Taking Advantage

My mentor teacher said this week is going to be a “normal” one and it made me wonder what is going to be different from last week. She was absent for three days before we showed up so she wasn’t sure what the three different subs had covered and first graders aren’t always a reliable source because there are often conflicting stories. The three days I was in the classroom last week were spent getting things back in order and getting caught up with work. I don’t think this week will bring better attitudes to the students and make them any calmer or well behaved. I am definitely getting more comfortable with controlling the room because I am able to speak up if my mentor teacher does not see something or if she is busy with something else; either way she backs me up. My mentor has also made me very comfortable in the classroom and I am truly looking forward to the rest of this week.

            My mentor teacher has brought up the time of year and the number of days left many times in the past six days. She has told me she has given up and so have the students. This is one of those situations that I can see myself in because I remember the end of the year and it always being a hard time, kindergarten through 12th grade. At this time, the amount and quality of work go down and everyone is just itching to get out of school (including one of my students that was sent home for lice). Although I understand, I think it is important for the teacher to do her part and not necessarily show her true feelings. Instead, I believe she should put on a happy face for the students. The problem is, she really isn’t afraid to have them know how she truly feels. She discourages the children from wanting to be at school and puts them in the mindset of, “If she doesn’t want to be at school, then why should I?” Students want teachers who want to teach them and my teacher is an obvious opposite. Not only does she want to get out of the school for the year, but she was planning on transferring until she was afraid to risk her building seniority.

            During my mentor’s prep time, I was able to sit down and talk to her about some students. She initiated the conversation because some of them were taking advantage of me while I was helping with a reading lesson. She seems very knowledgeable about the kids’ backgrounds, but that doesn’t seem to change her outlook on anyone in the class. Knowing the parents, however, can make you label the children before you know them. One of the kids has a special needs mother, but he is in angel in class so it is not a huge deal like some of the other ones. Knowing about his special needs mother can keep the teacher from pushing her student to his full potential.  There is one boy in my classroom who has parents that don’t speak English and that could really have an effect on him. He is turning out to be a wonderful student and a hard worker, but my teacher expressed the difficulty that arises when she has to talk to his parents. A little girl’s mom was shocked when she was told that her daughter behaves in class. Whether it is an act at home or in the classroom she is not the same little girl in both situations. I want to know more about the kids and be able to know which ones to help and which ones just want attention, but that’s not going to happen in a week and a half. Is anyone else getting taken advantage of by their students?

            Not only did I get to help out more around the classroom on Tuesday, but it was the first time I interacted with the students in a teacher position. Their teacher did the first part of the reading lesson and then she let me read a book with the students. Although I was only reading to them and not introducing them to new concepts, I was able to call on different students to help me read. The teacher described it as a difficult book for first grade reading but the children did an excellent job and I was thrilled with how many volunteered. It is always hard to be the new person because the children often take advantage of you. As an observer who has only been here for four days, I am not sure who will give me a hard time and who will make my life easy and this lesson was a prime example. The first student I called on was on who I have had no problems with in the class, behaves, and seems like an excellent student. When I called on her, she didn’t do what I asked although it kind of looked like she was trying. At that point I wasn’t sure if it was just me or a common thing she did in the class. I tried to help her sound out the words but that didn’t help much at all. My mentor explained that some students will read in their head or just mouth the words and the lesson will go no where.  I was not expecting to stand up in front of the class and do anything today but it was a nice surprise and I was happy to do so. I really try to be engaged with the students whether I am standing up in front of them and commanding their attention or if I am sitting at the side of the room. On Thursday, I was able to actually teach a reading lesson. The kids weren’t completely engaged, but they were struggling more than I had seen them do in the past few days. I did my best to help the students, but my mentor and their teacher became furious. She yelled at the students for taking advantage of me and for not reading like she knew they could. They all apologized to me, but it was a little sad that they took advantage of me after a wonderful math lesson the day before and day of thinking they respected me than that. How are these students such good actors?

An interesting point that has been discussed is how the kids in this school basically ignore female voices but are intrigued and captured by any male voice. I have seen four male authority figures at my school, but none in the teacher positions. The kids have come to ignore any female voice. Not only do many of these children only have female voices in their academic lives, but that is all they get at home as well. I have heard that many of these students have fathers who are gone or locked up. Some students have linked a female voice to an empty threat and they choose not to listen to their teachers because they think nothing will happen. This is a link to a video of an assembly that took place at my school. The man with the basketball is a part of the Harlem Globetrotters and the kids LOVED him! The announcer was loud and in charge and the kids were in a trance and so engaged with the whole program.  The first part of the video shows grades K-2 and the second half is 3-5.


Blog 2– My Second First Day of First Grade

My first day at my practicum sight was exciting, crazy, hectic, fun, and boring. Throughout the day more and more of my stereotypes and expectations were erased starting with the gushing kindness of the principal. I made a lot of observations because that is what I did for seven and a half hours, but I also had a chance to talk to the teacher about what I wanted to do and am willing to do. The teacher I am observing is definitely and obviously strict with her first grade students, but that is what many of them need (I’m just not sure her methods are yielding the best results.)

I wasn’t necessarily expecting hostility from the principal, but it just felt like she was so excited to see us that and it made me excited for my first day of school. I have to say I was a little caught off guard to see that the principal was a little white lady with the biggest smile on her face. She enthusiastically introduced us to our teachers and told us she plans to have follow up meetings with us just to check in. I was told that this is the first year for this principal and the one before was African American and had unique tastes in uniforms and opinions on how to run the school. Another stereotype was shattered when I walked into the classroom and there were four MAC computers in the back of the room and four in the corner of the room I had lunch in.

I assumed that Philadelphia schools were poor and could not afford books, let alone computers and I was obviously wrong. The children also had hard-covered reading books that were in great condition that I did not expect as well. Later in the day I heard the teacher talking about a Smartboard and the only reason she didn’t have one in her room is because of space and wiring problems, not because of the money. The classroom I am placed in for this experience is one of the only ones in the school that does not have air condition again because of a wiring problem. I didn’t expect air conditioning to be anywhere because I only had air conditioning in very few select rooms at my high school.

As I was sitting at my little table at the side of the room I realized just how powerful a stare can be. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries on my first day and discipline the kids too much, but if they were doing something wrong and knew it, all I had to do was look at them and they would stop, at least for a few seconds. Although my teacher is very strict there are a few things that she has given up on trying to fight. One kid that switches to our room for reading is allowed to sit in the doorway and do nothing all period because even if they could get him to come in and sit down, he wouldn’t do work. The vice principal even walks by and just lets him go. Today they got him in the door, but he sat on the carpet and proceeded to roll around, hide behind things, army-crawl, and pretend to shoot me. This was threatened once but no one did anything about it. This is a discipline problem, but it was an observation on how some kids are just allowed to do anything they want. I’m sure if his teachers started pushing him from the start and wanted him to succeed, he would be much more inclined to learning. Children want to learn from educators who care and make them work and teachers have just given up on this kid to the point where he doesn’t even have to sit at desks with the other students. Based on Corbett and Wilson, this boy is not being taught by “good teachers” because they do not control him or the classroom and they don’t care if he does his work or not. When he raises his hand, my teacher says “no” without hearing his question which means she is not willing to help him whenever and however and she is certainly not willing to explain the assignments to him. I was also observing the things around the room like the alphabet cards on the wall, high frequency word bank, math word wall, number line and things like that. I learned on my lunch break that these pictures and learning tools are mandatory around the room because the school is a lower achieving one and these pictures and crafts are used as learning tools to boost their testing scores. Tatum talked about the use of a word wall in his article, “Breaking Down Barriers That Disenfranchise African American Adolescent Readers in Low-Level Tracks.” He said the word wall was, “designed to strengthen the relationship between knowing words and reading words” and that is how my students use the word wall as well.

In contrast to the student who was allowed to do whatever he wanted, we had a guest form a second grade class that was not allowed to on a field trip to the zoo because of his behavior. This boy was not cooperating and the teacher called the school police officer on him to help straighten him out. The boy had to be removed from class and talk to the police officer and the assistant principle before returning to the classroom. Does this show that the teacher cares less about her own student’s education? Although the day was very rough and there was a lot of discipline, the children were great at raising their hand and waiting to be called on even if the teacher wasn’t looking around the room or had no reason to look up. I don’t know why this was their best area of discipline, but it was definitely nice to see because that doesn’t happen in every first grade class. You could also tell who the trouble makers were and who the “angel-like” kids were because of the way the teachers addressed them. When a trouble maker raised their hand the teacher would answer right away with “no” or an annoyed “what?” On the contrary, when a child that was known to behave raised their hand, the teacher politely called on them and was willing to answer any question that came out of their mouth.

Discipline is a huge part of Philadelphia schools and I see that in the classroom I am observing and in the stories that I am hearing from others. I think it is beneficial to be able to be put aside an observe for a little just so you can learn and implement things into your own classroom even if you don’t work in the Philadelphia school system. Whether I choose to teach in Philly or not, this is a great experience because of the exposure I am getting to all the diversity.

Megan Fedeli–Blog #1–Note to Educators

While reading the article “Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete” I started to think about the prior experiences and the ones that are yet to come during my endeavor with the Philadelphia Urban Seminar. The article started off by making me think of hope in a completely different way than I ever had before. This intrigued me and made it exciting to read on. As I thought about how I got the article (downloaded it on my personal laptop) I started to think about my resources and wonder about the resources available to the urban children that I will be working with in Philly. I read the article during naptime in a room full of three year olds that I was responsible for teaching and keeping safe. I thought about how I discipline them and the struggles I have sometimes and started to wonder what it would be like to discipline children in a completely different environment.

I never really thought of hope in more than one way. I especially never thought of it as a negative thing. Hope to me is wishing or the desire for something. What does hope mean to you? After reading about hokey hope and thinking about it, I realized just how common it is. How many times do you wish for something that could never happen because of your resources, your income, or your family? I could hope for material objects or things that are not necessary when kids in urban areas just want equality and acceptable learning experiences from a teacher who wants to teach them. A lot of us at Penn State can’t say we grew up with teachers who didn’t understand us or didn’t want to teach us. Many of us had the same teachers as our older brothers and sisters because the teachers were there to stay unlike the constant cycle of teachers in and out of urban schools. I hope to show the children in Philadelphia that there are people out there who care about them, want to teach them and help them advance in life. Mythical hope encourages us to be realistic and not be over dramatic. This gives us a realistic picture about what we can expect in life. Hope deferred is passing the blame on someone else so we don’t have to deal with it. This wont help us in the long run unless we take responsibility.

How often do you use your computer to complete assignments, not only because you want to, but because that is the only way you are going to get credit for the class? When was the last time you couldn’t afford a textbook because you actually didn’t have the money not just because you were broke from paying your cell phone bill or buying a new computer? A lot of suburban students take these things for granted and we don’t even think how good we have it. Most of the kids that I work with are white and belong to the upper-middle class. The school has supplies from computers in the older kids’ rooms to Smart Boards, which they can use as a white board and to watch movies (educational of course). All the children have an endless supply of arts and crafts material and are fed two snacks a day that are provided by the school. Have you ever been denied any of these resources? Chronic stress is something we wish we could fix for everyone but the task impossible. What’s unfortunate is that the children and students living in these “socially toxic environments” also have poor health. As college students we think we have it bad, especially around finals, but in reality, we are better off on our worse day than some of these urban students are on their best day. The constant reminder of what they lack takes a beating on their everyday life. Our stressors are often things we can fix, but don’t always choose to make the effort. Urban school students don’t have the same opportunities to make their lives better as we often do.

“Many of these teachers are so afraid that students won’t like them if they discipline them that they end up letting students do things that they would never permit from their own children.” Although I do not have children of my own, I could relate to this sentence because of working at The Goddard School and babysitting. After getting to know the children it is human nature to want the kids to like you so you can enjoy your day and they can enjoy theirs. The disciplinary is often looked at as “the bad guy” and that is not a title that most people want to live with. This can be dangerous and cause problems. Letting children break the rules can put them in danger of getting hurt and can also hurt other kids if you are “picking favorites.” It is common to connect with one child more than another and that can make it hard to refrain from giving special treatment to one child and not the other. I often try extra hard to connect with at least one kid and I don’t want that to be a problem in my new environment. Being loved by one child isn’t always better than being liked by most of them so I am going to have to be extra aware of where I am focusing my attention in the urban school setting. Sometimes it is hard for me to discipline at my job when there are other teachers around and I am not the lead teacher. I often feel like I am overstepping my boundary so I might let some things slide if I am not actually in charge. Going into a school in Philadelphia will definitely be a hurtle for me to overcome. Not only will I not be the lead authority figure, but I will only be a guest. I want to keep the children safe, but I don’t think it will be easy to discipline children I don’t know in a room with adults I don’t know, all who have situations I do not know. When I am babysitting, I want to discipline the children so they are safe and they respect me as an authority figure, but at the same time I know they are going to tattle on me to their parents. Being strict and being mean are two different things though. Holding children to their responsibilities will make them stronger.

“At the end of the day, effective teaching depends most heavily on one thing: deep and caring relationships.” If you do not care for the children, then why teach?  A great teacher puts her heart and soul in to her students and her teaching every day she comes in and shares her knowledge with others. A passion for teaching will encourage a passion for learning. What do you have passion for?