Classroom Connection #3

The third essay I wrote on my observations during the observation portion of my student teaching practicum. My god, the first two paragraphs. My cooperating instructor was, in hindsight, really helpful but had a different idea of teaching. Pitt was all about theory and student-centered classrooms and he thought Pitt’s ideas for teaching didn’t mesh with reality and said so on many occasions. We got along ok. He kept a strict classroom which benefitted me as I never had to fight, argue, or work to get attention and compliance from students. Ultimately. however, he did call me dumb and tell me to shut up in front of students and rejected most of my lesson plan ideas which were based on what I was learning at Pitt.

Teaching Literature and Media IL2234

Classroom Connection 3

Is this classroom a constructivist classroom that is student centered?

      Based on what I know of constructivism, the answer is a pretty clear no. Most of the time students in my classes have been doing IRE-type activities. Or what I believe to be IRE-type activities. My understanding of constructivism is basically that students have a choice in what they will learn and how they will learn it. Teachers and students decide together what the curriculum will be, then, they develop a plan on how to implement it. My understanding of IRE and IRE-type activities is any classroom activity that involves students holding what I call the “worship” position. They are seated, looking forward, gazing at the teacher (some attentively some of the time, some attentively very little of the time, and none attentively all of the time), and when the teacher asks a question the most eager among them raise their hands hoping for the chance to talk and please their teacher. In this position the teacher has the role of God or some other God-like idol, standing in front and at a higher level than the students, who are seated. This God/Teacher gives lectures/sermons designed to get his acolytes/students to come around to his line of thinking.

      My cooperating teacher is more like a football coach than a God but the effect is the same. Most of the classes I’ve observed have been comprised of little more than going over discussion questions and character charts IRE-style, or lecturing about a new poem or story. Other classes have been test days or test return days. In all four of those instances students sat in their rows and columns and sat and listened, mostly uninterestingly, as the teacher spoke. There was one day when the accelerated class gave presentations, which they were very eager to do, and once there was a short group discussion activity. My perception of IRE may be flawed. I may be including non-IRE activities as IRE activities and IRE may not always be a poor teaching tool, but it seems to me, from what I’ve witnessed and from what I’ve read and heard in class, that the more time students spend listening and watching instead of doing the less time they spend learning.

What approaches do I think will be easy or hard to implement in this classroom?

      If my reading of the classroom learning atmosphere is correct drama activities will be next to impossible use. I have not witnessed or heard of any process drama in my classes. I’m also not sure of any community building that occurred that would make the transition into drama easier. I’m pretty sure there was nothing specifically done to this end, and I’m also pretty sure that my instructor will say that the students all already know each other, have classes together, etc., so it isn’t necessary anyway. I like process drama and think it can be a useful tool to help students better understand texts and ideas. Process drama also seems like a pretty basic activity for an English class so I don’t understand why all English teachers don’t automatically incorporate drama activities into their curriculum. I plan on trying to use process drama this spring, however, I am unsure if my mentor instructor will allow time for the community and trust building work that needs to be done beforehand.

      Shared inquiry discussion and small group discussion will be easier to implement- students seem to be craving for more opportunities to express themselves. I ran two shared inquiry discussions. Students talked more overall and more students got a chance to talk. This seemed to please them. All of their comments were directed to me, which made me uncomfortable, so there is still some work that needs done for better discussions to take place. These discussions were much more productive than the IRE style lectures I gave to the same students the previous class.

      Small group discussion has worked for these classes. The only concern will be properly grouping the students so that they stay on task. In one class the four more rambunctious students were in a group and they were a little hard to control. Of course, this far into the semester, mid-November, students should be able to work in alone or in small groups without constant supervision – even the misbehaving ones.

      Student presentations will be used. They have all done one that I have seen and seemed to have done well. Fear of being made fun of may be present but it doesn’t appear to stop them from going to the front of the room and addressing the class.

      Writing assignments will present a particular challenge for most students. They are used to PSSA writing assignments and many of them can’t get the “here are three reasons why my thesis is true” theme out of their heads when they are not asked to do that type of writing. In addition, my mentor teacher is real big on the PSSA and five-paragraph-theme stuff so convincing him that not all writings need to be either of these will be a challenge.

What have I learned from my practicum experience and by being in the school?

      I have learned that classroom and time management are major issues that require a good deal of focus from teachers. Kids will misbehave in class and will need to be made to stay on focus, this I know, and this I know will be two challenges for me. I’m not a yeller or one who wants to have to issue commands to my students. I will if I need to. For this spring I will not be teaching my students, but someone else’s students. My mentor instructor and I have vastly different personalities and will have vastly different learning environments.

      Time management is a particular problem of mine. I think that I have all the time in the world all the time (like how this paper is over the two-page limit) and I don’t. So this I must work on.

      I have learned to stay out of lunch rooms and away from other teachers (This couldn’t be more wrong. Other teachers are the only friends and allies teachers have. Students, some of the time at least, parents, administrators are the enemies. Good principals and Deans of Students have been a great aid to me as a sub. Teachers need their full support to be effective.). I have learned that I don’t want contractual and administrative issues to consume any amount of my time. I have learned that I don’t want to be one of those teachers that is concerned about how many days I am permitted to call-off is written into my contract. I don’t want to be one of those teachers who takes-off even more time than teachers already have.

      What I haven’t learned is how much schoolwork I should be taking home with me (My years subbing as taught me that most teachers take home little to no work. Other jobs, family commitments, extra duties at school take up most of their time. Emailing and texting with students and parents during after school hours takes up time as well. And teachers have grading days built into their contracts so they can take a day off to grade instead of doing it at home). My mentor instructor does no work at home at all. He does all planning and paper grading during free periods. I have learned that I don’t want to be (I have since learned the opposite) one of those teachers that plans his lessons so that they can be used over and over again for several years thereby cutting down on the amount of teaching I need to do.

      I have not learned whether my practicum experience has lessened or increased my desire to be a teacher. It has done a little of both – being around the students has validated my reasons for becoming a teacher, everything else has invalidated it.

What most excites me and what most plagues me about my coming student teaching experience?

      I am most excited that I will be able to create lessons and units that will engage and excite my students. I think they are bored and are getting very little out of what they are doing.

      I am most anxious about the responsibility of being the one person students will look to for guidance and for their education. I do not want to do a bad job.

      This is the shortest section and my answer to the query isn’t what I want it to be, but I am well over the page limit and need to cut something from somewhere.

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