Powers of Ten

Reflecting on my student teaching, I saw regrets flashing like flustering bolts of lightning and from their strikes the wavering fires they ignited…

The first 10 minutes…

Anxiety. I was filled with fluttering butterflies that stirred my stomach a crazy wreck. No thoughts or words could calm them. They were alert that morning, and I was alive with worry. I had taught before; I had been responsible for a group of students prior to that angst-churning morning, but I had never felt the weight of full classroom responsibility for 30 students before—and it bore down on me with all its dense weight, all its pressure. Prior to the class, I replayed hypothetical scenarios in my head: Scenarios where I didn’t know the answer to a student’s question; scenarios where I stuttered and couldn’t speak; scenarios where I tripped and fell; scenarios where I was clueless; scenarios where I horribly failed at teaching. I was absolutely scared. Then, without further ado, I stood before my class a teacher for the first time.

Anxiety subsided to duty. It was that easy: introductory words poured out of me, and students, most of them, were listening. It felt natural. I spoke from raw inexperience but with heart, and the students could sense it. All those months, days, and minutes of worrying had been forgotten. I was surprised with how comfortable I felt and how naturally, with few hesitations, I could communicate to my students. The butterflies still fluttered (and still do), but I thrived off of them instead of worrying from them. [If I did not feel the excitement of teaching, I’d fear I’m in the wrong profession.]

After my introduction, there was an awkward silence, for students seemed as nervous as their teacher. I learned my first on-the-spot lesson: students will reflect their teacher. So, to help break this ice, before the planned ice-breaker activity, I acted like a fool. I started to operatically sing my speech. I had to let students know that “it is okay to be yourself”; that “unless you feel comfortable in class, you will not be in a position to be receptive to learning.”

Also helping to break the ice of discomfort is having an understanding that failure is commonplace. No one has ever learned if failure has not come first, so after I non-intentionally stammered my words for the first time, followed with an incomprehensible flowing of blah-deedee-blah sounds, the students laughed, and, more importantly, they witnessed an imperfection of their teacher. By my failure, but continuing effort, students—and I—learned that it was okay to fail and to let people witness that failure. I learned my second on-the-spot lesson: a trip, a stutter, a stumble in manner, keeps one humble, human in stature. And until students become a robotic storage facility capable to download education solely from a computer to a flash drive in their brain, that second lesson will forever be a prominent element of my pedagogical foundation.

I once expressed my student teaching fears to a friend, and she said, “You’ll know in the first ten minutes whether or not you’re cutout for teaching.” She was right. In those first 10 minutes, I realized that I was meant to teach; I felt it, the natural flow and energy and interaction with students. Surprisingly, all of my teaching fears were answered within those 10 minutes: despite the occurrences in the course of my teaching career, I thought, I had made the right career choice, and I could now breathe deeply and roll up my sleeves.

The next 10 days…

With the first day experienced, the pressure of the unknown was alleviated. Now I had to plan, for I accepted full classroom responsibilities for every class from each of my cooperating teachers. My new concerns quickly clouded: Where do I start? How do I start?

To help me, I spoke with the cooperating teachers (after each class on that first day), and they filled me in on previous lessons, assignments, and goals and current and future objectives. My cooperating teachers openly answered all of my questions and provided me with ample support, such as offering to make copies for me or brainstorming activities and lessons aloud with me. Once I had been caught up, I was ready to plan.

I engrossed myself in lesson planning through the consideration of every hypothetical situation that could alter the course of the lesson, as well as the detailed writing of each plan, especially each minute and how and why it was used. Though it was good preparation, I forgot one pretty big aspect of teaching: the student. During my initial lesson planning, I was so absorbed with the details and the content of the plan that I neglected the individual student’s needs and basically taught to the middle. Moreover, I allowed my obsession with carrying out a perfect lesson plan obstruct beneficial data and observation collection. Understanding each student and creating the most effective learning experience requires patience and flexibility to veer away from a plan when necessary—no matter how perfect the plan.

Aside from planning and data collection, for the next two weeks, I had set goals: know every one of my student’s names, be aware of all of the available resources, and build a relationship of trust and confidence with my students and co-workers. Unfortunately, I accomplished only one of those goals in those 10 days. I didn’t know every one of my 165 students’ names until week six, and I am still unsure if I successfully established a relationship of trust and confidence with all of my students and co-workers (I believe this takes more time through more shared experiences). [Here’s a tip for learning students’ names: When calling on a student in or out of class, force yourself to always say the student’s name; never call on a student without saying the student’s name, and if you’re having trouble remembering, ask the student. Don’t ever hesitate to ask, like I did, because there is no reason to hesitate; if students can see that you are trying, they will not hesitate to help you.]

After those first 10 days, though I knew I had followed the right career path, I also knew I had a thick swamp of work through which I had to trudge. My new concern was not drowning in the quagmires. Then, realizing the challenges that rest ahead, I understood a misguided notion: teaching is an artistic profession and has infinite challenges; it is no place for complaining people.

The whole 10 weeks…

Ten weeks is a short time, and the development of a teacher is so long. I would embrace a whole year of student teaching, but an entire year without compensation is, for me, impossible; however, the development of my teaching abilities would be invaluable. Whether 10 weeks or a year or more, student teachers need to make the absolute most out of their experiences and understand that qualities of an effective teacher develop through the constant application of best effort in—and before—the aftermath of failure. Despite the length of student teaching, aspiring and new teachers must understand that teacher development is like writing in that it’s a recursive process—it never ends.

Ten years from now, Whitman-bearded (but with a bit more color), reflecting once again on my inaugural teaching experience, I’ll say something cliché to the newest teacher in the department, look away into the distance, and deeply sigh: “If only I would’ve known then what I know now…” That’s the point: we could never know now unless we learned then.

…And suddenly in marvelous illumination, I saw those wavering fires lighting the way of preparation.

Recap

  • Thrive off of butterflies
  • Students reflect teacher
  • Establish comfortable environment
  • A stumble in manner keeps us humble
  • “You’ll know in the first ten minutes…”
  • Plan thoroughly but don’t forget student
  • Set goals and keep trying
  • Don’t hesitate to ask student
  • Can’t know unless we learn
  • Failure is the way of preparation
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Gifted Students: The First Implementation

About three weeks ago, I asked, “What do you do when you have a gifted student in your class?” In less than a month’s time, this is what I did:

First, I explained my reasoning (as to why the student is gifted), my differentiation idea, and asked for the cooperating teacher’s permission to conference with the student. Second, after the cooperating teacher’s approval, I conferenced with the student and let the student speak freely about the student’s education, aspirations, and interests. Next, the student and I created a work contract in which the details of our arrangement were outlined. Also, I created a Work Journal that required the student to keep an ongoing account of the assignment’s work and learning process.

After the preliminary steps had been taken, the time had come for implementation. The topic of the day was conditional sentences (click here for beginner, click here for intermediate, click here for advanced). Our arrangement was that I would let the student go to the computer lab to work on the assignment (which was created to substitute for the unit’s culminating project—a presentation); however, the student was only allowed to go once I had given consent, for there was a bit of each lesson that I wanted to ensure that the student knew. After teaching the lesson, I provided students with an opportunity to practice and demonstrate their understanding. During this time, when students were working individually or communally (depending on the lesson), I talked with the student outside of class. Here, I required the student to demonstrate that the student had understood the lesson. If the student did not fully understand, the student could not go to the computer lab.

Once the student demonstrated understanding of the day’s lesson, I allowed the student to go to the computer lab. In the computer lab, the student had to work on the culminating project. For proof of the student’s daily work, I required the student to fill out the Work Journal and turn it into me at the end of the period; this journal served as part of the student’s daily work and participation grade. If I didn’t receive a journal, the student received a zero (0) for the day.

In the end, the student completed all the work and gave a thought-provoking presentation explaining why Costa Rica abolished its army. (Here is a copy of one of The Student’s Work Journals.)

It is important to remember that all of this was completed in less than a month’s time. If I had more time, the challenge would be set higher—for both the student and I.

Recap

  • Discussion with cooperating teacher (or another teacher)
  • Discussion with guardian(s)
  • Conference with student
  • Allow student to speak freely
  • Co-create assignment
  • Keep signed records of everything
  • Trust the student

Additional Resources

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What’s Plan B? C? D?

I found myself surrounded with papers, poster board projects, many rubrics, and an abundant rubber-band bound bundle of blue-and-orange-ink pens. (I’m subliminally creating, by giving feedback in blue and orange ink, an army of Chicago Bears fans.) Project, presentation, and quiz grades were due on Monday, so I had to occupy my Saturday and Sunday with grading. This wasn’t a case of my early-college procrastination returning; no, I owed the swamp of student work to my lack of thoroughly planning ahead.

Due to circumstances that could have been avoided if I asked for a detailed schedule of school events, I had three assignments due within three days: a project, a presentation, and a quiz. Originally, I had planned to have each assignment due within a week of each other; however, as it often goes in life, the plan was disrupted by a series of Lemony Snickets, and the assignments avalanched onto one another. The only way out was to spend the entirety of my weekend grading.

I had a brilliant professor who once said that teachers should not spend their weekend grading students’ work. “You’ll wind up grading angrily, which is unfair to the students,” she said, “and eventually burn yourself out.” I whole-heartedly agree with my professor; however, work needs to be done. Next time, I’ll strategize meticulously through Plan D.

Recap

  • Acquire detailed schedule of school events
  • Don’t spend weekends grading
  • When planning, consider hypothetical scenarios and establish a minimum of three backup plans
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Consequences of dressing recklessly

“We can wear what we want…” That was another commonly created rule that my students established for themselves. For a school where uniforms are required and spontaneously checked, I expected such a student-created rule to surface. Anticipating that rule, I responded, “You can wear the clothes that you want; however, you do so at your own risk. I don’t care about your clothes. To me, your clothes have nothing to do with your learning; I’m content as long as you are wearing clothes.”

At first, students giggled and cheered with glee. But after further pondering, they understood: the principal and his assistant randomly check, class-by-class, for uniforms and mark whoever is not dressed according to school law. That mark affects their grades. Students quickly understood two aspects of rules: one, school rules trump classroom rules; and two, they have the freedom of choice, but consequence blossoms from choice—depending on the seed, the stem could grow thorns.

That maxim even applies to teachers. Yes, it’s true: as the school symbolizes community and the administrators, custodians, secretaries and teachers are the forefront representatives, their cohesiveness directly affects the education of the students. So, before allowing the students to create a rule that could uproot the rich fundamentals—the very foundation—of learning, it is important to discuss and get an approval of such a radical pedagogical technique from other teachers and, most importantly, the principal. (Seriously, it is important to openly discuss your ideas.) Remember to let the teachers and the principal know that the school policy will still be upheld; however, the students’ awareness and understanding of it will be heightened.

My students occasionally wear a different color sweatshirt or sweater (according to school law, only green is permitted) and once in a great while a bold student will put on a hat in my class. When the student puts the hat on, the student consciously looks around, as if a S.W.A.T. team were going to break through the windows at any moment. Once the student realizes that the S.W.A.T. team is not on standby, and that I have continued teaching the lesson, without interruption, the student relaxes and focuses on the work.

I’ve also witnessed learning occurring in both sweatpants and khakis; it’s not as unsettling as one might think. Again, as long as students have clothes on, I’m happy. “So,” one of my students said, “we can wear whatever we want?”

“Of course you can,” I said. “But, when the principal walks in and marks you up for disturbing the peace by dressing recklessly, don’t turn to me because I’m going to say ‘I warned you.’”

“So what’s the point of even having this rule if we’re still going to get in trouble?”

“Freedom.”

“But we’ve always had that freedom.”

“Yes. But were you aware of it?”

Currently taped to my classroom wall on a sheet of construction paper headed “Rules”, in fat-lined blue ink penned by students, reads, “We can wear what we want but at our own risk.”

Recap

  • Learning can occur equally in sweatpants as in khakis
  • Discuss ideas with principal
  • Students dress at their own risk
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Gifted Students

What do you do when you have a gifted student in your class? When I use the term “gifted”, I am referring to a student whose intelligence of the subject surpasses his or her peers by leaps and bounds. Consequently, what the class is learning, the gifted student already understands. In the last blog, I discussed classroom management, and though I have more to discuss on the matter, this issue of gifted students, which has its own thread in the web of classroom management, has been consuming my time and thoughts lately. So, again, what do you do when you have a gifted student in your class?

My first thought was, I hope, a product of an inexperienced educator labeling and not answering this question: what is gifted? (I believe observations and small conferences can answer that question (involving the student’s guardian(s) is also an immediate option.)) I observed a student the first few weeks of my student teaching experience and noted that student’s main attributes: uninterested, unfocused, distracting to other students, completing the bare minimum of work, and lacking in all participation; although those attributes seem to fit many students, the difference is in consistency—my student was consistent in those attributes.

As I said, my initial conclusion was severely wrong: well, I thought, the student is not doing the work and is not participating, so the student must be lazy. WRONG. I could easily write a few thousand words as to why that conclusion is wrong and in fact more deserving of the adjective “lazy”, but I prefer to spend that time discovering possible solutions.

After my initial, “lazy” conclusion, a thought crossed my mind: what if the student is not being challenged? I followed up with this theory by involving an instructor of mine who is more experienced in these matters. Afterward, we asked the cooperating teacher for her consent to have a conference with the student. Once we had her approval, we invited the student to our conference. At our conference, I realized that not only does the student know the subject material, but the student is advanced in other subjects as well; my instructor agreed. Once the student was identified as “gifted”, the issue became a matter of finding a way to challenge the student.

Ideally, the student would be switched to a more challenging class, but, at my school, that option is not available. So, since one of my educator responsibilities is creating the most challenging learning environment for each student, it was up to me. I typed a contract and plan for the student, which will have the student completing a higher level of material. I will show the contract and plan to the cooperating teacher and ask for her feedback and approval. Once approved, I will present the contract and plan to the student, explain it to the student, and have the student sign it. Now, implementing this plan in the classroom is my challenge.

I have studied differentiation and various methods of teaching in the inclusive classroom, and I know how I am going to implement the student’s plan. However, considering my minimal teaching experience, I am inviting all suggestions regarding implementation strategies that do no lose too much class time or favor, single out, or seem to favor or single out specific students. So, I have arrived where I started: what do you do when you have a gifted student in your class? (All comments are welcome.)

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To dictate or not to dictate

I tried to stop a rapid flood with stone obstructions, but the flood rushed on, wild from all that brought about its delay. A headache and a dying voice—that’s what I was left with. I have class sizes from 11 to 32, and in each class, no matter the size, attempting to talk or yell over the students is as effective as loose stones damming a flood. Silence. It truly is golden. As it often goes in life, I had to learn from my mistake: my voice was all scratched before I realized the power of silence. After topping it off with an irritated scowl, the wild flood settled. “May I continue?”

The downside of the silent treatment is that it consumes, or can consume, too much time. On average, it has taken three minutes for the students to realize they are being too talkative and that they need to simmer down and listen. Consider a 50-minute class: if it has three occasions of excessive chattiness, by powers of quantum mathematics, that’s nearly 10 minutes of class time—or one-fifth of the 50-minute class wasted. Although silence is golden, it may be necessary to implement an alternative, prudent approach.

“Green card equals good. Red card equals bad. Understand? Green, good. Red, bad.” Other than recommending a card color change during the holiday season, I have no other recommendations; the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. This approach is simple. I explained to students that they can receive a maximum of four green cards for full participation points, which provided some students with that extra umph they needed to actively participate. Adversely, I told students if they receive three red cards in one class, consequences of the extra homework kind will follow.

Now, I am not a proponent of the reward-and-punishment system. I believe teachers should steer away from rewarding students. In our attempt to create independent learners, we must first reveal the true reward: education. Cards, candies, grades, and all other rewards are irrelevant. But, unfortunately, the best way to begin exposing students to this truth is by providing them with incentives to learn. Sometimes, rewards are simply practical. However, before I reverted, out of necessity, to the reward-and-punishment system, I gave students freedom, freedom wrapped in a pretty pink bow.

Initially, to each class of students, I expressed my aspiration of having a class founded on respect. “If we can respect each other,” I told them, “we will not have to implement rules and regulations.” Unfortunately, the gift of freedom didn’t make it out of its wrapping paper. I should have known better. That is, some teachers and parents have difficulty respecting each other, so why should I have expected respect among teenagers? Silly optimism, I know. Anyways, a list of rules and regulations, of CLASSROOM LAWS, became a necessity, so I did what the president of any democracy would have done: I gave the students a sheet of paper and said, “Here. Make some laws.”

Actually, I directed students into small groups. In their small groups, I asked them to brainstorm all of the classroom rules that they have. I ensured them that I do not care whether or not they agree with the rules. “Just write down as many rules as you can collectively conjure up.” After students shared and discussed their lists, I asked them to write down all of the rules that they want and think they should have. “Leaving the paper blank is not an option.” As the students shared their rules, I pitched in, adding snippets here and consequences there. Once we finished, “Okay,” I said, “we’re going to make this official. We’re going to write them down on a sheet of construction paper and tape it to the wall.” I dictated to students that I wanted two rules at the top of the list: number two, “We will try our best at ALL times.”; and number one, “We will respect our classmates and teachers at ALL times.” Here are some common rules that each class created:

  • “We are allowed to eat and drink in class if we clean up after ourselves.”
  • “We are allowed to listen to music if the teacher is not speaking and we are working independently.”
  • “We are allowed to chew gum in class if we throw it in the trash when we are done with it.”

And my favorite:

  • “If the teacher is late, we get free time, the amount of minutes the teacher is late, to do whatever we want.”

After we finished writing the rules on the sheet of construction paper, I explained to students, “Sign your name on this document. With your signature, you are giving your consent to abide by the laws you have established and, upon breaking these laws, to adhere to the penalties.”

Although I do not enjoy this type of classroom governance—a gavel-pendulum swinging between totalitarianism and democracy—it is essential to the learning process. However, for some classes, I have discovered that my initial “have respect” rule is sufficient. Classroom management changes from class to class. Consequently, it is the teacher, not the students, who must be flexible; the teacher must, as Whitman said, contain multitudes, and understand which class calls for which character.

Recap

  • Silence is golden but consumes time.
  • Green card/red card: reward/punishment
  • Freedom first, laws second
  • Teacher = Totalitarian & Democratic

Resources

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Book Review

Photo from Amazon.com

The chairs and desks were empty. The whiteboard was empty. Pens, notebooks, computers, and projectors were out of sight. Conversation, sweetened with chuckles, filled the room as students mingled. From the outside, the scene must have seemed chaotic, uncontrolled, and teacher-less, like recess. But this was 9th grade Oral English, and the students were learning.

The unit was about body language and non-traditional forms of expression and communication. The socializing was part of an activity. Students were randomly given one card (Joker, K, Q, 8, or 2), which they had to keep secret, and told to act like that card. For instance, one student had a K, so she was trying to get others to bow to her. Another student had a 2, so he was begging everyone for money. Afterward, by deduction, students figured their classmates’ cards. The point of the activity was to interpret body language and mannerisms, but it also sparked an intriguing and informative discussion about perception and socioeconomic status.

This activity is one of many found in McKnight’s and Scruggs’s “The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom: Using Improvisation to Teach Skills and Boost Learning” (2008, 185 pages). The book’s cover claims it is suited for “Grades K-8,” but I easily adapted it for 9th graders and believe it could even be adapted for undergraduate and graduate students. Despite the grade level, this resource can be applied across the curriculum–and should be. Every teacher must own one.

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Initial Planning

I landed in the middle of one unit and at “GO” of another. Having merely 16 hours of student teaching and six full days in Costa Rica, I planned the second half of one unit and the entirety of another. My official inaugural unit planning began with a conversation with the cooperating teacher for each section (I have two cooperating teachers for Oral English: Laura for sections 9-1 and 9-5, and Viviana for sections 9-2, 9-3, and 9-4—9-1 and 9-5 are half a unit behind). During these discussions, I received the school-mandated workbook (Teacher’s Edition) for 9th grade Oral English. Although I disagree that flipping through a workbook is the best way for students to learn, utilizing the workbook as a guide has helped me, an inexperienced teacher. After thoroughly reading through the preceding and proceeding chapters, I planned.

Knowing the skills that I and the school’s standards insisted the students have by each unit’s end, I outlined the unit beginning with the final assessment—an oral presentation. Having a unit outlined before starting is like having a road trip mapped out. Of course, there is no telling, without the powers of Professor X or Bruce Almighty or Morgan Freeman, which obstacle(s), and when, will reroute the plan. Being prepared—outlining the unit in its entirety beginning with the goal—strengthens the abilities to improvise and to adapt when the inevitable detour impedes the route. I used my own outlining template and the school’s required template. After outlining the unit, I placed it under a microscope and focused on daily lessons. I followed National-Louis University’s lesson plan template.

Having the reins of the classroom responsibilities immediately entrusted to me has helped to provide me with a legitimate teaching—and learning—experience. Although my other two cooperating teachers are assisting me by gradually giving me the classroom responsibilities, I would prefer to have them immediately: learning occurs through practical experience, which is what student teaching is, or should be—not an extension of observation hours. When it comes to the student-teacher acquiring the full responsibilities of the classroom (assuming he/she is ready), sooner equals better.

Next stop: classroom management.

Recap

  • Having workbook as guide can help
  • Outline entirety of unit
  • Plan from the goal —> tool application —> tool attainment process —> introduction
  • Place unit outline beneath microscope and plan accordingly
  • Sooner = Better

Additional Resources

Unit Plan Template

Liceo Experimental Bilingue Jose Figueres Ferrer Lesson Template

NLU Lesson Plan Template



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Breaking the Ice

Facial hair shaved? Check. Tie tied? Check. Lucky watch? Check. Shirt tucked? Check. Stable door closed? Check. Shoe laces tied? My shoes don’t have laces. ¿Estoy listo? Si…pienso. After I gulped the last of my café negro, my pupils expanded like two shiny black balloons being blown into. Looking in the mirror, I had a brief Stewart Smalley moment then departed for my first day of student teaching.

At the school, I immediately noticed a difference: I could wave to people, to custodians, to security guards, to other staff members, and most importantly to other teachers. I owe that small transitioning bit of comfort to Lilliam, my supervisor.

The day after my arrival in Costa Rica, Lilliam brought me into the school and literally stopped into each room and classroom to introduce me to the staff and students. At the time, I was embarrassed. Imagine being in the middle of teaching a lesson and suddenly a teacher-in-training peeks his question-mark-stamped head in and mumbles, “He-Hello.”—absolutely distracting. To the students, I’m sure the scene looked like that game where a gopher’s head pops up, and the mallet beats it back down. I retreated before I saw the mallet.

Despite my embarrassment, Lilliam’s immediate interrup…introductions rid my spine of youthful angst; her methods had worked. Because of this, on my first actual day of student teaching, it felt like my respiratory system had been unclogged and a heavy weight had been taken from shoulders. I could now operate.

I had one objective for my first day: break the ice. To do so, instead of the usual EminemHi, my name is,” I used an activity. This activity requires one small, soft, and squishy ball; the idea is to break the ice, not noses—though, that would be one heck of a primer and a surefire way to memorize a student’s name. Other than the ball, students need paper and a pen or pencil. Besides that, there are no additional material requirements.

Before introducing myself, I explained to the students that we are going to participate in an activity. I instructed the students to get out a sheet of paper (which they can cut in half and share with a neighbor because they will only be writing six words). I explained, “The first three words you write must be adjectives that describe yourselves. However, the first letter of each adjective must begin with the same letter of your first name, for example, benign Brian.” After they wrote the first three adjectives, I instructed students to write three more words, but this time the words must be participles (verbs acting as adjectives, e.g., breathing Brian). The students needed assistance finding words, so I told them to use dictionaries, bounce ideas of each other, and ask me.

After the students had written six words (some had four or five), I instructed them to circle one of their six words. Then, I told students to stand up, rearrange the classroom as necessary, and create a circle. I stood in the circle holding the squishy globe ball, which I specifically selected to point out to students where I’m from (Chicago) and to say to students, “The world is in your hands.” Once the students filled in the circle, I explained the instructions: “I will toss one person this ball. But, before I do, I will say my word and my name followed by the intended receiver’s word and name. For example, benign Brian [I pointed to a student and asked for her word and name]…versatile Vicky [I tossed the ball]. Understand? Okay, before we start, let’s go around the horn and have everyone say their word and name [everyone said their word and name]. All right, ready? Benign Brian…”

Here is an exact representation of the icebreaker activity:

I completed this icebreaker activity in each class, and each class it consumed about 20 minutes. In two classes, I had to prolong the activity; to do so, after the first round of call and toss, I asked students to select one of their participles. Once they had their new word, I informed students that they must act out that word (e.g., for breathing Brian, I inhaled and exhaled deeply).

Though seemingly childish, the students enthusiastically participated. The icebreaker activity was not merely for having fun; it accomplished several practical objectives: one, it afforded me the opportunity to learn the students’ names; two, it provided students a taste of my personality and teaching philosophy; three, it broke through the initial awkwardness and established a small sense of comfort and classroom community; four, it introduced me to the students and the students to me; five, it assisted students with vocabulary improvement; and six, it provided me an opportunity to gauge each student’s vocabulary and speaking ability.

At the end of my first day of student teaching, the ice broken, two cooperating teachers (both for oral English) expressed their willingness to bestow upon me the teacher’s responsibilities of their classes. I envisioned a dubbing ceremony: in the gymnasium, front and center before staff and students, the teacher would ask me to kneel. She would proceed to “knight” me with a gentle touch of a meter stick on each shoulder, and, gallantly, I would rise a teacher. Disappointingly, there was no dubbing ceremony. However, after one official day of student teaching, I had obtained the responsibilities for two sections (five total classes) of oral English. For so long, I had wished for my own class, and now my wish was granted. I needed to plan.

Recap

For my first day of student teaching, there were five points that helped me:

  • Asking to be introduced to the school, staff, and students before the first actual day of student teaching
  • Preparing an icebreaker activity
  • Showing confidence and interest
  • Speaking articulately
  • Asking questions (to everyone, students included)

Additional Resources

Icebreakers (page of icebreaker links)

More icebreakers (page of icebreaker descriptions)

Even more icebreakers (index of icebreaker links)

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Arrival

It was a Wednesday. A mere six hours ago, I was stateside. Now, I’m in a room of a house owned by a sweet Costa Rican woman. Besides her, the house is occupied by four of her seven children and two of her three grandchildren. I’m unpacking my bags: a duffel for clothes, a bigger duffel for books, and my backpack, which will serve as my briefcase during this trip. Not two dress shirts out and I’m summoned into the kitchen, which takes me longer to figure out because the summoning is in Spanish. After a few page flips of a bilingual dictionary (which I stuff into my back pocket) and a few notes, I’m standing in the kitchen facing my Costa Rican host. “Are you ready to meet your supervising teacher?” she asks in Spanish. “Si, claro,” I respond.

After I’m escorted across another nameless Tres Ríos street, I’m being introduced to my cooperating teacher. Finally! After two months of e-mail correspondence, I am shaking hands with my cooperating teacher, who coincidentally is my neighbor. My host mother properly introduces us, says something in Spanish, which evokes laughter (a clueless smile from me), and she departs.

My cooperating teacher gives me a tour of her home, and I fall in love with her patio. It supports hand-carved, wooden furniture; has a hanging sign, “Memo’s”, in memory of her older brother, Guillermo; and, has one large square window that is full with the view of the greenest mountains I have ever seen. At her kitchen table, the tour fully circled, we discuss the details of my student teaching. Not one e-mail compares to the information, the many holes that I’m at long last filling.

To my surprise, she is not my cooperating teacher. She is my supervisor, my colleague, my morning chauffeur, my translator, my Costa Rican ambassador, my mentor, and my neighbor. But she is not my cooperating teacher. I will be teaching oral and written English with four other teachers—three women and one man, and I will meet them tomorrow.

Eight hours ago, I was stateside. About 13 hours from now, I’ll be drowning in a sea of names, for tomorrow, I start my student teaching. Funny: all that worrying—those many days of fearing the unknown and unanswered—all of it forgotten and replaced with a whole new whopper of uncertainty: what should I wear mañana?

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