Weekend Bullet List 2

If you missed last weekend, it’s right here. This weekend, we:

  • Went to another concert – this time, Ozomatli at the Echoplex
  • Had some time to socialize with Ms. Escobedo during the show. Hooray for teacher talk!
  • Got free Legalize LA shirts at the show
  • Ate chili-cheese fries at Original Tommy’s historic restaurant. I could feel my arteries clogging. (sidenote: everything seems to be historic down here)
  • Visited the La Brea Tar Pits
  • Went to the Beverly Hills Farmer’s Market
  • Got some great frozen yogurt from Pinkberry. Didier’s has some competition!
  • Window-shopped at an Apple store in The Grove, a ritzy shopping center.
  • Saw our friend Susanna (she came over to stay the night)
  • Went to Venice Beach
  • Put our feet in the ocean
  • Saw a bunch of crazy street performers, including one guy who did a backflip over five kids
  • Walked about halfway to Muscle Beach, then decided it was too far; cleary, we do not belong at Muscle Beach
  • Ate some lousy $1.99 pizza
  • Watched the sunset over Venice Beach
  • Went to Susanna’s place in Santa Clarita with Barrett and Tyler
  • Ate at a decent Indian restaurant (it’s no Manas)
  • Made up a bunch of words in a Scrabble game
  • Noticed that a few of my Jan Term Journal posts were picked up by So You Want to Teach?. Thanks, Joel.
  • Stayed the night at Susanna’s
  • Watched the sunrise
  • Took the Metrolink train back into LA
  • Spent MLK day chilling, napping, recovering from the weekend, and getting ready for my last three days of school at St. Columbkille!

Speaking of MLK, I think it’s important to watch this on his day:

See you next time. Hope you enjoyed your day and spent some time ruminating on Martin Luther King, Jr’s contributions to our country. Enjoy the inauguration tomorrow; I’m hoping to catch it live, but if not, we’ll always have YouTube.

Weekend Bullet List 1

One of the things that is so frustrating about going on vacations without most of the people you love is that it’s hard to explain everything in detail. So for our doings on the weekends, I won’t even try. I’m going to post some bullet lists with everything we’ve done so far, and I’ll include links when possible. That should at least help you to get a birds-eye view of our touristing around L.A. I took my camera around with me all weekend, but I’ve been pretty bad at remembering to take pictures… So, we’ll rely mostly on links.

This weekend we:

We did a good job of keeping busy this weekend; Tyler is a great host and the public transportation system down here is pretty easy to navigate. I hope we can get as much done next weekend! Stay tuned…

PS – One of my favorite TV shows, 30 Rock, just dominated the Golden Globes. Booyah.

What I’ve learned, 9/6 – 10/9/2008 (plus shoutouts)

Hey everyone!

So, as I previously stated, keeping up on this thing was one of my New (school) Year’s Resolutions. And I’m not going to let you down! I want to get back into the whole blogging thing. So, I’m easing into it here with a 1500-word post for you.

I find that it’s difficult to just “sum up” what I’ve learned, because there has been so much. Especially now that we’re spending time in real deal schools. Fortunately, we have a weekly assignment called the “3-2-1” where we list three observations or new learnings, two questions, and one “ah-ha” moment from the previous week. So to get back into the habit here, I’m posting all of my “3s” and “1s” from my 3-2-1s so far.

Before I jump right into that, though, I need to do a couple of shout-outs:

So! Without further ado, here come the 3-1s. I’ll continue to post these every week, as long as I remember to.

9/6

  • My mentor teachers are perceived by students as two of the best, most fun teachers at MHS. Students who take their classes always speak highly of them to others, and every grad that I’ve talked to says I’m pretty lucky to have them for mentors.
  • Each class has its own personality, and it can be greatly affected by the presence (or absence) of a single person. I have three sophomore English classes with very different “feels,” and they are all different for a reason.
  • No expectations. When students walked into class on the first day, I immediately started drawing conclusions about what sort of student they would be based on what they looked like, who they sat with and how they acted on the first day. After four days at MHS, my initial conclusions have already been proven wrong by several students. In the future, I will be more intentional about reserving judgment until I have actually met and interacted with students and given them chances to prove themselves in the classroom.
  • Teachers do everything on purpose. Every classroom activity has some reasoning behind it, whether it’s helping the students to master content, coming at content from a different angle, or just learning students’ names.

9/12

  • Freshmen are energetic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hard to handle 100% of the time. One class had a practice WASL writing sample to do this week, and I was surprised at how well-behaved some of the students were for the last 45 minutes of the period after they finished. One of the rowdier students even asked if he could read out of a mythology textbook for a class that also meets in the room.
  • Test anxiety is real! I knew that some people had more trouble than others when “under pressure,” but I hadn’t really experienced it until I graded 90 16-point quizzes. I was surprised when I compared the names to the grades because several good students did poorly, while others who hadn’t been as responsible up to this point did very well.
  • I got the chance to teach five periods this week, as one of my mentor teachers was sick on Thursday and Friday. As I was reflecting on the experience, I realized that I was coming to like the idea of teaching more and more. When I started the MIT program, I was probably about 70-75% sure that I wanted to do this, but since I’ve been at MHS that number has gone up and up.
  • We start classes at Whitworth this week, and I’ve found that I feel kind of bittersweet about it. I am excited to see the other people in the program and converse about our experiences so far, but I am really disappointed that I won’t be at MHS full-time until the spring. I have been having so much fun so far, and I can’t wait to take over full-time!

9/19

  • “Exceptional learners” means “learners that require some sort of exception,” not necessarily “gifted learners.” This was a confusion in terms for me until class started this week. This dichotomy is immediately visible at the dictionary.com entry for “exceptional”.
  • Each class has its own personality, which is nearly tangible from the moment they walk in on the first day. As the first weeks go on, however, it becomes more and more evident. Apparently, on one of the days I was in class, one period “decided” they needed a seating chart. At this point in the year, I wasn’t surprised.
  • Breakthrough is awesome! I went to school on Friday, primarily to see this class in action. It’s a leadership/self-actualization/community service/etc. class. When I went, their lesson was on one of the Eight Keys of Excellence – “Failures Lead to Learning.” They watched a 10-minute movie clip and then had a kinesthetic activity. This is the kind of class I can really get behind!
  • I went to school on Friday, and I had missed it after being in classes at Whitworth the previous two days. It was great to be able to experience my mentors’ classes that I normally don’t get to see, especially Breakthrough (see above). I think I’m going to keep going on Fridays.

9/27

  • I think my English methods class at LCHS is going to be a lot of fun. Our teacher seems very realistic and focused on giving us practical strategies that we can use in the classroom, rather than more theoretical work.
  • I love going to all of MHS’ football games. While I see my 120ish students in class every week, sitting close to the student section (but not in it) gives me a chance to observe them in another context – with their friends, having fun outside of school. Which, of course, gives me a different perspective on their behavior in class.
  • One of my mentors has shifted from a less academic focus, and some of the students are having a hard time with it. If you start the year off “having fun,” I think it’s important to work some content in there as well so that when the content fully hits, students aren’t totally taken aback.
  • We had Open House this week at MHS, which was my first real contact with any parents. I was surprised that several of them had heard of me, and a few mentioned how highly their student thought of me. While I was flattered, the real “ah-ha” moment came when they mentioned how lucky I was to be working with my mentor. While I never really had any doubt, it was good to have my mentor’s reputation confirmed by parents who have been around the MHS district for a while.

10/4

  • When running a newspaper staff, there is a fine balance between “advising” and “getting too involved.” The students were just starting to lay out their pages this week, and I wanted to jump in so many times! I have to learn to let them work – it’s their paper, after all, not mine.
  • I watched a senior AP English class this week, and I was struck by the differences between this class and my classes of freshmen and sophomores. It was fun to be able to actually be able to discuss a short story with a class and hear things other than “this story sucked.”
  • Students can be reluctant to share in class, unless the teacher demonstrates first. I taught one period earlier this week where the students were supposed to do a journal entry titled, “My Closest Call to Death”. They were all lost when I announced what they were supposed to write about, but after I told my story, they couldn’t stop talking about their own stories.
  • A big part of the beginning of each school year is setting students up for success. One of my mentors tries to front-load the year with a lot of little assignments so that students who tend to struggle start off on the right foot. I think this is a great idea, and the students do too – many are excited about English because that they are keeping a high grade for the first time, even as more difficult work is setting in.

Checking in…

Hey!

Okay, so it’s been a while since my last post. I have been road-tripping down California with my family, on the way to drop my sister Haley off at Point Loma Nazarene University. I’ve never been on campus here before, so this was my chance to see what she’s been so excited about (and to see what everyone means when they say, “oh, what a beautiful campus”). Also, selfishly, it’s been my chance to compare freshman orientation at PLNU to my own Traditiation experience at Whitworth.

Baseball field at PLNU

Baseball field at PLNU

Full disclosure: I absolutely thrived during Traditiation. The RAs were told to act as if everything that happened was The Best Thing Ever, and it completely worked. Their enthusiasm was contagious, which is usually more than enough for me to get excited about whatever is going on.

Back to yesterday: Rolling onto campus at Point Loma, we pulled our car up to Klassen Hall where a group of student leaders and athletes were waiting to meet us. At Whitworth, freshman move-in is kind of a free-for-all. Everyone can start moving in at a certain time, so you get lines of freshmen waiting to move in and two or three student leaders per car. At PLNU, they stagger the freshmen in roughly half-hour incriments, so every student leader is available to help families move in one by one. They gave a yell when we rolled up, and then grabbed all – yes, ALL – of the stuff from our car and brought it into the room. What a relief! A process that took me at least half an hour at Whitworth took Haley about 10 minutes.

Keep in mind that I’m coming at this mostly as an observer. I’m not a new PLNU student, nor am I a parent. So they aren’t really focusing on me – which works out okay.

From what I’ve seen so far (and we’re about a day and a half into our two-day whirlwind tour), PLNU’s orientation is much less structured and more laid-back than Whitworth’s. Which, of course, has pros and cons. It’s nice for students to be able to ease into the school year and spend their days building relationships, but that’s hard to do when the parents are still in town. It seems like most students are clinging to their parents pretty well. Which, of course, is COMPLETELY natural and okay, but it doesn’t look like they have much programming that forces them to socialize tomorrow. No programming on Sunday, and classes start on Monday. Not much time to build relationships. It’s a great scenario for more outgoing students, because they have the opportunity to spend all day Sunday walking around dorms and meeting people. But for those who are a little more uncertain, it doesn’t look like there is any program that requires new students to work together. It seems like it would be very easy for students to fall through the cracks.

At Whitworth, Traditiation is HUGE. It’s big here, too, but I don’t know if any PLNU students would call it the highlight of their college career. I might be completely underestimating it, but it looks pretty low-key to me compared to the Traditiation regiment. At Whitworth, we’ve got a welcome presentation in the Fieldhouse. We’ve got Yell-Off. Mock Rock. Wooing. Final ceremonies. It’s a whirlwind, and as a freshman, you never quite know where you’re going to land. My point, though, is that everyone lands somewhere. Most people land in a place where they feel very much a part of the community, and they have begun to build relationships with people that will continue to be their best friends for four years. I’m not saying that those things don’t happen at PLNU, but from my observations, I think that the students have to be a little more intentional about building them during the first couple weeks of school.

All in all, PLNU is a great school. Current students love it, and recent grads are pretty sad to leave. Most of the freshmen and parents seem pretty excited about it too, which is awesome. Some fantastic things have been happening over the past couple of days (and I’ll blog more about them later), but I feel very fortunate to have had the start at Whtiworth that I did.

One more analogy, then I’ll head out: Freshman orientation at Point Loma is like the way I learned to swim. I was afraid of the water, so I just hung out in the shallow end until I was comfortable enough (and big enough) to go deeper. I don’t have any strokes down very well, but I do okay. I’ll survive in the water, and I can enjoy it. Traditiation at Whitworth is like being thrown off a boat. You are panicked for a moment and have no idea which way is up, but you’re forced to survive. You find a way. And sometimes, that’s the best way. I know it was for me.

Joys of MIT (so far)

Well, we’re over a month into the MIT program, and to say the least, it has had its ups and downs. I’d say it’s been good overall (and we’ve had more ups than these guys).

It can be easy to criticize our situations; however, I think that it’s very important to take stock of what we love about the people and things around us. That’s what I’m doing here. This is a list of things that have given me a little bit of joy during this summer term. I’m not pretending that this list is exhaustive, but here’s a little window into our summer MIT world:

  • Seeing Whitworth over the summer and all the hard work that Facilities Services and various construction crews are putting into improving/beautifying our school.
  • Cory delivering the best question of the first day (“Why the heck are we talking about sustainability?”).
  • Tuesdays at Didier’s!
  • Having fun with my “Extreme Classroom Makeover” group.
  • Michelle helping Eric learn how to use technology during our first class.
  • Going to two Spokane Indians games, one with Dr. K and one with Katrina.
  • Watching Cory beat Mario 64 by earning all 120 stars… twice.
  • Dr. Cherry admitting that there were some mistakes made on Day 1 (Note: This is not some sort of schadenfreude. This was a joy for me because most people in Dr. Cherry’s position simply wouldn’t be willing to admit their mistake. They might make a minor tweak here and there, but nobody would ever know. Cory has written about this phenomenon at Whitworth before).
  • Reading Pink & Say out loud to Maryanne.
  • French dips every Wednesday!
  • Listening to Robby‘s excitement whenever a new piece of technology is introduced (“that is SO COOL!”).
  • Meeting new friends whose paths I somehow haven’t crossed at Whitworth for the past three or four years.
  • Also, how about some new friends who are just coming into Whitworth? We have a great classroom culture, and they are a huge part of it.
  • Figuring out this whole “cooking your own food” deal.
  • Having some extra time to read.
  • Watching Jenn’s stress about her wedding turn to excitement and then relief and contentedness.
  • Eating Jenn’s leftover wedding cake!
  • “Research & Assessment” and “Advanced Educational Psychology.” Kathryn’s classes are the only ones that are structured like actual college courses, so it’s nice to have that familiarity.
  • Adam’s ongoing quest to find someone, anyone else who has read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
  • DOING LAUNDRY WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT. That might seriously be my favorite thing about living off-campus so far.
  • Counting the days until the Blazers tip off at summer league!
  • All of the sweet hangouts that we’ve had after hours. I was worried that we wouldn’t have any free time, but here we are having BBQs, roasting marshmallows, playing board games, drinking milkshakes, watching movies, etc.
  • Whenever Kevin gets a chance to teach. The man makes me want to take his high school social studies class.
  • Realizing that we’re more than halfway done with the first summer term. Whoa.
  • Keeping up on the blog, after all!

Yep, Ferris Bueller had it right (as usual). Life moves pretty fast; If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

“School of Dreams”?

One of the great things about the MIT program is that I have a lot more time on my hands than I have had in the past several years. Part of this time is spent adjusting to life off-campus: shopping, cooking, cleaning and generally attending to domestic tasks. But even with all of that, I still have some extra time to read.

How did that happen? Well, a number of reasons. First of all, the summer MIT term is not nearly as rigorous as my undergrad coursework was. Having class from 8:00am – 4:30pm every day is honestly the toughest part for me. But the focus of the term is not on learning content to teach; instead, it is on beginning to build our teaching “toolbox” and preparing us to go into the public schools this fall. Our next term will build upon the foundational work we’re doing now.

Also, I loved my undergrad career at Whitworth, but I really ran myself ragged during my junior and senior years. In addition to nearly double-majoring, I had two jobs on campus (RA and music director at KWRS). I spent a lot of time running around campus for one of my four major time commitments, and tried to spend as much time building relationships with friends as I could afford while maintaining a decent GPA.

I love reading, but I was so busy that I couldn’t even read everything I was assigned in college – much less anything for pleasure. So when the summer began in May, I started reading. I’m planning to read several of “the classics,” and I will probably be spending August catching up on some of the literature that I will be teaching at Mead next year. But throughout it all, I’ve had the chance to pick up some great books about education. Whenever I finish one, I’ll post a review up here.

I recently finished reading Edward Humes‘ 2004 book “School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School.” Humes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who spent the 2001-2002 school year at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California.School of Dreams

“School of Dreams” follows Humes as he teaches a writing workshop class, interviews teachers, students and administrators, and even takes classes at Whitney. But the book is not at all about Humes’ experience; it is unabashedly the Whitney High School story. In addition to telling the story of the 2001-2002 school year at Whitney, Humes covers the school’s history from its opening in 1976 to the present day.

Whitney is no ordinary school. As the top-ranked public school in California, something unusual is happening there. People move to Cerritos from all over the world to send their kids to Whitney, and they have been for years. School administrators run ads in foreign newspapers, some as far away as India (indeed, that’s about as far as you can get). Nearly 75% of the students are Asian-American, and white students make up just 7.3% of the 1,020 students at Whitney. The school services 7th-12th graders, and all sixth-graders must pass an entrance exam in order to attend.

Expectations are high for students at Whitney, and they largely deliver. Each Whitney student spends four years striving to get into colleges across the country. But not just any schools – Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Stanford, etc. Going to a school below the Ivy League’s caliber is just not acceptable for these students, or frighteningly enough, for their parents. Some of the Whitney parents are so gung-ho about their student’s academic success that it seems like high school is more about college for them than about their child.

Because of these high expectations, the joke circulates that four is the magic number at Whitney: Four hours of sleep, four cafe lattes a day, 4.0 GPA. It’s not much of an exaggeration. The students are absolutely overworked, and it’s all in the name of looking good to the big-name colleges.

When I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of the “culture of busyness” at Whitworth. As previously stated, I spent at least two years being way too busy. My experience was far from an anomaly – I tend to work well under pressure, but my undergraduate peers were busting their tails too. Some of them even worked harder than I did. In one extreme case, a friend of mine was working three jobs and taking 24 credits! Ugh.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with being busy and involved in your school. Personally, I love it. It’s how I got through high school and college, and I look forward to helping students enjoy their high school years from the other side. But there has to be a balance in life; a balance that I’m starting to find now. It’s kind of scary to watch how some of the Whitney students described in this book suppress their true passions in order to get higher grades and get into a college they don’t really want to go to. The question that hardly any of them seem to be asking themselves is, “is this lifestyle really worth it?”

The secrets of educating middle and high school students are not easily unlocked, and it seems that achieving academically unfortunately sometimes comes at odds with living healthily and happily. Whether they should or not, the students at Whitney struggle with this dichotomy every day (four is the magic number), and Humes’ account of their way of life is fascinating and well-written. I heartily recommend this book to any teachers, people who want to be teachers, or anyone who has any sort of interest in our school system.

You can read an excerpt from “School of Dreams” here.

Philosophy of Teaching (part II)

If my “Why Teaching?” post was a look at my philosophy of teaching, this post is the second edition in that series. I look forward to updating my philosophy as I go through the MIT program, student teaching and beyond. Onward and upward, right? Hopefully, I will be able to look back at this series and track my personal and professional growth through the year (or years?).

Of course, no blog post or paper can fully contain an entire personal philosophy of teaching. But I hope that the bits and pieces will come together to form a fuller picture for you, the readers. My friends, family and readers who are shaking their heads and thinking, “What is he getting himself into?”

What follows was actually a paper that I wrote for my Classroom Management class. The prompt was to write a two-page personal paper “identifying the role the teacher has in creating an effective learning climate for all students.” Within the paper, we were to:

  1. Identify our skills and strengths that will contribute to this environment;
  2. Any areas that are now questions and new learnings or thoughts;
  3. Any areas that will become important to explore and learn to do well;
  4. References and comments that created these statements or thoughts

Anyway, without further ado:

The teacher has a crucial role in creating an effective learning climate for all of his or her students. The students have to ultimately decide whether they will learn or not, but the teacher is the one who has to make the room physically and psychologically conducive to learning and academic success for students.

My energy and enthusiasm will definitely contribute to this environment. Not just my enthusiasm for teaching writing and literature, but more importantly, my enthusiasm for people and relationships. In high school, my best teachers were enthusiastic about their subjects, but more importantly, passionate about their students. My professors at Whitworth have been very much the same way, and I hope to respect the great examples they have given me by applying that same sort of care to my students.

Through the past two years as a resident assistant at Whitworth, building relationships has become one of my strongest skills. The “Hearts and Minds” article said that “for most teachers, their relationships are their teaching.” That will certainly be the case in my classroom. I don’t have to be every student’s best friend, but I will be intentional about building senses of professional camaraderie and rapport between myself and the students in my classes.

My “locus of control” score was 95 – five points off of the maximum number. This means that I have a very strong internal locus of control. I subscribe (at least, informally) to the words of William Ernest Henley from his poem “Invictus”: “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.” I interpret the closing lines of this poem to mean that if I am to accomplish something, I need to take initiative. My level of intentionality plays a role in whether I succeed or not in any given task, and it is often the most crucial factor. Being intentional with students means giving my best effort to maximize the time I have been given – my 1000 hours need to be spent wisely and intentionally if students are to succeed in my class.

Although I have been excited about teaching for several years now, I still have very little experience leading a class of high school students. It seems to me at this point that there are pressures coming from many different levels, especially in this program. I will be feeling the heat from my professors, my mentor teachers, my students, their parents and others if I do not perform. The biggest challenge that I will face (at least initially) is just learning how to operate professionally and live the working lifestyle of a high school teacher. The potential stress gives me pause, but I am confident that I will be prepared when the time comes.

However, I cannot assume that the mechanics of teaching are going to come easily. I am comfortable working in front of groups or behind a microphone, but I could see myself becoming tempted to use that comfort level as an excuse for exceptional daily preparation. As Kathryn Picanco noted in yesterday’s Educational Psychology lecture, “Education is not common sense. It just doesn’t work that way.”

I tend to do alright academically, but that includes quite a bit of leaning on common sense and using time-saving strategies in order to end up with a decent grade and a semi-reasonable schedule. However, leaning on common sense and taking shortcuts will not cut it for me in the classroom. I have many preconceptions about how education works and what effective teachers do to serve their students, but I wonder how many of those conceptions are inaccurate. If I rely too much on my ‘common sense’ knowledge, I may fall victim to the laziness that plagues so many bad teachers.