Practice Teaching by Teaching

Gods, what a week!

This week has seen a rapid oscillation of my emotions and my confidence.  And I am glad for that because the feelings are in proportion to my stressful and meaningful circumstance.  I am able to fully enjoy the joyous moments I’ve experienced.  More so, the low moments are not world shattering and I can more easily see the path out of the darkness.

I realized this blog became a big ol’ wall-o-text.  So, here’s the simple breakdown:

  • Tuesday: First day of practice teaching, but I was alone with the whole class all day.
  • Wednesday: I was alone again all day.  Definitely discouraging.
  • Thursday: My first practice teaching observation, I did decently but there are a lot of areas for me to work on.
  • Friday: I got a job! I’ll be teaching 8th grade math at Hart Middle School.
If you want the whole story, then keep reading.

This week is definitely a hell of a story.

Right now I am sitting on the dirty concrete of my buildings laundry room typing this blog I’ve wanted to write since Monday morning.  I’m glad I had to wait because it is now a much different tale than it would have been.  I am doing a few loads of laundry, trying to finish the last of my chores so I can get started on lesson planning for next week.  It is already mid-afternoon and I feel behind, but only barely.  And I have the whole day tomorrow.  So, I’ll take this time to expound on my week.

TUESDAY was my first day of instruction for Practice Teaching (PT).  I wasn’t even nervous.  I had my lesson plan and I only had to run the class for an hour.  Then the other Teaching Fellow I share the class with would run a lesson.  Our Cooperating Teacher (CT)–the teacher whose summer school classroom we are learning in–had an extra day off after the Independence Day weekend.  There would be a substitute, but my fellow Fellow and I were going to run things together.

I wasn’t surprised to be the first to arrive.  I took the time to prepare the classroom for my lesson, putting my Objective and Warm-Up activity on the board.  The substitute teacher arrived about 20 minutes before class started.  I explained the plan for the class.  She seemed agreeable, not surprising since I told her she just needed to let us run the class.

I was a little worried when the other Fellow still had not arrived as I started class, but it was possible she was observing in another class before she presented her lesson.  I decided not to focus on it.

My worry resurfaced when, five minutes into class, the substitute was pulled out of the room and assigned to another class.  That left me alone with the students.  30 students that didn’t really know me and that I didn’t know very well yet either.

It went relatively smoothly, though, even as I realized the other fellow was not going to show up.  I had only prepared a one hour lesson and the summer school class was three hours long.  I gave the students a break when my lesson was complete and I looked through the textbook.  I knew what the other fellow was supposed to talk about.  I could just pull examples out of the textbook and try to cover the same material.

I tried.  Most certainly I tried.  As the students were walking out and I was contemplating what had just happened, I realized I had forgotten about my job interview.  I was supposed to leave  PT early to get there.  That was why I was teaching first, so I could leave early.  I needed to be there in 20 minutes.  There was no way.  I called the school and they were nice enough to push my interview back.  I left immediately and hopped on the Metro.

I interviewed at Hart Middle School with Principal Kearney.  He spoke at the opening ceremonies of the DCTF Summer Institute and had a very inspirational message about his hopes and aspirations for his school and the school district.  I gave him my résumé at a hiring fair even though they didn’t have math openings at the time.  It worked out because there I was interviewing for a math teacher position.

We talked a lot about the full morning of teaching I just experienced.  I admitted that my classroom management needed a lot of improvement.  He must have been able to sense that I was still very excited, though, and not beaten down at all by my unexpected circumstances.  Our conversation covered our shared belief of all the great things students could achieve with the right support.  It was a very enjoyable interview.

I found out at the afternoon Institute session that my fellow Fellow actually left the program over the weekend.  Thanks for the head’s up!

I arrived home that night exhausted, but resolved to prepare more fully for the next day.  I needed to prepare to cover some of the other Fellow’s material.  But my CT would be back and that would make everything easier.  My take-away for the day was this: I have already completed a full day of lead-teaching, I am going to be so prepared for the Fall.

WEDNESDAY morning found an email from my CT explaining that she was stuck out of town and would not be in class.  A substitute would be assigned to the room, she assured me.

Yeah, I remembered hearing something like that once before.

I arrived at the school and checked with the office.  I let them know that it was actually illegal for me to run the class alone because I’m not licensed at all yet.  I was told that there would be no substitute and it would be okay for one day.

I had prepared 90-120 minutes of material, but still not enough to fill the three-hour class period.  I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I’d already done this once, so I could survive it again.  Eventually a substitute did show up, but she said she was told that I was going to run the class and she proceeded to sit in the corner and stare at her phone.

Wednesday beat me down a little bit, though.  I still did not have control of the class like I needed to.  And the students knew it.  My lesson did not instruct as well as I hoped.  I failed on Tuesday.  And I knew it.  And that was hard.  So I went to Institute totally drained of confidence and enthusiasm.

I got home that evening and I knew the only thing I could do was prepare for the next day.  So, prepare I did.  From the ground up, I created a new version of the day’s lesson so I could reteach.  I also received an email from my CT assuring me that she would be in class in the morning.  I fell asleep a little more hopeful for the next day.

THURSDAY my CT was back and I taught first thing in the morning.  I was formally observed by my DC Teaching Fellows Resource Specialist (RS) during this lesson.  I retaught Wednesday’s lesson since it flopped.  I reworked it using the example of pre-paid vs. monthly plan mobile phones which is an example the students brought up the day before.

My RS gave me some wonderful feedback, that I am integrating into my lesson plans this weekend.  I was told that I need to work on classroom management, but I am all too aware of that.  My plan is to make my lessons a bit simpler and focus on very specific objectives.  If I decrease the content I present, I can focus more of my time on not only enforcing rules and consequences but also consistently giving praise and positive feedback.  I bought scratch-and-sniff stickers after my debrief with my RS

FRIDAY was really the best day of this week.  I was offered a position with Hart Middle School by Principal Kearney.  I accepted.  In the Fall I will be teaching 8th grade Algebra and 8th grade math.

It is a huge relief to have a position lined up already.  Hart is my first choice school.  I am excited to get to know the team I will be working with.

And that was my week.  A busy, intense, interesting one.  I don’t see the rest of them being any less so.

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2 thoughts on “Practice Teaching by Teaching

  1. congratulations on making it through an experience like that! what age were you “practice” teaching? that’s SUCH a curveball, and you made it out alive and that’s awesome. expect lots of that sort of thing in teaching, especially from administrators–that’s how educational systems work, especially ones with limited resources and willing employees. :)
    my best classroom management tips for 8th graders are:
    -set the tone yourself, right away, of a constructive learning community where you are the leader. if you wait or are passive about it, the kids will set a different tone for you within the first 2 days of class, and you’ve already lost the battle.
    -don’t be afraid to express anger or disappointment toward actions of deliberate troublemaking. be very careful how you express it, obviously, but don’t hold back letting kids know when they’ve crossed a boundary.
    -don’t be afraid to laugh! lots of teachers and tutors i’ve seen haven’t enjoyed working with teenagers because they take everything (especially themselves) WAY too seriously. life is fun! learning is fun! these kids will be fun! so enjoy it.

    i’m really excited to see how this goes in the future–i think you’ll do great! every day’s a new day :)

  2. oh, and probably the most important thing i’ve learned about working with teenagers: there are no problem kids. your coworkers will warn you about them, your bosses/administrators will tell you about them, your students will even comment on them….but they do not exist. there are only kids with problems, which is every kid everywhere in the whole world, and every adult too. there are always reasons for the behavior that these kids manifest–and yes, they are responsible for that behavior–but it’s much more efficient, effective, and loving to deal with the problems motivating the “bad” behavior. there are no problem kids, only kids who have problems and are making bad decisions in response.

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