Looking Back at the Semester

Looking back at this semester, it has been a crazy whirlwind. I’m glad I have these blog posts to look back on this really important time in my teaching career. I consider the 4th-grade class that I worked with as my first real class and strongly believe that I grew the most through this experience out of all of my past semesters of college combined. Throughout this experience, these blog posts have been helpful for me in many ways. For one, they provided me with an opportunity to sit down and look back on the week that I had. Although I tried to reflect daily and often conferenced with my cooperating teacher informally, this practice created a need for me to formally reflect on what I was experiencing. It enhanced my learning experience by having me actively think about what was going well, what wasn’t, what my cooperating teacher did, what I did, and how the students were responding. Additionally, these journals now serve as a resource for me that I can go back through for ideas on what to do, strategies that seemed to work, and things to avoid. Aside from that, it is just a nice memoir of my time during student teaching.

Through the reflections I completed this semester, I learned a lot about strategies that worked well for me and specific things that I struggled with the most. In this way, I can go into my first year of teaching with a repertoire of practices/strategies that I can utilize, and an understanding of what I might struggle with, so I can troubleshoot to help me face these problems. Speaking specifically about what I learned from my reflections this semester, there are many issues that I explored through them including classroom management, unit planning, juggling multiple responsibilities at once, my interactions and relationships with students and the teachers/staff, and much more. This semester was one that really pushed me to grow, especially when it came to classroom management. Many of my posts from this semester detailed my journey of figuring out my own management style while also playing off of my cooperating teacher’s during my full takeover. It will be helpful for me to have these to reflect on as I continue to explore my personal management style, especially in a classroom this is fully my own. Additionally, many of my posts reflect on my experiences of being in the classroom here in Italy. I can look back on these posts to reflect on the differences between the school system here and in the U.S. and my struggles of working with students who are second language English speakers and incorporate the things that I saw that I liked here while avoiding the things that I felt didn’t work very well.

Being a reflective practitioner is very important because it forces you to be mindful of what you are doing. Over the past year, I’ve been reminded time and time again from my experiences that so much of what you learn about how to be a good educator is through practice/trial and error. You can read all about best practices, but you will never really know how something will play out unless you try it yourself. Additionally, every class is different, and what works for one class may not be the same as what works for another. My cooperating teacher really pushed me to try new things and let me make my own mistakes because she knew that I would learn best that way. With that being said, it’s not enough to try new things. You need to actively reflect on and think about how and why things worked or didn’t work/what you liked or didn’t like. Without reflection, there is no learning and there is no purpose to the experimentation that you are doing. As I continue in my career as an educator, I will constantly be having to build on my knowledge and develop new practices. Being in the habit of reflecting regularly will help me to be mindful of my decisions in my classroom and help me decipher what practices work best for me.

One goal that I have for myself during my first year of teaching is to keep up with this practice of regularly reflecting on my teaching. Keeping a journal has always been hard for me, and since I will no longer be obligated to turn reflections in for a journal, I fear that I could easily fall out of the habit. However, I understand how important this practice will be for me, especially during my first year. I know that my first year of teaching is going to be a rough road, but I also know that it will be one of the most important years of my teaching career. Not only do I want to have a personal record of this, but I think for the sake of growing as much as I can during this year and learning from the many mistakes I am sure to make, I need to do this. I’d like to keep a record of all the things I taught on each day in my datebook and keep a journal that details the events of the day or week more specifically. Before I left for Italy, one of my students gifted me a beautiful journal that I am planning on using for this purpose.

I think another reason it would be beneficial for me to keep a teacher’s journal, is for the purpose of self-care. I need a place where I can express my frustrations and insecurities. This brings me to my second goal, which is to take good care of myself mentally, emotionally, and physically during my first year. Although I strive to do this on a daily basis anyway, I don’t think I’ve done as great of a job at this as I could’ve been throughout my undergraduate career. All too often, I got caught up in the busyness of every day and living day to day just to get through everything that I had to do, that I would often let my issues pile up until they resulted in some kind of melt-down. I’ve also seen this happen to the first year teacher that taught one of the other 4th grade classrooms in the school that I was placed in. My cooperating teacher reminded me and this new teacher time and time again about how important it is to take care of yourself. It was easy for me to notice how my state of mind and body had an impact on my ability to teach my students. I do believe that these two things go hand in hand, and in order to be the best teacher you can be, you need to take care of yourself. This will be an especially important goal for my first year of teaching, so as not to wear myself out and get too caught up in the trials and busyness of being a first-year teacher.

My last goal during my first year as a teacher is to build relationships with my colleagues and the school community. If I’ve learned anything about teaching throughout my placements, it’s that teaching is not a one-person job. I can name many teachers and other school professionals that supported me throughout my student teaching experiences, and the guidance and support of my cooperating teacher played a huge role in my success throughout. Although I may be the only person in the room, I understand the amount of collaboration it takes in order to best utilize my resources and do the best teaching that I can next year. Especially as a first-year teacher, I think it will be very important for me to have colleagues that I can lean on for support, advice, and inspiration. I know I have a tendency to be shy, and I can easily see myself being intimidated by my accomplished/veteran colleagues as I attempt to navigate my place within the established community of teachers at whatever school I (hopefully) get a job in. My goal for myself is to take all of the opportunities that I have to integrate myself into this community and build personal relationships with my colleagues.

It’s terrifying to think that in the very near future, I will be leading my own classroom and be completely independent. I can’t say that I feel completely prepared, but I wonder if any new teacher every really feels prepared to have their first real class. I can say that I feel confident in my ability to tackle the challenges that come my way, especially with these three goals in mind.

Math Lesson

Because my cooperating teacher had me working with different math teachers in the building, she did not get to observe this lesson that I taught, but I was still able to talk to her before and after the lesson so she could help me plan what I was going to teach and to reflect on the lesson delivery. She urged me to use manipulatives to help the students make sense of what I was teaching and make the lesson more engaging. The manipulatives helped to provide a visual and physical representation of the concept of the Pythagorean Theorem while also helping the students to make sense of what I was saying since I was teaching in English. The students had already learned the Pythagorean Theorem and had some practice using it beforehand, which also helped them as they were able to bridge their pre-existing knowledge on the topic while connecting it new English terms and definitions.
Overall, I think the lesson went well. I was nervous about teaching a math lesson to middle schoolers because I had never done it before, and because I was teaching them in English. I started the lesson by having them tell me what they knew about the Pythagorean Theorem. I was able to call on students to show me what they know on the board rather than having to communicate it verbally and struggling with the language barrier. I then taught them the English terms and definitions, relating them to what they told me they knew. From there, I moved on to showing the students a proof. I found a great video on YouTube that showed a proof using paper, scissors and a ruler. I knew that all students would have these materials and felt that this would be a demonstration that we could easily do together as a class. The proof involved cutting out a right triangle and three squares to represent the length of each side of the triangle squared. In this way, the two smaller triangles would have to fit inside the big triangle in order to prove that a^2 + b^2 = c^2. I taught the same lesson twice, and the first time I taught it, I messed up the demonstration and it didn’t work. After I stumbled through an apology and attempted to explain my mistake, we moved on to working on word problem. I gave them the word problem: “Claire wants to hang a banner from the sill of a second-story window in her house. She needs to find a ladder that, when rested against the outside wall of her house will be long enough to reach the second-story window. If the window is 16 feet above the ground and Claire places the foot of the ladder 12 feet from the wall, how long will the ladder need to be?” I changed the vocabulary around a little bit to simplify it and went through the vocabulary words in the problem with them. Additionally, I drew a picture on the board to accompany the word problem and the math teacher who understood little English was still able to understand and supplement my English explanations with her Italian explanations. I was impressed by how easily the students seemed to comprehend the word problem and even more impressed by how quickly they were able to arrive at the answer.
Luckily, after my first lesson, I had an hour break and was able to figure out where my mistake was when attempting the demonstration the first time around. The second time I did my demonstration it went a lot more smoothly, and we had time to answer more word problems. I chose to use world problems because it integrated the learning of English vocabulary, and offered real-world applications of the Pythagorean Theorem. My second class went a lot more smoothly on my side, and in turn, the students were very engaged throughout as well.
Overall, teaching these math lessons was a great experience. It was a nice change of pace from teaching English lessons all the time and a good learning experience for me. Additionally, it was really interesting to get to work with other teachers in the building, and an interesting experience navigating the language barrier with them since I am used to working with the English teachers who speak perfect English and who I have no problems communicating with. I was very nervous about this, but I was touched by how kind and accommodating these teachers were, and felt really welcome as a guest teacher in their classrooms. Additionally, the students were very kind, even when my demonstration failed.


This week I was able to actually observe some lessons taught by one of my cooperating teachers. Based on the lesson I observed this week and what I’ve seen in the past, my teacher uses a lot of questioning techniques to assess her student’s knowledge. In some cases, mostly the same students answered her questions, because only a select few students actually volunteer and raise their hand. She would also just call on students to answer questions, especially for the questions that were assigned as homework, under the assumption that all students have completed the homework. She did not seem to have a system for checking each students’ homework individually, so she only assessed her students informally through questioning and answering.

I talked to my cooperating teacher about the different assessments they utilized and was very surprised by the answers she gave me. As far as assessments go, they are mostly crafted based on the workbook that they use for English instruction. Additionally, she has the older students produce writing samples sometimes. She showed me an example of an assessment she gave the third-year students, which had them write a letter to a “pen pal” with basic details about their friends, family, school, etc. For most of her assessments, the scoring is very straight forward, because they are either right or wrong. For the writing assignments, she said she assesses for completion and correct grammar as well as the required content, but she does not use a rubric or anything of that sort. She told me that there are two periods for assessments and get two final marks per year, in January and July. Students are assessed every 4 months. For each of the assessment periods, students take 3 written tests and 2 oral tests. Usually, at the end of the two periods, you do a final test to assess material covered over that whole period. I was surprised by how little assessments are given. How do they gather enough data to be able to complete students’ progress reports with so few assessments? What if students aren’t good takers? I feel like this system puts too much pressure on students to perform on their assessments.

My teacher said that she uses student assessments to see how well students understood instruction. If students make too many of the same mistakes, she will revisit the areas that they struggle with. She told me she once tried to re-administer the same test a week later, but it did not work very well and the results did not improve. She has her students revise their assessments to reinforce the material, and she has them translate the sentences for meaning and to see the grammatical and structural differences between the sentences when in English and Italian. Additionally, I was surprised to learn that 3rd-year students are allowed to use their dictionaries during an assessment.

In addition to the assessments that are administered through the school, after middle school, the students have to sit for state exams. They have to take assessments for all subjects in written form and orally. Many of the third year students have been talking about how worried they are for these exams. I’m not exactly sure what the outcome of these exams determines but they are clearly very important.

Overall, I feel like there is a lot of weight placed on assessments, which is really different from what I’ve seen in my past placements. Again this may be a difference that arises due to grade level since I’ve mostly worked with younger or intermediate grades. For my CI 407 class, we completed the whole child project, which involved us having to look at multiple different assessments and consider the students’ backgrounds and cultures to assess the student as a whole. I feel like what I’ve seen done here is the opposite of that. My teachers don’t even know all of their students’ names let alone intimate details of their life, meaning that their evaluations are based solely on students’ performance on tests. I am curious to see how the students perform when they are assessed like this.

Observations on Classroom Management

My experiences with classroom management here have been very different from what I’ve seen in my placements in the past. I do think it has to do with being in a different grade level to an extent, but cultural differences certainly play into it as well. From my observations and my conversations with my cooperating teachers, it seems that this is an area where they face many struggles. Like with any school, the level of management that is required is very different from class to class. From what I’ve found, in general, the youngers students have fewer management issues than the older students. Most of the behavioral issues seem to stem from a lack of engagement in the teaching material. To be quite honest, I don’t blame these students for being checked out of the lessons. The scripted curriculum they use for English instruction is quite dry, and I’m afraid that I still don’t know enough about these students to be planning lessons that match their English proficiency level, so most of what I’m trying to teach them doesn’t really seem to register with them either. I was a lot more successful with my Japanese food lessons than I was with my American geography lessons because at least with the food they were somewhat intrigued by the topic. On the other hand, despite my efforts to create activities and utilize worksheets, the geography lessons still seem to be something that the students can’t really connect with and some of the language may be over their heads.
From what I’ve seen, there are no specific procedures or routines for classroom management. The biggest behavioral issues that I’ve seen are just the constant chatting between students. This issue is only addressed through verbal warnings and may solve the problem to an extent, but the quiet doesn’t last for very long. I’ve seen both of my teachers stop lessons and angrily scold the students, but I don’t think the students take them very seriously. Mostly, the behavior is ignored if it’s just a student or two, and only addressed when the class becomes too noisy as a whole. I think the reason this is such a persistent issues is because there are no real consequences for the students, and they just see it as something that they can get away with. I asked my teachers if students ever get sent to see the principal, but they were very surprised by this and said that they don’t. From what I understand, the principal isn’t even always at school. There is no individualized management to address each student. The class is only ever managed as a whole, which is also a reason why the warnings don’t really have an impact on the students because they can easily hide behind the rest of the class and brush it off as if it wasn’t actually meant for them.
Many of the teachers mostly just raise their voice to get through to their students. This week I witnessed a substitute teacher bang on the table to get the students to quiet down, and I’ve heard from some of my other classmates that they see this done in their classes often as well, even in elementary classrooms. Most of the teachers take an authoritative position to try to get through to their students. I am no expert in classroom management, especially for middle school students, but I wonder if they would have an easier time managing the students if they tried to connect with them more. The students don’t seem to have a lot of respect for the teachers, and it is pretty clear to see that there isn’t a strong relationship between the students and the teacher. I think this is probably quite difficult to achieve since the students see so many different teachers in one day, and only for a short period, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I know managing the students is a stress factor for both of my cooperating teachers, and they have opened up to me many times about how they feel at a loss for what to do. I think both of them are rather burnt out because of this. Although I don’t have any clear answers for them, I can only say from my experience that the best way to manage students is to get to know them and address them individually, address even small behavioral issues right away so they don’t snowball and cause disruptions and frustration, and take a calm yet firm approach with them. Additionally, students need to know that there are consequences to their actions and be held to those, or they will never learn to stop behaving inappropriately. Good classroom management isn’t about controlling the students, but rather, motivating them and engaging them while showing to them how much you care about their educational success. Students need to be held to high standards, and if you do, they will respond to them, as they see that as a sign that their teacher genuinely cares about them rather than just ignoring their undesirable behaviors.

Engaging Students at the Middle School Level… Impossible Task?

One of my assignments this week had me reflect on how to engage students and how I’ve seen it done in my placement. The first and only two lessons I actually observed before taking over the teaching, the teacher started the lesson by going over the homework she had assigned at the end of the previous lesson (she also closed the lesson by assigning next week’s homework, rather than reviewing or wrapping up the lesson). One by one in order of their seating chart, students read off their answers to the homework questions. In this way, student participation was not an option. Even throughout the rest of the lesson, she never really asked for volunteers, but rather, called on students. From my personal experience teaching these classes, if you ask for volunteers to answer questions, you could end up waiting for someone, anyone, to raise their hand for quite a while. I also tried to engage my students and encourage their participation by giving them worksheets and other activities to help them follow along with the lesson, but some students simply chose not to do them. Even in some of the classes where we simply played review games for the whole class period, some students chose not to participate. The teachers have talked to me several times now about how they don’t really know what to do with students who choose not to do their work. From my general observations, it seems that the teachers believe that it is up to the students to make sure that they are following along and doing what they need to do to make sure they are successful in their classes. From my personal middle school experience in Japan, there was this same expectation, that it was up to us as students to take responsibility for our own learning. I was actually an underperforming student in middle school because of this. I was very unmotivated and checked out in most of my classes. In contrast to this, through my college education, I have come to think that it is up to the teacher to arouse and sustain student participation, as well as ensure that they are engaged and participating throughout the class.

We had a discussion the other day in our afternoon Italian culture class about this exact journal topic. We have all been seeing more teacher centered and traditional lecture-like instruction in our placements. This seems to be the case for most of my classmates who are in elementary school placements as well. I’ve found a lot of similarities between Italian culture and Japanese culture, and so I related my Japanese schooling experience to what I’ve been seeing here and contributed to the discussion by making another comparison between the two cultures. Because we have been almost conditioned to view teacher centered, lecture style teaching to be “bad” or unengaging, we may see what we are seeing done here as something out of the norm or something that you shouldn’t be doing as an educator. We have spent so much of our pre-teacher education learning about ways to differentiate, meet all our students’ needs, and utilize student-centered teaching strategies. With that being said, with mostly homogeneous cultures like Italy and Japan, I think this style of whole group instruction has been/can be successful in some cases. There is some level of diversity in the classes, but there are still only about one or two non-native students per class that I have seen. In stark contrast to that, American classrooms have been becoming more and more diverse, which creates a large need for differentiated practices. This difference in teaching style that we are noticing may have to do with this difference in student demographics, in addition to many other factors as well. Although I wouldn’t say it is inherently “bad” teaching, it certainly doesn’t seem to be working with my middle school students here.
Even in the U.S., at some point in a student’s career, it becomes their responsibility to make sure they are learning in class. Because I’ve been in elementary schools and I’ve been taking classes revolving around elementary school teaching, this style of teaching seems unfamiliar or out of the norm to me, but it isn’t necessarily the case. So exactly when does this change of responsibility from teacher to student happen, and how are students made aware of this? If we want our students to make it to higher level education, at some point they are going to have to learn to take responsibility for their own learning. I always admired how well my cooperating teacher in Urbana instilled this sense of responsibility in her students at as young as a 3rd and 4th grade. But there will still always be students who choose not to be responsible, and although in elementary school, we still make great efforts to get through to these students, will their middle school teachers do the same? How do you make students who, in middle school, have no motivation or foresight to see how important it is that they are successful in school engaged? This has been my number one struggle during my placement here so far. As someone who was that unengaged and unmotivated middle school student myself, I’m still quite clueless about how to be a good teacher to someone like that. Although I think some of it is due to cultural and linguistic differences, I also think a lot of it stems from me just not being very familiar with middle school aged students. I have noticed that I am a lot more successful with the 1st year students (6th graders) than I am with the 3rd year students (9th graders), so I do think that the ages of the students are playing a role in this dilemma that I am facing.

As far as my cooperating teachers here go, they seem to be just as lost in this area as I am. In fact, one of my cooperating teachers and I had a long discussion this past week about how burnt out she is because of this. She is only a third-year teacher and she only works 21 hours a week, but she confessed to me how exhausted and lost she feels all the time. She even told me that she wanted to quit teaching, and would do so if another employment opportunity came her way. I don’t blame her, and I’ve always said that it takes a special kind of (very brave) person to teach middle school, but I wonder how much of her education prepared her to handle student management? I’m curious to learn more about the pre-teacher education system here and will have to ask her more about it when I get the chance.

Week 2 in Italy

Over my first two weeks of being in this placement, I got to talk to my cooperating teacher a little bit about what school is like here and the different duties that she has as a teacher. Because she teaches classes back to back, it is hard to find the time to really sit down and talk to her, but I have learned bits and pieces of what it is like for her as a teacher during the short conversations we’ve gotten to have over my first week and some corresponding through email. From what I’ve learned through my classes in the afternoon, and through what I’ve been observing, teachers have a lot of autonomy as far as what they choose to teach and how they choose to teach it. There are some national standards that set benchmarks for what students need to be able to do at the end of each grade, but they seem to be pretty broad and teacher are free to interpret them how they wish. My cooperating teacher simply said that she plans lesson objectives based on the topic and the time of the year. Right now I am teaching the 3rd year students about Japanese food, which we will then compare to American food and Italian food. The 2nd year students are also working on a project involving food and nutrition, so I am talking to them about the food pyramid/eating a balanced diet, and we are practicing how to give advice using “You should/you shouldn’t…” In addition to these special topics that teachers have chosen to include, they also follow a scripted curriculum for English. The other teacher that I am working with is focusing on present simple with the 1st year students she teaches, and I spend my time walking around assisting and engaging students in speaking practice. Most of what these workbooks focus on is grammar and vocabulary. In my opinion, this curriculum seems quite dry.
The teachers I work with seem to select teaching and learning strategies based on the students’ strengths and weaknesses. I’ve seen both teachers utilize strategies like think-pair-share, grouping, and (very brief) one on one conversations (for speaking practice) with the students. My teacher seems to be very aware of each class and their different needs. Some are more easily engaged while others require more activities and/or games to help the lesson seem more fun for them. For the most part, I have observed a lot of lecture style teaching. The students sit in desks that are in rows and the teacher stands at the front of the classroom. With that being said, the teacher doesn’t just talk the whole time. The students actively participate in sharing answers and practicing pronunciation. Many times the teachers will have the students engage in conversation with the students around them.
When it comes to students with diverse needs, many students get outside support in addition to the accommodations their teachers make. For example, the special needs students get aids that follow and assist them. One student who is from South America gets special one on one tutoring for Italian. As far as accommodations inside the classroom go, my teacher has said that she generally simplifies a lot when they are first starting to learn a new topic and gradually give them more difficult tasks. She often utilizes pair work and peer tutoring and believes that it is useful for both those in need and the high performing students. I agree with this idea. In my past placement in Urbana, I would often pair higher performing students with lower performing students for subjects, especially like math, and found the results to be very good for both students.
Getting to compare these two different educational systems has been very interesting, and I find new similarities and differences between my experiences at home and my experiences here every day. Through my placement and my afternoon classes, I am excited to continue to compare the two systems and cultures throughout my time here.

Week 1 Student Teaching in Italy

Last week was my first week of being in my placement here in Italy. I am placed in a middle school, where I will be working with all of the students that go to the school, specifically during their English time. As someone that is used to being in elementary school classrooms, this is a big adjustment for me, let alone the cultural and linguistic differences that I have to navigate. I have two cooperating teachers that I am working with who have very different teaching styles. It is very interesting for me to get to see both. The English lessons that they have seem to come from a scripted curriculum. The students work on exercises in their workbook accompanied by listening and speaking practice. In some of the classrooms, I am working with the teacher to help students practice their conversational skills as she continues to follow this curriculum. In my other classrooms, I am teaching the students about Japanese food, then American food, so we can compare and contrast the different cultural influences and how they show through in the food we eat between Japan, America, and Italy. I am struggling to come up with ways to approach these lessons and make them engaging for the students. I barely have enough background knowledge on them to know what skills they have that I should be building on and what ways that I can support them in areas they need to improve on. Having never even observed a typical lesson in these classes, I’m not sure what kind of activities and teaching style the students are used to. I’m unaware of the resources that are available to me in the classroom/at the school, which also makes it difficult to plan for activities. In this way, planning for these lessons has been a real challenge. Although I am used to working with students who have different first languages, working with a whole class of students like this is completely different. I’m trying to think of ways that I can connect with these students during the one hour a week I have with them. Being in this placement really makes me think how amazing it is that middle school teachers teach so many different students.

Aside from what I’m learning through attempting to teach, I’m also learning a lot about the Italian education system through my conversations with my cooperating teacher and the Italian culture classes we are taking in the afternoon. From what I understand, teachers seem to get very few hours and are paid very little compared to what we are in the United States. I was talking to my cooperating teacher today about applying for jobs, and she was so surprised to hear that we apply to jobs individually through schools. She informed me that here, they have to apply through a general application and can only choose one city and 20 schools that they would like to apply to. Then, based on points (I am unsure of how these points are allocated and will have to ask her more about it) the teacher candidates are placed on a list. From there, the schools will call the candidates they would like to interview. I was most surprised when she told me that teachers often do not know whether or not they have a job for the school year until September 1st. Even if you do have a job, you may not be full time (18 hours), meaning that you wouldn’t get a full salary. Given the fact that there is little job security and little pay, I am not surprised that teachers often go one strike here (although it is only for a day, and seems to be somewhat ineffective). It has definitely put a lot into perspective for me. I’ve been so caught up in how broken our education system seems to be that I never thought about teachers having it much worse than we do in other places. With that being said, I am very surprised by the state of the education system here, because I had a general image of European countries having excellent education systems. This may be true in several other European countries, but certainly is not a generalization that can be made for all.

Last Day

My last day with my students was so emotional.

This class was especially hard to say goodbye to because I have spent both last semester and half of this semester with them.
On top of that, I spent significantly more time actually in the classroom, compared to other semesters.

I’ve really gotten to know and build special relationships with each and every one of these students.

Towards the end of the day, they “celebrated” me by showering me with gifts, going around the circle giving me affirmations, and eating lots of delicious snacks.

I burst into tears when I was handed the class gift they had gotten for me, which was a copy of “What Do You Do with an Idea?’ by Kobi Yamada with a sweet note saying “Your ideas make this world a better place” and each student’s signature. I managed to make everyone else cry, and the entire class engulfed me in a big group hug.

Through my tears, I tried to tell my students how much my time with them had meant, and how I would never forget them, especially since they were my first real classroom that I got to teach and really make my own.

I truly believe that my time in this classroom has shaped who I am as a teacher and will forever have an impact on my career as an educator.
I was surprised and touched to see that so many of the students were sad to see me go. Even the boys and the English Language Learners in the class, who I constantly worried about whether or not I was effectively building relationships with, all lined up to give me hugs and teared up.

It wasn’t until this moment that I realized that I may have managed to make just as much of an impact on them as they did on me.

The rest of the week was spent in parent-teacher conferences. This was my second time sitting in on conferencing with these student’s parents, so I wasn’t that anxious. In fact, I was really just excited to get to gush to these parents about how wonderful their children were. I kept wanting to thank the parents for raising such wonderful kids, and for trusting me with their education.

I truly believe this semester and a half was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given, and feel so fortunate to have found a home in this classroom.

There were plenty of days when I was stressed out, exhausted, and discouraged. With that being said, at the end of the day, it wasn’t that hard because these kids constantly reminded me of why I came into this field in the first place and gave me the motivation to do the best that I could.

I write this post from my bedroom in Verona, ready to start the next part of my student teaching adventure. Although I am linguistically and culturally an outsider here, I carry a new found sense of confidence with me, which I have gained from my time in this class.

Last Week of Full Takeover

This week truly felt like it flew by so quickly.
I’m sad to say that my full takeover has officially come to an end.
What an incredible six weeks it has been.
I remember how afraid I was of student teaching at the beginning of the year. The thought of being responsible for everything that happened in the classroom was so daunting.
Looking back at it now, I can hardly believe that I accomplished it.
In no way was it easy, nor was it perfectly executed on my part, but I did the best that I could, and I learned so much during the past several weeks.
I learned just how important it is to be prepared for everything before the day starts. I discovered more things every day about my management and teaching style that I had never gotten to explore before student teaching. I learned just how emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting one day can be. And I learned just how rewarding it is to run the show and call all the shots.
I couldn’t have asked for a better student teaching experience. My students were so patient and understanding. I pushed them to do their best, and they pushed me to give them my all. My cooperating teacher was the perfect balance of supportive yet hands off.
As I wrap my last week of student teaching and prepare to start my last week before leaving to Italy, I am filled with conflicting feelings of excitement and sadness.
At least I won’t truly have to say goodbye yet because I know they will still be in school when I come back and I can visit them during their last week.

“Bad” Day

This past Friday was one of those days where as soon as the students walked out of the door, I kicked my shoes off and plopped down on the classroom carpet to cry. I have to say that, it’s quite surprising to me that this is actually the first time that this has happened. I’ve had plenty of rough days, but this is the first day where I’ve been mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted enough to actually move me to tears by the end of the day. I know that this will be a common occurrence for me during the first year of my teaching career, but I’m feeling really lucky that this is the first bad day that I’ve had throughout my student teaching experience.
The day actually started off great. My cooperating teacher was gone for the day, so we had a substitute. My students have gotten used to having me as their “main” teacher for the past few weeks now, so this doesn’t make much of a difference anymore. Earlier on in the year when I was still rather new in this classroom, the difference between the students’ behavior when my coop was there and when she wasn’t was still very apparent. Since this is no longer the case, the day was off to a very smooth start. The real trouble was in the afternoon. On Fridays, we have what we call Friday Free Choice. If students have met all the requirements for it, which usually involves turning in homework and finishing up any writing, math or other work from that week, they have the choice to spend the last hour and a half of the day doing whatever they want. Usually students play games or draw and color. The first week of every month they have the option to get on their Chromebook to play games (on school approved websites of course) if they wish. In addition, we do Friday Folders, which involves sending important papers, notes home for parents, and past work all together in a folder with the students. One thing that goes into the Friday Folders every week is the homework, which is due the following Friday. I realized halfway during total lit that afternoon that I completely forgot to print off the homework for that week (again). I figured between then and the end of the day I would have enough time to print it off although, ideally, I would’ve had it ready to go so students can fill their Friday Folders and put them in their backpack before starting Friday Free Choice. Once Free Choice time starts it can be a little chaotic, and students often leave behind, crumple up, or loose papers when they are handed to them on the way out the door.
The hardest part about trying to get the homework ready for the students wasn’t even making the homework. I had it all typed out and ready to go, but printing it out was a whole other story. I had been battling with the printer for the whole week, and this afternoon was no different. Nothing quite irritates me like technology that doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. As I was running around, already flustered, I noticed that many classes were leaving their classroom. A quick glance through the windows that opens up into the gymnasium on the floor below informed me that there was an assembly going on. Seconds after this realization, I hear an announcement over the speaker asking teachers to send their student of the month down to for the assembly. I rush back to the room in a panic to ask the students if we had even voted on a student of the month for February. Different answers from different students tells me that we most likely didn’t vote for a student yet. The best I could think of on the spot was to send the student of the month from last month down, rather than just appointing a new one myself, since we always vote on them as a class. In a panic I sent the student down and got the rest of the class ready to go down to the assembly. Between this mishap and the jumble of trying to win my battle with the printer (which did not end in my favor), the afternoon was a mess and resulted in me being rather short with my students and not being able to give the individual attention that some of my students needed.
As the bell to signal the end of the day rang, I was simultaneously trying to rush the students out of the room and console a student that was sobbing hysterically for some reason that I couldn’t get out of her. I was feeling like I failed my students and was angry with myself for letting the afternoon turn into such a chaotic mess. On top of all of that, I was exhausted from the week and unsettled by the fact that I had to let my student walk out of the classroom still sobbing because she had ballet practice. Throughout all of this, I was amazed by the emotional intelligence of my students. Many of them, despite the chaos, took the time to hug me before they left or thank me for “everything that [I] do.” One student even drew me a picture and wrote a nice note. It’s so incredible how these kids can catch on to the way I’m feeling and I am delightfully surprised everyday by how thoughtful they can be. In hindsight, it really wasn’t that bad of a day, and the kindness my students showed me made up for all of it. This gives me hope that even my worst days as a teacher could never really be that bad, because at the end of the day, the relationships I get to build with my students and the love that I have for them (and in this case that they have for me, too) remains.