Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ahh, Mississippi

I got a call a week or so ago. It was a friend of mine from Amherst who checks my blog now and then. She had just read my long rant of an entry that expressed frustration I was feeling in my EDSE 501 course. Margaret informed me that I sounded “angry and sad.” A day later I talked to my grandpa. He too had read my blog, and when we were saying goodbye, he told me to try not to get too worked up about things. Both of these comments surprised me a little, because while I felt upset, I also felt charged, and surely not sad.

This is all to say that I don’t equate anger to sadness or depression. In fact, I kind of like having a fire lit under my butt. So I don’t want anyone getting the impression that Mississippi is treating me badly. If I had the proper adaptor for my camera at the moment I would put a bunch of photos up right here to show just how much I’m actually seeing, doing, and yes, liking in Mississippi.

It can’t be beat that Dave Molina (MTC colleague, Amherst grad, running buddy, and roommate) and I have a stellar “housewife” – our awesome friend Marcie, also an Amherst grad – who cooks for us and makes us smile. We have a cat named Mr. William Faulkner, affectionately nicknamed Crazy. The weather is warm, the blues festivals are awesome, Oxford is darling, beer is cheap, and perhaps most encouraging, I am still pumped about being a Spanish teacher.

So, here’s to catfish, mustangs, $1 PBR at Two Sticks, Oak Grove Apt. # 3070, one man bands, Duck Hill, cigars, housewives, and soon, my own car …

Monday, July 18, 2005

Another Fine Home Movie in Review

EDSE 501 has provided yet another fine video viewing and self-reflection opportunity. Last Friday, under the evaluating eye of Ms. Cornelius and my five MTC compadres, my Spanish lesson on numbers 11 through 20 was video recorded. This magnificent cinematic feat yielded 40 stellar minutes of footage that includes a review of numbers 1 to 10, an introduction of the new content, and, as the grand finale, a catchy little tune I wrote and affectionately named Canción para Números.

It comes as a reassurance that I am much more satisfied with my performance as a Spanish teacher than I was less than a month ago when I viewed myself as a makeshift English teacher. I know, intrinsically, that I have a lot more fun in front of my class as a Spanish teacher, and it shows extrinsically as well. Getting up in front of a class to teach Spanish is my cue to be goofy, over the top, energetic, loud, absurd, crazy – you name it. I feel that way each day when I stand up to teach, and it comes across as such on video.

Watching myself on the video from EDSE 501, compared to the video from EDSE 502, proves what a difference subject matter and content knowledge can make in a teacher’s overall effectiveness. I’m also sure the influence of the many nutty Spanish instructors I’ve encountered in recent years has made a huge impact of my conception of a Spanish teacher. And of course, since I am teaching an introductory course, the content lends itself to be taught in a highly interactive, kinesthetic manner. We play games, toss balls, sing songs – my goal is to keep the energy level, and thus the engagement level, high the entire period.

My main criticism of my video taped lesson last semester was my lack of movement around and in front of the class. In this most recent video, and basically each day I’ve taught Spanish, I bounce around the room, which I find happens naturally. One reason is that I have to pantomime and act most things out with hand motions and pointing. Since I am trying to foster an emersion technique in the classroom explanation through movement is often essential and necessary.

My demeanor in general this time around was also much more appealing to me. I seemed to like what I was doing, to be enjoying myself, but I didn’t put up with any behavioral issues from the “students.”

Additionally, Spanish proves challenging for me each day not only as content matter that I must effectively communicate to students, but also as a second language that challenges my own realm of linguistic comfort. I’m catching myself, both in and out of the classroom, thinking and wanting to speak in Spanish more frequently, wanting to let Profesora DeGraaf break out now and then outside of the classroom too.

Basically, I’m extremely excited to be a Spanish teacher. I’m having a great time with it and I can see others – the students in my class right now – enjoying and learning too. I think I’m ready to jump into my role at Wingfield High School.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

EDSE 501

Today, after a month and a half of observing, sometimes dealing with, varying inconsistencies in the instruction and evaluation of the Teacher Corps ed classes, I am angry. Today, in my group of six soon-to-be-teachers, it became glaringly clear that there is a difference between being constructively criticized and evaluated based on a legitimate, objective standard (our evaluation rubric) and being criticized and evaluated based on someone’s personal opinions thinly disguised and justified by what is supposed to be an objective grading tool.

I think, even at the most basic level, it is nearly impossible to create a completely objective standard for assessing a teacher’s performance. If the past month and half has proved anything, it’s that everyone seems to have their own idea as to what constitutes a good teacher. Well aware of this, the MTC directors, from day one, have encouraged us to listen to everyone, to take the advice we find useful, the tools we think best suit us, and employ them if we so choose - to put them in our teacher tool belts. This is the motto to which we were first inducted, and the motto that has been perhaps most ingrained in my mind this summer. I have attempted to learn by it to the best of my ability, and for the most part it has worked. Observing and listening carefully, discerning, choosing what works for me – this allows me to take ownership of my learning, and to feel comfortable with the teacher I envision myself becoming. It gives me the sense that I am respected by the program and by my instructors, that I am seen as an intelligent and capable adult preparing to take on a difficult role. I thought long and hard about applying and joining the MTC, about the responsibilities of a teacher, what I was taking on. I think long and hard each night when preparing for the next day and subsequent days, about what it is I will do with my class, what I am saying, what I am not saying, whether or not this will have the desired effect. I am not in Mississippi just for the chance to be beat up by ninth graders or to employ corporal punishment. Thus, I do not appreciate being demeaned and treated as though I am careless and ignorant based solely on one person’s opinion, which suddenly, rather magically, became fact the moment this person was given grading authority over graduate students as their evaluator.

Because I care deeply and have strong opinions about education, about teaching Spanish, I have thought at length about the subject. I have reflected on my best teachers in general, and specifically on my best Spanish instructors in high school and college. I have spoken to various professionals, some might even call them experts, on the subject. I’ve talked to friends and other students to gain insight from the learner. I can say – unfortunately – that I didn’t just pull emersion techniques and inductive learning out of my ass last night when I was planning my lesson. These are two legitimate, recommended, and respected forms of teaching foreign language, the goal being expose and emerge students in Spanish. How do we learn our native language when we’re children? We listen to those speaking around us and gradually form verbal language capabilities of our own.

Today, my evaluator told me, essentially, that this is all bullshit, that ninth grade high school students will never respond, that they won’t understand, that they won’t learn this way. My evaluator is not a foreign language instructor. I disagreed with her and tried to explain where I was coming from. She told me that the other teachers I had spoken to, and that I myself, were all wrong. She asked me how native English speakers learn English. When I said emersion she told me I was wrong. She said that native English speakers learn first by learning adjectives, and adverbs, and nouns, and then they learn to put them all together, that all native English speakers learn through formal instruction. That, she said, is why so many Mississippians use incorrect grammar.

Are you confused by this logic? If so, that’s okay, so am I. But then again, according to my evaluator today, I’m ignorant, naïve, fairly optimistic, and not nearly enough like her to be a successful teacher.

To be honest, the list of inconsistencies and complaints could continue for another two pages, the above being the most egregious and personally frustrating of the day's - the summer's - events. As I stated at the beginning of this tirade: I am angry. I am angry that that my evaluator gave me a grade based largely on her personal opinion, a grade that will eventually contribute to my permanent, recorded transcript. This officially establishes said evaluators uneducated, unfounded opinions as legitimate curricula enforced and promoted by the Mississippi Teacher Corps. A self-proclaimed, progressive education program should not stand for such a lack of integrity.

I propose that, in the future, evaluators understand the more general outline of what MTC students are introduced to in EDSE 500 as proper technique and procedure for teachers. That this be used as the basis of the evaluation process, and that any evaluator’s personal opinions, ideas, advice, more detailed techniques, etc. which they know and/or practice as a means of fine tuning those general guidelines for themselves, be offered to us as tools to be accepted or left aside at the individual teacher’s discretion. This is not what is happening, however, when evaluators attempt to indoctrinate us with their personal beliefs concerning teaching and classroom management, and using our grades as enforcement. My evaluator doesn’t have to like the instructional technique I use, but I should not receive zero points on portions of the evaluation rubric if that technique is legitimate and I have taught it well.