to operate in environments were everyone wants to learn and everyone has the abilities to learn. If you want to be a fantastic teacher, you have to learn how everyone else learns. Some kids don’t want to learn, and others don’t have all the abilities available to learn sufficiently. I am placing you in 8 different classrooms, eight different teachers, eight different subjects, all of which you did not have in high school.”

Well, that was certainly a curve ball. And so the day went, eight subjects, some of which I had as early as 6th grade, if I took them at all. The rooms were so hot, the material so easy, i could have fallen asleep in the blink of an eye, but I didn’t, for one single reason, I was in awe.  How could I have gone to school here for four years, held many responsibilities, and took tons of classes, and not known the struggles that take place for many students day in and day out. It was unfathomable at first, but as the day went on I kept learning, and subsequently kept shaking my head in disbelief.  How could I have missed all these struggles, day in and day out? The word shock could not even begin to describe the half of it.  My school is in a middle class area, great family environments, and a great community, and all of these students are struggling, not only with school, but also with life.  What could be happening in other areas of the country that are less fortunate than me?

That question stuck with me on the way home, and as soon as I could I sat down at my computer to read the reading Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete.  However, instead of reading it for completion like I had originally planned, I read it with interest and even a little fear.  I tried to imagine what it would be like in places like inner-city schools, but even more so I tried to piece back the words from the reading to my experience at my high school.

As I was reading I could see, much to my disbelief, the enemies of hope active in MY SCHOOL.  How? Why? Thoughts raced through my head as I envisioned the students in PSSA prep tell each other, “we’re not going anywhere in life, why are we trying?” and the teacher telling me in private that he “wants to try and help these students do as good as they can in life,” but he wasn’t even helping! He just sat on the computer! I just kept saying, there is mythical hope, there is hope deferred, and this is in my school! A school I thought to be on the right side of good.  Unbelievable.

To any of you reading this blog, I pose a question.  Think back to your school district, especially if you considered yourself to be in a fairly decent neighborhood, and see if you can find any examples of the enemies of hope. I bet you can, and if you do, how do you feel knowing that this is happening in not only schools like inner-city ones, but also in ones like you and I attended?

As I finished the essay, I was completely on board with the principal of Hope, and not just in inner-city schools, but throughout the nation.  The part that I felt an especially strong pull towards was the Audacious Hope.  That was because I want to be involved with my students, and I want to help make not only their math skills stronger, but also their lives better.  I feel as though being a teacher doesn’t end with the material that you are supposed to teach out of a textbook, rather that is only the beginning.  Teachers should be people whom children can trust, can believe, and can strive to surpass even their expectations.  The Audacious Hope of teachers feeling what their students feel, and living what their student’s live really seems to help connect the two, and create a more positive and effect learning environment….no living environment.

During these next 2 weeks, I want to be able to learn how to connect to students, how to feel what they feel, and how to experience their lives through my eyes.  I see no better way than to go to a place like inner-city Philadelphia, a place where the living seems to be much tougher than my hometown, to experience this first hand.  My goal in life is to make a difference in the world, and to provide young adults with not only math skills, but also hope to strive for anything they can dream of….

That hope better be a “Friend” of Hope.

It’s going to be one heck of a journey, I can not wait for it to begin.

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