Addressing the Needs of All of My Students

This week I am feeling… overwhelmed. Not that that’s a new feeling, but it’s an especially heavy feeling this week. I am currently working on planning a Social Studies unit on the Colonial Period, while also trying to get my EdTPA lessons taught, and worrying about applying to jobs. One thing that I really appreciate about student teaching in Urbana is that teachers have a lot of freedom over what they choose to teach. The literacy curriculum my teacher has designed is incredible and I was able to plan and teach my own science unit on the human body. With that being said, it’s a lot of work to try and plan out how to teach a unit. I enjoy the amount of freedom I get, but can’t help but feel a little lost at the same time. My main issue at the moment is trying to figure out how in the world I am going to teach all of this in the 14 days that I have to do it. My cooperating teacher has gathered many materials over the years and has tubs full of lesson plans, books, and other resources for me to go through and incorporate into my unit. There is so much to tap into that I’m having a hard time deciding what to use and what to cut out. I am also trying to figure out the best way to sequence the lessons in a logical way and incorporate fun activities to engage the students. As daunting as this task is, I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to plan units from scratch, and I love being in a district that allows me to do this.
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of making the content we teach culturally relevant to our students. I have some students that are of European and Native American descent, who will have no problem identifying with the people and histories they will be learning about. On the other hand, I also have several students who are from China and Israel. I have no idea how to differentiate the content to address their language needs, let alone find ways for them connect to and see the importance in the material they are learning. I often feel like I fail my ELL students. If I only had the time to work one on one with them more often, I’d like to think I’d be able to better address their needs. Their parents have expressed concerns that they aren’t progressing in English as much as they would like them to be, and think that this is because they spend too much time with one another. On the other hand, I can’t force the students to interact with the others outside of their math bodies and integrated groups. They need to receive most of their instruction together because they are at the same level of English proficiency. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them for flocking towards one another. I can’t imagine what a comfort it is for them to have each other as they are forced to spend every day trying to make sense out of the chaos that is navigating school in a language that is still new to them. Every day I try to find new ways to address their needs, but most days I feel like I am just getting them along, and not offering them the best education that I can. I will say that this has been a good way for me to practice differentiating, so I will just accept this for the learning experience that it is and try to do the best that I can.

Relationships with Students

One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is the personal relationships that I have formed with my students. Some students in my class are easy to bond with and naturally flock to me, while others haven’t been as easy to win over. When I first started going out into the field through my placements as a junior, I still felt the need to win every student over. As I’ve gotten further into the program, I’ve come to the realization that every student isn’t always going to love me, especially when I’m pushing them to follow expectations and learn things that are challenging for them. At the same time, I have learned that students are capable of understanding that just because you’re hard on them at times doesn’t mean you don’t genuinely care for them. In fact, from my experience, they can be very understanding of the concept of tough love, so long as you always communicate with them sincerely. Most of my students are smart enough to know that negative attention is better than no attention at all and that everything I do comes from a place of love. With that being said, some of them have been really hard to win over, especially the boys in my class. 

In my past placements, where I’ve worked with younger students, the divide between my male and female students hasn’t been at noticeable. I feel like 4th grade is right at the cusp of when students start to separate themselves a little more from the opposite sex. In fact, 4th grade is right on the cusp of everything. One reason I love fourth grade so much is that I appreciate how developed the student’s personalities are at this point. One downfall is that this is the age that they start to develop a bit of an attitude, and notice what sets them apart from others more. I wonder how much of my struggle to develop deeper relationships with the boys in my class has to do with this and how much of it has to do with me. This is completely different from some of my past placements with younger students, who automatically think everything you do is so cool and love you (mostly) unconditionally. Finding out ways to access their interests and bond with these the boys in my class has proven to be quite difficult. I’ve been trying to be more aware of my biases as a woman and how they impact how I interact with students as well, but it isn’t exactly easy to be that self-aware, especially when you’re running around trying to manage a class full of 24 students. My inability to connect with all of my students on the same level can be a source of guilt for me sometimes. 

With all that being said, luckily for me, I am going on my second semester with these same students. The sheer amount of time I have been able to spend with these students has already enabled me to build deeper relationships with them than I have with any of my students before. I feel genuinely lucky and quite spoiled to have had such an amazing group of students as my “first” class. I can say that I this is probably my favorite age group to work with, and I hope that the more experience I get, the better I will be at forging these relationships with all students.

Student Teaching Week 2

This week marks my second week in full takeover. So far, things have been going well. This week is off to a great start, and I feel a lot more confident and in control compared to last week. I am learning to celebrate the little victories like managing a smooth transition and seeing the excitement of a student who finally passed the multiplication fact test. One of the biggest things I’ve had to learn this year regarding management has been that I can’t always be afraid to be firm with my students. Earlier on in my education and experiences in my placements, I haven’t always managed classrooms effectively, because I’ve had an unrealistic idea of being the nice happy teacher all the time. In reality, I am a lot happier and nicer if I am firm with my expectations and follow through with consequences in the first place, so it never has to get to a point where I really need to come down on my students. Learning how important it is to handle management issues before they become a big deal has played such an important role in refining my management skills. I’ve learned that, even when it seems like something isn’t a big deal or calling something out would be nit-picky, it can have a big impact on how smoothly (or roughly) everything else goes when you pay attention to the small details. And, in reality, calling a student out for not finishing their work and making them sit with me during recess until they do has never prevented them from giving me a hug at the end of the day as they walk out the door. The level of trust and mutual respect that I have been able to establish with the students in my current class has been largely due to this realization and the changes in my management style it has created.

Thoughts on Student Teaching

Although I’m sure I speak for most of my class when I say this, I simply can’t believe that I am in my final semester of college. Three and a half years ago, I arrived on campus full of excitement and anxiety, prepared to take on college as a biology student. It wasn’t until later that year that I figured out that teaching was my true calling. Fast forward three years and three semesters of placements and CI courses later, I find myself on the eve of my first week of full-takeover (yes, I probably should be sleeping right now).

Had you told me at the beginning of my senior year that I would be going into my student teaching experience as calm and (somewhat) confident as I am, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, student teaching and having to run a classroom on my own has been a big source o anxiety for me for a long time. Lucky for me, I get to stay in the same placement I was in last semester for my student teaching. This is mostly because I am studying abroad in Verona for the later half of the semester, thus making it necessary for me to do my full takeover a littler earlier. It also worked out because this placement turned out to be the perfect match for me. I love the school environment and the classroom culture. My cooperating teacher and I are quite compatible, and she has helped me to grow not only as an educator, but as a person, over the past several months that I have worked with her. I’ve slowly taken over more and more in the classroom, and have basically been in full-takeover since the new year started. I have been planning units and leading lit groups. We’ve worked on how to set goals and how to multiply multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm. I have experienced “good” days and “bad” days. And I know how physically and emotionally draining just 7 hours can be, when you have 24 different students fighting for your attention at all times.

A goal I have for myself during my takeover time is to be firm when it comes to classroom management. Consistency and the enforcement of logical consequences are two things that I still need to improve on. I need my students to truly see me as an authority figure in the room and let them know I mean business. Another goal is to be organized and well-rested so that I am always prepared to face the everyday obstacles and surprises. With that note, and with my intentions set for my week to come, I am signing off to go to bed.

Wish me luck!!

Miss S