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Looking Back, Looking Forward

I had the honor of student teaching at J.E. Williams Elementary School in Huntsville,
Al. Williams Elementary is in the Huntsville City School System with 469 students
primarily Black, White or Hispanic ethnicities. The school employs 24 full time teachers
with a student to teacher ratio of 20:1. Both of my placements were at this school and
Im so thankful for that, having learned the school environment and the IB program at
the same school made things a bit easier. I was in Valerie Knights fourth grade class for
my first placement. She had 25 students, 14 boys and 11 girls. My second placement
was with Haley Ross in Kindergarten, she had 19 students, 9 boys and 10 girls. Starting
student teaching was the time I looked forward to the most. I knew that this would be
some of my most challenging, yet the most rewarding time of the teacher education
program. Prior to student teaching I had the opportunity to witness teachers at work,
while simultaneously jumping in to see what leading a class would be like. However, all
of that time did not compare to what student teaching held. During this time I have
learned what it means to be a teacher. The long nights grading papers, preparing for the
next day or week, managing the school schedule, behavior, special events, and any and
everything that interrupts instructional time. The reality of what goes on in school and
out for teachers is incredible. I witnessed and experienced only some of what teachers
have to do. Which makes me really grateful for the teachers I had and hopeful of the
teacher I wish to become.

My first placement was in fourth grade with Mrs. Valerie Knight, a very loving and
intelligent woman. She has been working at Williams Elementary since the school has

been there. Mrs. Knight was very helpful and instrumental in guiding me towards
becoming a great teacher. Her first pieces of advice were to come into the class taking
charge and letting the students know that I was there to be their teacher and not their
friend. I found this very easy to do, I knew that with older students I could not afford to
not take immediate control because later on it would cause me a lot of trouble. You can
always start out firm and then be nicer once you have established your expectations for
them. By doing this I was able to have a good grasp on their behavior during
instructional time as well as in between specials and in the hallways. For this class I saw
that a lot of time was being spent during transitions. So I gave the students two minutes
to take a bathroom break, clear their desks, and have out the next book or needed
materials for the next activity. I implemented a few management strategies such as the
me too sign, thumbs up and on their chest when they finished working, yes/no cards,
fairness sticks, using a timer for bathroom breaks, and assigning a person from the
group to collect papers or pick up loose leaf paper. In the mornings, I would play music
to go along with their morning work and journal assignments. I also used music for when
they were doing group work or during the bathroom transitions; the strategy was for the
students to talk at a level one, which meant that I should still be able to hear the music
while they were working.

I had many opportunities to do formative assessment with these students; not only
formative for them but myself as well. I noticed that the students believed everything I
was teaching them was easy so they often tuned out. That would have been great if only
it were true when it came for them to do their work. Either the students werent fully
paying attention or my instruction was faulty. So I retaught them, and asked them to
explain their reasoning to me. But I also remembered watching Mrs. Knight teach math

and she loves math so she is very animated and hands on with teaching math. So I
quickly readjusted and had the students more involved and using manipulatives; when
appropriate I related the content to their lives to assist their comprehension. Together we
did the I do, we do, you do many times and I asked questions more often to assess
them before we began the class work. I encouraged the students to ask questions while
I was teaching so that I could help them when the questions arose. Mrs. Knight and I cotaught math often which was awesome, sometimes I went to help a student individually
and she would continue with the class or vice versa.

This same problem did not occur during English however. I love teaching English and
I helped the students along in what I wanted them to know. Because the unit I decided
to implement focused on reading strategies they could use across the curriculum, I
walked them through how to make connections to the texts they would be reading. We
did three types of text connections together as I modeled how to do them. Because we
did the strategies together and I asked the objective questions to the students
throughout the entire lesson there was far better comprehension and less time spent on
monitoring behavior to redirect their attention.
What I learned most from these students as I taught them was that I had to very
specifically model what I wanted them to learn as well as explain why it was useful.
Initially, I found myself teaching the students and then realizing that they were not
following along. Starting out I needed to model more for the students; later I realized
that this class of students were not at an independent level to work from just seeing a
sample or beginning on their own. This caused a few of my lessons to go awry because
I was expecting the students to take direction well or only need one I do, we do, you do
example. When it came to assessment the same was true. The students had become

accustomed to being shown how to do every problem on assessments given. The first
time I gave them an assessment without covering it there were many questions. So prior
to an assessment I had to go through the test and explain how each problem should be
done.

Immediately this upset me to find out that my fourth grade class was not only handfed everything but also lazy due to it. Seeing this let me know what kind of teacher I
wanted to be, and how I wanted to prepare my students on being more independent.
Not just independent but students that are responsible for their learning and take the
initiative to be their own problem solvers. Most of the questions I received from them
were because they failed to read the instructions given to them. Not only do I want my
students to be independent but also able to work with one another. Students need
proper socialization skills that they can not get by just interacting with a computer. Most
of them believe that if they don't agree then it has to be an immediate argument when
that is not the case.

The unit I taught focused on three reading strategies that they could use across the
curriculum. Once my students leave fourth grade they will begin to read more and more
informational text versus narratives. I felt my unit could have been more cohesive,
however by the time I would be moving to my second placement the students began
SchoolNet testing. I know from classes how much the scores of the students effect their
teachers, so I did not want to spend too much time on many cutesy things. My teacher
indicated that she followed Huntsville City Schools pacing guide, so I did the same. I felt
it important to make sure the students hit the standards they needed to and then try to
add some fun to the content.

My second placement was in Kindergarten with Mrs. Haley Ross, who is very
organized and an in control teacher. The most valuable thing I learned from her was
routine. When it comes to students who are that young they need consistency and
routine. I wish I could have been in her class at the beginning of the year to see her set
up her class. The students already know all the things they have to do and they are not
afraid to tell you that you are ruining their routine. She mentioned that the first two
weeks of school is her teaching and reteaching routine, then the next week comes minor
consequences. Some students are coming to school for the first time and others
attended pre-k, but they still are learning rules and how to behave in a classroom
setting.

Mrs. Ross also followed the Huntsville City Schools pacing guide, however for the
fourth nine week standards there wasnt very many to cover. So I had the opportunity to
do review as well as teach some new standards. In Kindergarten everything is tailored
for the students. There are three groups the students are in and these groups serve for
small group as well as station work.

Here is where I had the opportunity to differentiate work the most. For their centers
work I tried to have the work align with the IB science unit to be interdisciplinary or have
them match a holiday that was approaching. Small group lessons were also
differentiated; the low group we mainly focused on letter names and their sounds, the
middle group worked on blends, digraphs, positional words, and nonsense words. The
high group read guided readers with me and to each other, positional words, and

nonsense words. For stations the work was also tailored for them, all of the work was at
their independent level.

The unit I chose followed the schools IB program, which focused on making students
into global citizens. It covered ways to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle so the
students covered exercising, dental health, and nutrition. I had so much fun with this
unit, this is the time I had the opportunity to do fun and cute lessons while still covering
the necessary material. For dental health we flossed our teeth using play-doh and lego
blocks, we soaked eggs in cola or coffee for a week to see the effects of sugary drinks
on our teeth, and we made plaque in a cup to see the buildup on our teeth after eating
sweets. For nutrition, we learned about the five food groups through various activities
like a fake food sort, videos, cut and paste activities and a giant food pyramid at the end
of the week. In the exercise week we talked about the importance of stretching, and the
four different categories for a balanced workout. Everyday we did a different type of
exercise from cardio, flexibility, endurance, and strength. To finish the exercise unit we
chose three student leaders to lead the class in an exercise video.

Between both placements I learned the most about being on schedule and
maximizing my instructional time. At first, time seemed to pass me by so quickly and we
hadn't covered as much as my cooperating teachers had in the same time period. Over
time with more practice and the use of timers really helped. As well as using timers, I
had to think about what the quicker students would need to do in between the time while
the others finished. I tried to not give them busy work, instead they were quick
activities to enhance the skill we were working on. I also found this time to be useful for
the students to work on their computer skills by playing typing games to help them learn

how to type and the home keys. In kindergarten the in between time is easier to fill
because they have centers like green, red or fun boxes to play with. But the boxes minus
the fun one, all build on skills the students need. For the future, to manage time
effectively I will set up transitions that increase my instructional time but also have a
good flow to them. I feel I will still use timers initially until myself and the students have
gotten a good grasp on them. My goal is to not have them but I do know that with time I
will catch my rhythm and it will not be a problem.

Another area of improvement for me would be modeling. After reviewing my


reflections and thinking on my past lessons modeling behaviors for my students is
essential. I know that my job at the Space and Rocket Center helped me greatly in some
areas, in others it did not so much. I usually have to do less modeling for the students
and I just bring history to life with stories. With the exception of building rockets, I do not
have to personally provide the hands on experience because it is a museum. So for my
classroom, although I do have models, I did not beforehand realize that I need to guide
my students in their understanding or assist them in making something I wanted them to
do. After a few lessons and seeing that my students would ask me the same questions I
realized that I needed to not just lecture them without explaining prior to having them
work. It is essential that I go through the steps with them and verbalize my thinking in
order for them to understand. I have worked on beginning with the objectives for the
lesson, questioning throughout the lesson while reviewing the objectives or vocabulary,
and modeling with them for comprehension. Continuing on, that will be my focus to have
all of the students on the same page for when we move on to other areas that will
require the strategies or lessons taught.

However, I do believe that my two strongest areas are management and


assessment. Because I work with children on a consistent basis I know that students
need structure and guidelines. Due to this I have been able to enhance my behavior
management skill that translate well in the classroom. Just like my teams, my students
need to know that I have high expectations for their behavior and that they are
responsible for themselves. Most elementary students still want to do well and please
their teacher so extreme measures are rarely required. I feel that it is extremely
important to have behavior management skills because without them actual teaching
will go out the window if you spend most of your time dealing with their behavior. During
one of the faculty meetings they discussed the Warm Demanding style of teaching.
Which in my opinion is close to the way I was raised. The spotlight teachers held high
expectations for their students but also were not afraid to remind students of their
responsibilities of being apart of their classroom. I feel I have these same expectations
for my students, because it is a part of my job to prepare them. If I can not get them to
respect me as their teacher then they will not be able to apply this sense of respect to
anyone else.

Secondly, formative assessment is another strong area of mine. This area ties in with
my ability to model for the students. During lessons it did not take very long for me to
realize that my students were not understanding concepts. I may have gotten fifteen
minutes into the lesson, but after hearing the same questions, I quickly started over and
took on a new approach to teaching the content. Additionally, I do not shy away from
having another student who understands help their classmate. I have gone through too
many classes to not understand that students all have different brains and processes. A
peer may be able to explain the concept in a way that is useful for another. I would much

rather stop in the middle and reteach a lesson to ensure the students have understood
than to continue on without having checked for understanding until I am grading papers.

Student teaching has lived up to expectations and been the best part of the teacher
education program for me. I have learned valuable lessons about myself, my teaching
style, strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future. The program has shown me that
teaching is truly my passion, even the struggles I have faced to get me here have made
it that much more inspiring for me. I have the love of learning and the gift of teaching;
this time has further prepared me to learn and grow as a teacher. All in all, the
challenges and triumphs have molded me into a more effective Educator but I know that
this is just the beginning.