Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Playing catch up

Halloween costumes!
First off I just want to apologize for my lack of posting. Or maybe I should say you're welcome for not taking up space on your newsfeed? Either way, I haven't had very much time to post about my student teaching experience--who knew I would be so busy? Everyone told me I would be busy, but I figured it wouldn't be too terribly overwhelming after being an RA for two years... but they were right. I'm busy! This is kind of a lengthy post, so I apologize in advance! Enjoy the pictures!

LaCrosse Trip
So here's a little update on my past eight weeks of my life. I spent eight weeks at Peet Junior High and now I'm settling into my second placement at Cedar Falls High School. Between the beginning of the semester and right now I got a part-time job working for the UNI Foundation calling out to alumni for a little extra dinero, so I spend about ten hours of my week doing that. I took a trip to LaCrosse, Wisconsin to visit some very good friends of mine that I worked with at UNI as an RA. It was a lovely little visit. I got the chance to celebrate UNI's Homecoming as a normal student instead of an RA which was a pretty fantastic time. As it turns out, tailgating is pretty fun! Who knew? I celebrated my 23rd birthday which was both delightful and depressing, I feel like I'm getting pretty old. I got a haircut and brought my bangs back, so that was pretty exciting. I also started dating a guy named Andrew a couple of months ago and that's going pretty well. Needless to say there's been some big changes in my life in these past few months and I'm just trying my best to keep up with everything!

UNI Homecoming
In my last post I wrote that I started taking over my five sections of Spanish I at Peet Junior High; I continued teaching for well over my two-week requirement and built a great rapport with my students. They thought I was the bees knees! I learned quite a lot about what it means to be a teacher and what kinds of responsibilities teachers have beyond writing lesson plans and teaching from 8am-3pm every day. I wont' bore you with all of the teachery stuff I learned, just take my word for it. I believe that I have grown tremendously as a teacher so far this semester; I have gained so much confidence in my teaching skills and my abilities to be in front of a classroom. I'm pretty confident this is what I really want to do.

In October I transitioned from Peet Junior High into my second placement at CFHS, and I am already in my fourth week in the high school... crazy! It was really hard to leave Peet because it was such a dream experience with a great teacher and awesome students. It's been a stressful semester trying to juggle everything, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

2nd hour Spanish Class

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sitting in the teachers' lounge, feeling right at home...

¡Felicidades al mejor dia de la semana--VIERNES! Happy Friday! I'm sitting in the teachers' lounge at Peet Junior High currently, during my preparation period, and I'm reflecting on my first week of real teaching. You heard that right, REAL TEACHING!

I took over my classroom officially last Friday. It's been quite a week, let me tell you. I could not have been more thankful for an extra day off last weekend. Last Friday I took over the class but I didn't do a lot of instructing. My students took their first quiz, which sent some of them into a tizzy, but overall it went okay. I got to introduce numbers 1-20 when all of the students were finished, and it was pretty fun!

Tuesday morning was rough, though. I tanked pretty hard on my lesson for my second hour class (which is my first class of the day) because I was nervous and unprepared. Third hour, thank goodness, we monitor a study hall in our classroom, so I had time to recuperate and figure something out that work better. I created a PowerPoint that was more detailed and had better explanations, and I made changes to every single period after that. 

Which brings me to my list of what I've learned in my first week of "real" teaching:
  • It's always better to over-prepare. I came in Tuesday morning thinking that I could just kind of wing it. I was just teaching numbers, right? How hard could that be to understand? WRONG. It is hard. Especially for students who have never heard, read, or spoken a lick of Spanish.
  • You have to think like your students. Change your perspective. I forget what it's like to be fourteen until I'm in a classroom with 27 fourteen-year-olds. I have to remember that they've never used this language and that I have to go back to the basics for them. Duh, right? I'm working on creating lessons targeted toward my teenage students to engage them and make them interested in what I have to say.
  • Don't be afraid to make changes. Every day I've planned a lesson and I end up doing something different each period. It's not a bad thing! I like bringing something fresh to each class and fitting it to each group of students that I teach. I've started to write opened-ended lesson plans that allow me to do that!
  • Fake it til you make it. I screw up. Like a lot. But the only person that knows it is me (and my cooperating teacher, of course). And guess what? My students don't have a clue. If I can sound confident in what I'm saying and doing, it's all peaches and cream.
Well, there you have it. My first week of teaching. I'm basically a veteran, now right? 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The #1 Motto: Dress for Success

Although I'm only in my third week of student teaching, I've spent quite a few hours in various schools in Cedar Falls. The Teacher Education program at UNI does a great job of getting you in the classroom right away--even before you're officially admitted to the program! If there's one thing I've learned from those experiences it's this: you've gotta dress the part.

I remember doing my Level 1 Field Experience at Cedar Falls High School (coincidentally with the same teacher I'll be student teaching with come October!) and observing a Spanish 4 class. Like hello, I was only a few months older than these students. My teacher encouraged me to do an activity with them, and I had all sorts of fear that they wouldn't have any respect for me... I was basically one of them! Since I couldn't change the age gap, I had to change the way I presented myself. If you look the part of a teacher, students will respect you as a teacher. Dressing professionally is a key component of widening the age gap between you and the students.

HOWEVER. I truly believe that it is important to be your genuine self with your students. Obviously I'm not talking about divulging every last detail of your personal life to them, but giving them glimpses of who you really are. An easy way to show your personality in the classroom is via your outfit! Dressing like a teacher doesn't necessarily mean wearing only neutral colors or wearing dress pants and a blouse every day. BORING. I'm enjoying putting outfits together every day that showcase my personality! I included a few examples of my "teacher outfits" throughout this post.

What I've also figured out is that professional clothing is pretty pricey. My strategy is to splurge on pieces I know I'll wear a lot, like solid color dress pants, and find clearance items for things I can only wear once in a while, like printed tops or dresses. I spent a nice chunk of change on two pairs of excellent quality trousers from Express, but I have been continuously checking the sales at Target to find fun tops to pair with them.

Before I buy anything, however, I consider how many ways I can wear something. I ask myself, "Can I wear this with tights and boots in the winter?" or "Can I pair this with multiple cardigans?" Too avoid spending too much money, it's important to mix and match pieces. I try to change it up each day with different accessories like shoes, earrings, necklaces and headbands to bring something new to the outfit. When a 9th grade student compliments some part of my outfit, I know I did a great job. Like the day one student told me my eyeliner was "on point", that was quite a self-esteem boost. Sadly, it's repeating outfits is unavoidable, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Crossing over to the "other side of the desk"

 It's official. I've finished my time as a student at UNI and I'm no longer taking classes--I'm crossing over the to the "other side of the desk" as I begin my semester of student teaching. I'm doing my field experience in Cedar Falls, IA at Peet Junior High and Cedar Falls High School, spending eight weeks at each respective school. I've already spent two weeks at Peet Junior High and I'm loving it! Before I get into the dirty details of teaching life, here's a brief update of my life post-graduation.

Y-Camp kids!
First of all, I only graduated on a technicality. I'll be officially done with school in December upon completion of my student teaching. I spent the summer working at the Black Hawk County YMCA as a Day Camp Counselor. I had a great time getting to know all the elementary kids, planning fun activities for them, and going on field trips with them. I worked primarily with the youngest group of campers, the six and seven-year-olds. I quickly found out that I am 100% not patient enough to work with that age group. Tying shoes and reminding kids to go to the bathroom every hour is just not my cup of tea, but they genuinely love you and aren't afraid to show it. It's precious.

I started at Peet Jr. High on Monday, August 11th at 7:30am sharp. I am not typically and early riser--it has been a serious adjustment for me! The first three days were dedicated to training, so I spent a lot of time listening and not really participating, since I didn't really have a clue what was going on. It reminded me a lot of RA training! Spending time around teachers prepping for their students to come on the first day of school is about equivalent to prepping for my residents to move in for the past two years.

First day of school outfit!
I had a lot of worries about student teaching--that it would be awkward, that the students wouldn't like me, that I would forget how to speak Spanish. Or... you know that feeling you have when you are arriving at a babysitting job but the parents are still getting ready to leave? And you have to interact with the kids awkwardly in front of them? I thought student teaching would feel a lot like that. However, it's been delightful ever since the first day. My cooperating teacher, Mr. Ochoa, is amazing. He's a veteran at Peet--he's been there for fifteen years--but is a pretty cool guy! He's been doing a wonderful job of sharing responsibilities with me and making me feel very welcomed.

The students are awesome too! We have five sections of Spanish 1, all 9th graders. They are hilarious. I forgot what it was like to be fourteen--and I am reminded every day. Obviously I have some sections that I like more than others, but overall they are great. I've even gotten compliments on my outfits and accessories, so they know how to win my affection. I try to relate to the students (like when I bonded with a girl over how we both play the Kim Kardashian Hollywood game) but also keep a boundary of professionalism and gain their respect so they listen to me when I give directions. So far, so good. It's amazing how large the difference is between a six-year-old and a freshman. I'm just happy I don't have to tie their shoes.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reaching for our devices as a security blanket

Photo retrieved from Valerie Harris' WordPress
Picture this: You're at a casual bar with a few of your friends. You're all sipping on your beers and mixed drinks and the conversation shifts between schoolwork and finals to work problems and then to boyfriend issues. The music is playing in the background; an occasional glass drops on the floor and shatters. That annoying girl is screeching because the DJ is finally playing "her song". Sounds like a typical weekend night on a college campus, right? Totally accurate.

But continue the scene in your head. How many of your friends have their smartphones on the table in front of them, next to their beer or mixed drink? How many of them have their phones in their hands, texting or catching up on Twitter? It's pretty likely that they are.

An article from Psychology Today called "Cell Phones are Changing Social Interaction" by Ira Hyman says that "Young adults also use text messaging as their primary method of contacting friends – over 80 percent report texting as their preferred method." As a young adult, I can totally attest to that statistic--I avoid calling people like the plague. We use texting because it's convenient and causes less of a disturbance. The same article says that young adults use their phones in all kinds of situations, "We asked about a lot of contexts – having dinner with friends, in line at the store, in church, intimate situations, at the gym, having coffee with a friend". 

Sometimes when I go out with my friends, we play a game called "phone stack". The rules of the game are as follows: Everyone puts their phones in a pile in the middle of the table, and the first person to touch his or her device is obligated to buy the table the next round of drinks. What does this mean for us as a society? Are we totally wrapped up in our technological lives that we miss out on what's happening in real-time, right in front of us? This game always proves to be extremely difficult for at least a couple people in the group.

Personally, I'm not a huge phone user when I'm out with friends, especially at the bars (which I'm so grateful for, and so are my Twitter & Snapchat accounts!). However, I do find myself drawn to take my Samsung Galaxy SIII in situations when I'm alone. It's a strange feeling to describe, but I cannot be alone in these feelings. I'll paint you a few little pictures of examples when this feeling overtakes me...
  • I'm sitting alone eating lunch in the Union. Gotta take my phone out.
  • I'm meeting a friend for coffee at Starbucks but she's running late, per usual. Can't imagine sitting alone so I whip out my phone and read up on the latest tweets.
  • I walked too quickly to class and my professor hasn't shown up yet, so I'm waiting outside in the hallway. Better check my Instagram so people walking by don't think I'm a friendless loser.
Are you seeing a pattern? When we feel alone we turn to our devices to ease our anxiety about feeling alone. Sherry Turkle does a wonderful job of explaining this phenomena in her TED Talk, "Connected but Alone?". She says, "Because the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device." She talks about how we view being alone as a problem--if you're alone than you're weird. An article called "7 Telltale Signs Social Media is Killing Your Self-Esteem" from Salon by Jodie Gummow lists this uncomfortable feeling as reason number two. She says "social media is a very lazy way to be in relationship with somebody and impacts on the inability to be alone.". 

Photo from Spain (that's me on the right!)
These women have a point. We're growing up in a generation in which we rely so heavily on technology that we can't even sit alone and feel disconnected for a moment. Even when we're with friends and there's a brief lull in conversation, we lack the skills to pick it back up. Instead we reach for our phones to console us. Although it seems almost impossible to fix this problem, I know from personal experience that it is indeed possible to hang out with your friends without your smartphone and not explode from sheer anxiety of what you might be missing out on social media. My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Spain for a semester; I spent the whole five months without my precious (at the time) BlackBerry. Yet somehow I managed to have a blast -and-a-half. I made some of the best memories in Spain and you know what the best part is? I wasn't distracted for even a minute my by damn cell phone.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Team vs. Individual Work

Photo retrieved from YoVenice flickr
In terms of which is more successful, the debate between team work and individual work has persisted for many, many years. The first real-world example that came to mind when thinking about teams versus individual success was sports. Sports! Weird, right? I'm not a super athletic or sports-lover in any way, but the Olympic athletes popped into my head as I thought about this controversial topic. Think about it--how did Shaun White get to where he is now? He's been competing as an Olympic athlete since he was sixteen years old. As an individual. He gets complete credit for all of his tremendous accomplishments. What about the United States' Men's Olympic Basketball Team that won the gold medal in 2012? They were just as successful as Shaun, but the credit is spread among the whole team, but is it spread evenly? How do we know that Lebron James contributed equally as Kevin Durant? We don't.

Photo retrieved from Wikipedia
In a classroom setting, the debate between individual student work and team work exists in almost the same way. There are valid arguments for each side, as this article by Grethel Gahler from Toggl Blog describes. Grethel says that a benefit of working individually lets you be your own boss and make your own decisions; you decide what to do and when. Personally, I prefer working individually. I am a hard worker (most of the time) and I try my best to avoid procrastination. It drives me up the wall when I'm forced to work in a group setting and I have to play mom and constantly remind a team member to get things done so we can keep the ball rolling--it makes me irate. I've had a few good experiences in group settings in which all of my team members contributed in a timely manner, but only a few.

This article from the University of Arkansas gives an abundance of reasons why group work is more effective while identifying ways to increase the success of group work. Some strategies for group work include:
  • Plan for each stage of work
  • Carefully explain to your class how the groups will operate and how students will be graded
  • Give students the skills they need to succeed in groups
  • Create group tasks that require interdependence
  • Make the group work relevant
While I realize there's no perfect answer to this question, as a future educator I realize that just because I prefer working alone doesn't mean all of my students will too. It's important to switch up group work versus individual work for the sake of meeting all of my students needs. Much like every other topic, strategy, theory and method, it's for the students!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Steven Johnson at UNI

Last week I went to a hear Steven Johnson speak on my very own campus. Steven is a popular science author and media theorist. He has done awesome Ted Talks and has published a handful of books, like Everything Bad is Good for You and Where Good Ideas Come From. He spoke to a surprisingly large crowd on a weeknight last week about technology and media in our society today. He was a great speaker and I really enjoyed listening to him. Although I was encouraged to go by my professor for my Technology & Human Communication course, I'm glad I attended--UNI payed almost $20,000 for him to come speak! He's pretty much a big deal.
He started out his speech by talking about markets and networks. He had a chart on his PowerPoint that intrigued me--it looked something like this:

Market Individual

Old billionaires who have lots of money

Market Network

Companies working off of each other to make money—example, iPod + battery, Apple buys the batteries

Non-Market Individual

Amateurs working on their own or small groups because they love it—example, Ben Franklin

Non-Market Network

No traditional ownership over an idea, passing ideas freely, the most active
“The Fourth Quarter”

He focused his speech on "The Fourth Quarter" section of this chart and gave so many great examples of things that we use every day that meet these standards. It was great to hear him speak highly of Wikipedia, because I love Wikipedia and all that it stands for. He refers to Wikipedia as a "peer network" that isn't owned by anyone but is maintained by a large amount of people. Wikipedia consistently outdoes Encyclopedia Britannica and it excelled at an amazing speed after its creation. The Internet, email, and GPS are all great examples of the "Fourth Quarter"and we use them every day!

He told a story about how the city of Portland, Oregon, there is a psychedelic intersection that has undergone "intersection repair". The intersection is painted in a beautiful array of colors and there's a 24-hour tea station available. The repair was all voluntary, which gave the people of the neighborhood the power to re-invent themselves and their neighborhood in their own personal way. A blog I read called The Show So Far describes the area perfectly, and even provided some photos. These people fit in "The Fourth Quarter" as well--the intersection arose by a group of people who don't have ownership over the area but rather work together to improve it.

He told another story, my favorite one, was about how in New York City in 2009, there would be days where the entire city would smell just like maple syrup. When it smelled like pure breakfast food, people would freak out! Around this time, the 311 resource was becoming popular. 311 serves as a non-emergency number that citizens can call in and report any type of activity that would serve for the greater good, like potholes, homeless people on the streets, or even information about an specific event going on. Eventually, so many people were calling in to report the maple syrup smell to 311 that they began tracking the frequency and the dates of each time it happened. Finally they were able to determine that these "Maple Syrup Events" were caused by the wind pattern carrying the smell all the way from a factory in New Jersey that manufactured fenugreek seeds, which produce flavors and fragrances in food. You can read the hilarious but informative article here.

The point of all of Steven Johnson's stories are all connected by one idea--the power of the masses working together for one cause can be tremendously great. Wikipedia, the Internet, 311, Kickstarter, and the intersection in Portland are all super examples of the power of "The Fourth Quarter". So I'll leave you with a question, what's next for us? What will be the next big Non-Market Network idea?