Monday, September 12, 2005

Shifting Into Second

I have decided that I will be posting from time to time with some general observations about my experiences, saving the day-to-day stuff for my final submissions to D'YC at the end of the semester. This allows me to keep this site updated at approximately the same consistency it was last semester, as well as do my daily journal in greater detail without fear of encroaching on anyone's privacy or exposing anyone to an unwanted glare—all of this said without trying to flatter myself that too many people are reading this, these are just standard precautions.

Monday has brought a rather quick change to the pace of things. Whereas last week I had a great deal of time to observe and absorbe; this week, like the jarring clang of the fire drill, I am being met with lesson planning and a visit from my supervisor, Ms. N., tomorrow.

My general observation at this point in the practicum is just how damn comfortable I feel in the classroom already. Ms. H. (my Associate Teacher) has a way about her that I can totally relate to. I'm very comfortable in the classroom environment she promotes, and the students have done an amazing job of welcoming me to their world. I have become immersed in science and math as the grades seven and eight rotary classroom and I couldn't be happier. This was a level of science that I always felt really comfortable with—it was the high school stuff that lost my interest. My math abilities are far enough ahead of this to make me excited about what they have to come. Perfect really.

I will be teaching a few periods of math this week, subjects ranging from rounding to applying knowledge on circumferences and π, and I will begin planning a unit on Pythagoras and the construction of a circle. Fun stuff!

The level of discipline in the classroom is limited to making communication possible and that feels just right. There have been no serious issues yet and a lot of it has to do with the level of respect the students feel from Ms. H.—they genuinely trust her and hold her in high regard, and thus feel no reason to express discontent or aggression. Mind you, it is only been five days and not much has happened yet. There are some interesting social exchanges between small groups of students that I am keeping an eye on out of concern for how it will affect the classroom environment. Nothing dangerous, just in and out groups setting up their territories, with one student crying in a bathroom at one point so far.

I want to give one quick example of Ms. H.'s teaching style. Friday, at the end of the day, was the second period in a mini-unit on circles, which focused on the concept of π with relation to circumference and diameter. The concept was going over the heads of a good portion of the class. As soon as she felt this, she confirmed it with some well worded questions, and that was it. The pace in the class was changed, as was the subject and she immediately went back to the drawing board. This morning she had two different lessons prepared: one for the students who had a good grasp of the concepts and equations, and one for the students getting left behind. Perfect! The fact of the matter is that there is a large gap in the abilities of students in the class; if she can make accommodations for two or three levels of ability by photocopying two or three different sets of questions, then why not do it?

The students appreciate it, it makes her job easier, and she handles it in a way that is honest and respectful. The students feel no shame for needing extra help—they explicitly asked for it in the "hopes for the coming year" statement that they wrote on the first day! Math might be uniquely equipped to handle this kind of approach, but that's what she's teaching, so that's what she's using. I'm very impressed with the whole thing and it's a skill I'm looking forward to acquiring.

My results from the LAST & ATS-W are eight days away, my initial application to the OCT is in, I'm tending the BBQ at Meet The Teacher/Curriculum night tomorrow, and I've already started playing with some fussy Outlook and Windows 2000 problems on the school computers ... all is as it should be.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

LAST & ATS-W

I have been remiss in describing my experience writing both the LAST and ATS-W on the same day, and interest prevents me from going into any great detail. Suffice it to say that I found the effort significant to the point of describing it as an ordeal. By the time I was on my third hour of the ATS-W (the more difficult of the two—by far) I was having difficulty making it through the final essay question.

I found the LAST to be rather easy, but I'm the first to admit that it is the kind of test that appeals to me, the kind of thing that I tend to rather well on. The essay question required an argument to be made, either pro or con, on the subject of monetary fines to parents for their children's truancy. The position taken did not matter as much as the style of writing and ability to structure an essay.

The ATS-W was far trickier. It required an ability to figure out what the test writer's intentions were—intentions which were far more opaque for me than on any of the practice exams that I wrote or looked through. The essay question required a defense of creating a safe learning environment, along with two descriptions for how safety can be promoted in a classroom setting at the grade level I intend to teach. Not a simple question, but the structure was laid out in the question and a reasonable bit of planning lead me to a decent answer (considering almost eight hours of test writing that day).

So, the bottom line is that September 20th will bring news that I can hopefully forward on to D'Youville and be one step closer to certification. On that subject, today I sent by post my Ontario College of Teachers application form and various documents required to begin the application process. I have transcripts to send, D'Youville to corral, and placements to complete before I can consider this final phase in this process complete.

So, this marks the end of the theory portion of my teacher education and the beginning of the applied. I begin my first placement at a local middle school in a grade 8 classroom. As part of the practicum process, I am keeping a daily response and reflection journal, which is eventually submitted as part of the evaluation for both my practica. I intend to continue to use the space to that end; however, I'm unsure of how I will handle the publishing at this point. I'm considering adding some security features to the site in order to protect some of my personal information, especially considering the level of technology and media savvy I've witnessed from students. I am also concerned about the privacy of the students and teachers I will be writing about. But please stay tuned—I'll update on my decisions either way.