Sunday, December 16, 2012

Over thinking Student Teaching: Epilogue

My swan song came in the form of a letter I addressed to the students and staff of my student teaching placement site. It was printed in the most recent issue of the school newspaper and I worked very hard to structure it to mirror my understanding of good practice. I doubt that anyone who reads it could see the deliberate care I took in composing it, but that’s okay as long as the overall message of intense gratitude came through. Here is an annotated version of my farewell letter:

[1]Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of The School High School,

[2]I’ve given myself a writing assignment: a one-paragraph, single spaced thank-you letter to everyone I’ve met in my three months as a student teacher at TSHS. [3]You may be surprised to hear an English teacher say this, but writing can be hard! [4]However, nothing worthwhile is easy. [5]I want you all to know that this has been an experience I will never forget (in a good way!), and I feel I have learned more during my time here than I ever could have imagined. [6]Although I’ve been a teacher to many of you, I’m also a student, and in a few weeks I will be graduating. [7]Whether you know it or not, I couldn’t have done it without you. [8]You adopted me into your family, and like most families we’ve had victories, disagreements, laughs, arguments, more victories, and that one day when the power went out. [9]Wherever I go from here, I’ll always be a [mascot].

[10]Thank you and good luck,
Ms. Jacover

[1] The salutation was constructed to deliberately include formal and respectful titles to remind students that expectations for behavior and conduct are high, and will continue to be so. I referred to each student and whole classes in this manner on a daily basis to instill a sense of pride and decorum in how they choose to conduct themselves. It is my hope that by doing so, I have imparted a lasting impression on how these students may view themselves in relation to how they would like to be viewed by the larger world.
[2] This statement was included to set a tone for the letter, specifically to remind readers that everyone is a student and a teacher, to some extent. The sentence is intentionally declarative in nature and provides the reader with an outline for what to expect from the rest of the text.
[3] This comment reveals an attempt to connect with the reader on a personal level. It is crucial for students to recognize that the work of English language arts is a constant struggle for everyone. By including this statement, I am trying to communicate that everyone who engages in this type of work faces individual challenges.
[4] This statement acknowledges and reinforces the overall message I attempted to communicate during my time as a student teacher. It is slightly preachy, but ultimately intended to present the conditional factors associated with mastery of English language arts.
[5] The main idea of the message comes into focus here, and the reader should have been able to use context clues to predict this statement. It is heartfelt and honest, and intended to provide a model for authentic writing.
[6] This sentence reiterates my role as a teacher while reinforcing the concept that everyone plays dual roles of educator and student. The main idea of this sentence also supports the daily reminders I gave students about the benefits of completing assigned work.
[7] Specific language addressing the reader serves as a reminder that learning is collaborative. The qualifier present at the beginning of the sentence is intended to foster metacognitive and reflective thoughts in the reader. It is my hope that a reader can acknowledge and accept his part in the larger context presented.
[8] Again, language specific to the school culture is included here to support the school’s mission statement regarding efforts to build a small learning community. The term “family” was intentionally used to evoke a sense of responsibility within individual readers.
[9] The closing statement speaks to the core values present within the school culture, particularly the value placed on athletics and team sports. The reference to the mascot should hopefully remind students of my personal investment in the extracurricular activities most valued by the school and stakeholders.
[10] I included this to indicate that my gratitude for the experience is intertwined with my investment in the readers’ success. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Guide to Student Teaching #14

I finally had my “Professor Henry Higgins” moment this week! By George, I really did it, I did it, I did it! I said I’d make a [student] and indeed I did. While Henry Higgins, of My Fair Lady, was dealing with the foul-mouthed, flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, and I had to contend with the foul-mouthed, egotistical 16 year-old in my 3rd period class of juniors, the challenge of teaching such hard-headed people remains an apt parallel in my mind.
At the beginning of the semester, my student and I were at odds. He didn’t see any reason to follow my instructions, and I couldn’t fathom how to force him to learn. We had showdowns on a daily basis, oftentimes resulting in one of us leaving the room to sulk, cry, or complain. After he refused to take a quiz, I made the decision to tighten the reins and approach teaching him from a different angle. I constructed a separate assignment for the belligerent student and kindly explained to him and his mother that the reading materials contained information pertinent to his personal goals (of graduating high school and going on to college to become a football star). The assignment was to connect the content from the articles (high school football recruits who went from “best to bust”) to the major themes within the play his class was reading (how “hubris” causes tragedy in Antigone). I was proud of the assignment, but I had very little hope that it would change his attitude toward school or me as his teacher.
This week, my student underwent an Eliza Doolittle-esque transformation. He presented his work to the class, meeting and exceeding the expectations I had set for him, but the real shock was seeing how invested he was in the work for the rest of the week. He turned a corner this week and became a model student. Not only did he take a leadership role during class discussions, but he finally stopped stealing instructional time with his disrespectful antics and comments. It was a lover-ly week, t’was!
In addition to this victory, I am finally getting ready to finish up my student teaching stint. My exit strategy is in place, the papers are graded, all involved parties are aware, and… I may have a job lined up. I don’t want to count any chickens just yet, but the option has been presented, and I am seriously weighing it. For all of my complaints, I know that beggars can’t be choosers, and the job market isn’t exactly overflowing with possibilities right now. The question I keep asking myself is this: Do I believe in the school’s mission? Even though the answer is a resounding YES, I just can’t seem to reconcile the message of the mission with the policies the school implements to achieve that mission. It’s all very confusing.
Clearly, I have some things to consider. Although I don’t support the school’s current policies, I wonder if I could affect change from within. If I could affect that change, what level of support or resistance would I face? Would the flexibility of a private or charter school weigh more or less than the comparable salary a public school could offer? Time commitments, travel/distance, demographics, financial and administrative support, and availability of resources are at the forefront of my mind, but there is one other factor that might influence my choice. Once again, it is Professor Henry Higgins’ voice singing, “Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! I’ve grown accustomed to her face!” reminding me that this school, the staff, and most of all, the students, have made an impression on me that won’t be easy to set aside.