Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lessons Learned. Great Lessons.

I taught my first lesson yesterday morning, and it was such an awesome experience!  I learned so much throughout this process—much of it from what I had not anticipated.  To start from the beginning, I’ll go back to last week when we turned in our lesson plan drafts.  After getting feedback, I started to think about how I could make changes to the lesson plan. 

This is where the learning began for me. 

The suggestions and feedback (although some specific to the content), was more about getting me to think.  What did I want the students to learn? How was I going to assess them? What was I going to do the get there?  Now these were all things we had talked about in C2C a few weeks earlier when Audra, Scot, and Ariela had talked about creating lesson plans—but this was a reality check.  I need to continuously ask myself these questions.

Ah, the power of discussion.  It was through conversations, emails, and phone calls with Michael, as well as, sitting down to talk with fellow C2Cers (shout out to Erin Keyes!) where I could bounce around some ideas.  This is when everything started to come together.  I had made the assumption that as soon as I got feedback on my lesson plan, I knew exactly what I needed to change, and that I’d be told what to do. No, no.  That’s too easy—now where’s the fun in that? Instead, they asked me questions. Questions that I didn’t know how to answer off the top of my head.  So I had to really give myself some time. Time to think

Can I just say? Props to teachers! It takes so long to make lessons, and you do this every day J 

Now I find myself the morning of the lesson.  I’m nervous and pumped (blasted some tunes on the drive down)!  Michael has reassured me that the students are excited for me to teach—little did they know that I was sweating bullets!  But honestly, as soon as I got up there and saw all of their faces, the nervousness (not the sweating) went away. It was so much fun, and oh boy, did I have my hands full! I had to field questions from students, keep them engaged, anticipate when their comments may go off track, pace the class, check to make sure that they were learning the concepts, and keep time!  I managed to do some of those more easily than others, but I had some challenges.  There’s so much I can (and want) to work on.

I look forward to debriefing with Michael, and learning more about what I can work on for next time in order to make a better experience for the students.  Self-reflection and feedback are key motivators for me, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Nothing beats experience.  It certainly put to rest any concerns and assumptions I had before I walked in that day.

I’d love to hear from fellow C2Cers and TFA CMs! How did the first lesson go? What worked? What were some of the challenges? How did the students respond?

- Sahar Salek, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Health (or lack thereof) in the classroom

I see healthcare issues every single day in my classes. They invade my lesson plans, they spoil labs, they get in the way of homework being completed, and they cause quizzes not to be finished. My school serves a high population of English Language Learners (ELL) who are refugees from over 100 different countries, so some of the health problems that I see are sometimes even “third world.” The fact that we do not even have a nurse to serve our school population of almost 800 students means that sometimes I, along with Google, get to be a nurse as well as a teacher.
One student more than any other stands out in my mind at the example of how a health care issue that could have been prevented impeded his ability to learn. Shane is a high achieving student, meaning that he scored in the upper percentile on the CRCT last year; he is a good student. He started to miss days of school and would frequently leave early, he was unfocused when he was in class, and he would often put his head down. One day, his mom came in and asked for his work, because he would be out for two weeks; he had to have emergency surgery because of a tooth abscess. She then went on to elaborate that his tooth abscess had been so bad that the hospital called DFACS because for his abscess to be at the point that it was indicated parental negligence.
This story points to a few reoccurring and underlying themes of healthcare issue in the classroom. Shane, although he was in an unthinkable amount of pain, did not want to add to the stresses of his mom. He shares her same concerns of being able to pay rent, being able to make the energy bill, and to be able to afford food. So, instead of telling her the pain that he was in, he kept it to himself because he knew affordable healthcare was not available to him. Furthermore, if Shane had been going to regular dental checkups, this could have been avoided. But again, this type of health care is simply not available to many low income students.
As a classroom teacher, I'd love to have readily available and healthcare to my students; even if it as basic as someone who can take their temperature when they are feeling ill. The myriad of illnesses from mental, to dental, to eye care, to basic hygiene, that I encounter on a daily basis go largely overlooked, even though they greatly impede learning. Because a large number of educators are not aware of the resources available for students, they often see these illnesses as something that they have to work with, rather than something that they can fix.
 I believe that the solution to the issue of poor health in low income student populations is twofold.    First, I believe by bringing in healthcare education into the classroom, not only will students be more comfortable expressing when they are not in good health, but they will also be able to identify their own healthcare concerns and ultimately prevent them.  Finally, by bringing a collaborative group of community medical partners, we can have a resource pool that is readily available to educators and students so that these health issues are dealt with in an effective and expedient manner.  
- Kathleen Kayner Mitchell, 7th grade science, Freedom Middle School

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Repeat After Me

“So you’re saying that we should only teach new material for 15 minutes in a 45 minute period?”  That was the question on all of our minds after Audra and Scot explained their example lesson plan.  Since most of us have been sitting in graduate level courses for the past year or two, the idea of repetition in teaching is somewhat foreign to us.  However, if you think about the basics of learning, repetition is key.  None of us learned to read, write, spell, or perform basic math functions like multiplication and division without lots of repetition.  How long did it take you to memorize your times tables?  I remember spending almost all of second grade going over them again and again. 

Of course, learning shouldn’t always be reduced to repetition and memorization.  As teachers, we should also teach students the skills they need in order to be able to self-learn.  If you think about it, these skills involve repetition.  Things like going over your notes after class, making flash cards to study, editing your essays, explaining what you know to a friend, taking sample exams.  As adults, companies try to sell us tools that will help us learn new material.  Their secret?  Repetition.

In his 9th grade math class, Trenton ensures that his students will practice the same type of problem several times over the course of a class period by creating lesson plans with built-in repetition.  First, students work review problems on their own, then the class goes over them on the board.  Next, new material is introduced:  the class works problems together, then students work on their own, then they help other students.  Finally, students work practice problems for homework.  The next day, the whole process is repeated as students go over their homework and work review problems. 

I do.  We do.  You do.

Repetition is the mother of learning.  

-Sarah File

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Classroom to Community through your eyes!

Familiar with Wordle? This is one of my favorite things on the Internet and can be incorporated into all kinds of classroom activities.

This is a Wordle taken from our mid-course evaluations, both from Rollins students and from Teach For America corps members. I took the text from the last part of our course evaluation in which Gaelle gave me some questions to ask that will help her design our class logo.

I will post something similar at the end of class with our final evaluation from the TFA perspectives and the MPH perspectives about what folks got out of the class.

So -- what do you think? Does this accurately reflect our class? What's missing? What's overemphasized? Interested in your thoughts!

PS -- Check out Classroom to Community in the Emory Report!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Defying the Laws of Physics

“Why are you doubting yourself?” Mr. Kacker asked, as the students of his physics class stared at him in silence. A girl in the back of the classroom raised her hand and bravely provided her answer to a difficult physic question; she answered correctly. “I don’t get mad when you get wrong answers,” Shawn stated, “I get mad when you don’t try.”
Physics, I’ll admit, was the subject I feared the most in high school. From learning Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion to grasping the difficult concepts of thermodynamics, I have always found physics to be incredibly challenging and often times discouraging to learn. From observing Shawn’s class, I can often see this fear of physics expressed in the eyes of his students. However, no matter the level of difficulty of the topic covered each week, I constantly see Shawn’s students continuing to push themselves and actively engaging in discussion and answering questions. Their willingness to shout out answers, raise questions, and relate concepts of physics to their own everyday lives is what impresses me. The students have shown me that with a little encouragement from their teacher, they are willing to learn anything. Physics is no exception.
As the weeks pass and the time of my first health education lecture draws near, my mind continues to be filled with questions including the following: What do the students need to learn about public health or their health? Where do they see themselves after high school? Is asking about their daily lives or plans for the future appropriate or will it be too intrusive? What are their learning styles and how can I incorporate all of them into my lectures?
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
-Albert Einstein

 - Alvin Tran

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Week With Dr. Seuss

      “Criss-cross applesauce, spoons in a bowl,” called out Miss Drucker. Just like that, sixteen first graders crossed their legs, put their hands in their laps, and sat patiently on the carpet while Miss Drucker proceeded with her lesson. It was Dr. Seuss week at George A. Towns Elementary School, and Miss Drucker was teaching her first graders how to summarize a story using the book, The Sneetches and Other Stories. She captivated her audience from the beginning of the lesson when she introduced the topic of summarization. “Why do we read?” she asked. “To make our brains bigger!” “To get smarter!” “To get jobs!” were some of the answers.
      We discussed the Teach for America core value of Leadership in our Classroom to Community class this week, and as I observed Miss Drucker teaching her first graders, I noticed how much she embodied the vision of leadership that Teach for America has for its members. She sets challenging goals for her students, and works determinedly to help them achieve these goals. Some of the children came into class that year reading at a kindergarten level. Some of them came in at a low first grade level. Others were average or advanced. But each of them has a goal reading level, and almost all of them have made or exceeded their goal through the course of the year.
      The delight of reading Dr. Seuss helps Miss Drucker’s first graders engage with the material. This, combined with Miss Drucker’s energy, support and determination to push her students to achieve, has made a recipe for successful learning. It is truly amazing and inspiring to watch it happen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


“The leap is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be. Because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and jump.”

I read this on a TFA blog about reflecting on the whole process of becoming a teacher. 

So much of teaching and leadership is truly that leap of faith – in yourself, that you can do it; and in others, that they may follow.

You all know how much I love teaching… but last night’s class was great because I didn’t do any teaching – I just got to sit back and watch. Honestly, I actually felt myself tear up at times watching so much greatness in our class. I felt really proud to work with such an awesome group of people.

In Audra, I can see the classroom teacher that she was and the amazing doctor that she will be. I think about how lucky Scot’s kids are to have such a focused and organized teacher… and what an amazing difference Amy will make with her ability to create such a clear and inspiring vision for her students and where that will lead her after getting an MPH. I thought about Lauren’s dedication to her corps members and their students and how much owns her role as a leader of teachers.

I thought about:
·   Alice starting to use her “teacher voice” in class (with a soft smile).
·   Sarah reconciling her previous experiences as a boarding school teacher compared to an inner-city classroom.
·   Lolly ready to change the world through PreK health ed.
·   Erin, newly introduced to backwards planning, describing several lesson objectives and methods for assessment.
·   The way many of you have started to refer to the TFA students as “my kids.”

In short, I see leaders: smart and passionate people who are outraged by inequality and are motivated to do something to change it. As we talked about last night, transformational leadership starts with a vision and an in-depth understanding of context: where are we now and where do we want to be?

And then there are the strategies to get from here to there. Those skills can be learned. But what really makes the difference is the willingness to take that leap – to decide to grow into the person you can become if you are willing to take a huge risk.

At some point in my life I realized that there were people behind me who believed I could do things I didn’t think I could do.  That gave me the confidence to take some risks I probably would not have taken otherwise. I would not be where I am now without those people in my life who encouraged me to close my eyes and take that leap.

In short, Classroom to Community would not be happening without that influence in my life because I would have been too scared to try something with so much potential to be great (or to fail, depending on how you look at it).

The best part of this class is that I get to be one of those people that can see all that potential in each of you. I get to see you realize that in yourselves and learn how to foster that in others – a spark into a flame into a torch to guide a greater vision.

Teach like you’re on fire. Lead like that’s the only place you gotta go.

Close your eyes and jump.

And that’s why I Teach For America.

- Ariela Freedman

Fighting Failure with Communication

Many students live in a world where it’s easy to give up on them. Their communities are burdened with so many challenges, that it’s easier to say “Get out!” than it is to tackle a behavior problem and acknowledge underlying social factors. Sometimes, this is rationalized by saying that the student is disrupting classroom learning—that you’re doing it for the benefit of the other students. But what do the other students see? They see you giving up on a classmate. Soon, they think, you might give up on them too. So what’s the point of behaving well?

Observing Ms. Bryson, I’ve seen an alternative teaching style. She constantly reinforces positive models, pointing out individual students and their behaviors. “I see Darius working hard on his class work. I see Kayla raising her hand quietly.” Instead of tearing the students down for their misbehaviors, she tells them, “I want you to tell me what you need.” Communication and resolution. It doesn’t always work. And it never looks easy. But there is something incalculably rewarding about seeing a student learn a life skill. This not only helps students create a positive learning culture, it helps them communicate their needs and their passions. Once they master communication, they have the potential to succeed.

"Education is not a way to escape poverty - It is a way of fighting it." 
 Julius Nyerere, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania

- Gaelle Gourmelon