Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 12 2008

Learning How to Teach

Well, this week was undoubtedly my best ever. Four reasons stand out…

1) I found an investment strategy that I buy into. I call my class the “class of 2017″. That’s when they will graduate college. It’s an easy reference and doesn’t require a whole crazy setup. It’s easy to remind them that what they do affects whether or not they will be a part of that class. Basically, I have a board dedicated to this, and they all wrote their names and their future college on it on a strip of paper. If they carry themselves like they are going to be part of that class, they get to put their paper up. So, basically, they have to earn it. I’d say no more than 5-7 names are going up this first week, so needless to say, it isn’t easy to earn. But it’s something I buy into and I really think my kids will buy into it, too.

2) I started making it fun . I remembered why Institute was so good. It was because every day I thought of a creative way to teach things. Now to be fair, my kids at institute were more motivated than my current kids, on the whole. That only meant I had to try harder now. So, here’s how it went. On Monday, I mixed kool-aid to show ratios, and I told one class that if they finished their work on time, I’d drink whichever glass they wanted me to. Strangely enough, they didn’t pick the mix that was super-saturated with kool-aid mix– they picked the one that was mixed in the correct proportions. Ms. G says that this means they actually like me. On Tuesday/Wednesday, they got to throw a water balloon at me if they got a question right (They missed once, and soaked me on my back the other time). On Thursday, we did a demonstration with cookies to show how it doesn’t matter how many cookies there are total– you only really want to know how many YOU get (leading into proportions). And on Friday I played “Angel” by Shaggy to demonstrate unit rates (they had to see how many times per minute they heard the word “Angel”). So my new resolution– something interesting EVERY DAY, usually as a 10-15 minute attention grabber into the lesson. And I promised one of my classes that I would do something RIDICULOUS this week for them getting a question correct.

3) I realized that I need to get better with manipulatives and am taking concrete steps to do so . My best resources are the 3rd and 4th grade math teachers, Ms. O and Mr. B (who’re both fantastic, by the way). There are SOOO many things that I don’t know HOW to teach effectively so that kids remember, such as “what is a decimal”, why we need to change denominators when we add fractions (i’m sorta okay with that). But all in all, where a lot of my kids are, I don’t know how to show effectively through manipulatives. So now I’m constantly going to these two teachers and asking how to visually show certain concepts so that kids really get it. In all my confidence, especially from this summer, about how to teach math, I realized I really only can do so when kids are above a certain grade level. I really have difficulty in teaching below a 5th grade level, which is where a lot of my kids are.

4) I freed up my mornings . Usually, I do morning tutoring for anyone who wants to come. Most of the time, it is one girl, Lisa. Now, this has really been just so frustrating, because Lisa REALLY doesn’t understand concepts very well, EVEN when I’m teaching with manipulatives. Like, she’s on a level that is so low and the tutoring really wasn’t helping her, even though we were doing it every day. I could do THE SAME problem with her 4 days in a row and on the 5th day, she would have no clue how to do it.. I decided to end morning tutoring, since we’re going to start after-school tutoring for kids who are behind. This gives me an hour, instead of just 20 minutes, to set up for lessons and get organized (which is part of the reason that I was more effective at institute), which makes teaching go so much better. I only tutor on Wednesday mornings, but that’s for my 3 top kids in order to move them ahead– so needless to say, that’s a piece of cake.

All in all, I’m excited. Things are looking up, and I’m started to look forward to school more each day. I just need to get on the ball with science. To be fair, it would be nice if I had my lab materials and the bugs I need for my kids to look it. Either way, January is off to a pretty nice start.

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    My Journey, Teaching for America

    Greater Newark
    Middle School

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