Friday, December 11, 2015

I Managed to be a Teacher

My student teaching experience came to a close today, and as I left school for the last time, I felt myself feeling a myriad of emotions.

Leaving my students today felt bittersweet. I was sad to have to leave before the end of their semester in January, but I’m excited to get back to my classes and I’m looking forward to my graduation in May.

Last week, my creative writing students turned in their final portfolios, and I asked each of them to write a cover letter explaining their choices regarding the pieces they chose to include. In one of my classes, students took this opportunity to thank me for being their teacher this semester.
My cooperating teacher and other teacher's
in the school wrote me encouraging notes
inside Poetry 180 to wish me luck.

I was both shocked and touched. But even more than this, it’s so telling of the incredible students that I had the opportunity to work with this semester.

I watched my students grow as writers through the semester, but I wasn’t sure that they were seeing the growth, and I found it hard to tell whether or not I was getting across to all of them. These letters affirmed that I was indeed making a difference.

In one of the letters, a student openly admitted to hating my class, but then went on to say that he had grown as a writer. While I wish that this student had been able to enjoy my class more, I think it’s so cool to see that he was still able to identify growth in his writing.

However, despite hearing all of these thank you’s in these letters, and today at school, I find myself looking back on this semester, and I recognize all of the roadblocks that it presented.

This semester, I dealt with everything from students who really struggled with class material, to feuding students, to students who lacked motivation, to students who would push me and test me, to students who were consistently ahead on all of their work, and everything in between.

I dealt with (and passed!) the edTPA.

I dealt with a broken alternator in my car that required me to get a rental car so I could get to school the next day. I dealt with a flat tire at 6AM, which required me to wake up a friend and ask if they were kind enough to drive me to school.

I dealt with self-doubt despite all of the positive feedback I received from my cooperating teacher.

I dealt with constant worry and concern for my students.

Yet, with all of these difficulties (and more) that I encountered over the course of the semester, I still accomplished some incredible things.

I managed to teach a room full of high schoolers on a daily basis, and I watched each of them grow as writers.

I managed to wake up at 4:45AM every day and drive an hour to school.

I managed to grade paper after paper after paper, and still made time for lesson planning.

I managed to overcome all the car issues I experienced and still make it to school.

I managed to complete and pass the edTPA despite all of the other work that I also tackled while working on this project.

I managed to lead a reading and writing workshop style class and navigate standards based grading – two things which I had never before encountered, even as a student.

I managed to help my struggling students by offering them extra help and working with them one-on-one.

I managed to be a teacher.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Standards Based Grading

This year, my cooperating teacher decided to implement a standards based grading system for our freshmen English classes.

For me, it has been quite the learning experience since I’ve never seen a standards based grading system in the works, so I was interested to see how to manage it. For my cooperating teacher, it has also been a learning experience, since this is her first year using it.

At the beginning, it was a little rocky. My cooperating teacher had picked out five writing and five reading standards that we were going to focus on this semester, and we asked the students to rate themselves based on their abilities with each standard. Students took this paper home, and asked for parent input on their ratings. Parents then had to sign off on these papers.

Students had the option to pick ratings of 5 or less, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. Until we had gathered enough data from students, we used these as a gauge to see where they were.

As we gathered data, it became clear that we needed an intensive organizational system since two of us were looking over the work, and it took us awhile to figure out what that would look like, but now, we’ve fallen into a pattern.

However, if there is one thing I have noticed about this grading system, it’s that it is incredibly time consuming.

For every freshmen paper/assignment I grade, I make thorough comments on the document, then I go to a website my cooperating teacher and I use to make notes for each student and I write a detailed paragraph about the student’s progress with the piece and what they should continue to work on, and then I make a record of whether or not their score should change on a chart that I have printed out.

From there, my cooperating teacher and I set up a date to conference about each student and discuss where we both feel their scores are. Conferencing is the fasted part of the process. Typically, we are on the same page when it comes to scores.

When I am no longer student teaching next semester, I’m curious about how my cooperating teacher will manage the workload. Despite me teaching for some time now, my cooperating teacher and I have been splitting the grading because it is so time consuming.

One of the biggest issues I’ve noticed with this grading system is that it doesn’t hold student’s accountable.

If a student doesn’t turn in a paper/assignment, nothing happens. Their grade stays the same.

I’ve had several students throughout this semester neglect to turn things in, and for each paper/assignment that is turned in, at least six students in each class fail to turn it in on time.

Out of these six students, maybe three will turn it in a few days late. One or two may turn it in a week late, but inevitably, at least one student in each of my freshmen classes neglects to turn the assignment in completely. Typically, it is the same student(s) with each paper/assignment.

Because of this, I’ve talked to my cooperating teacher about adding a score for commitment and organization. In our gradebook, each standard is out of ten points, so I’ve suggested that this be made into another “assignment,” in the gradebook so that it is clear whether or not a student is turning in their work. Additionally, this will reward the students that do the work, but are struggling to grasp the concepts.