Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Final Student Teaching Reflection

It's over. I've now spent five wonderful, relaxing, carefree days with my family and I guess it is time to put down some final thoughts about my experience as a student teacher.

I spent my first half of student teaching in my own classroom and I have to say, that was the easier half of my tour. Everything was in place, I had written all the curriculum already, and it was at the end of the year and my student relationships were in place, so there were few difficult interactions. 

The useful thing was that I had the opportunity to have both the building director at my school (who is a licensed L.Arts teacher) and AK (my student teaching supervisor) in my classroom watching what I do on a regular basis. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, teaching can be such an isolating job. Sometimes the only collaboration or advice we get from others in our building or our profession comes when we share an experience with our colleagues. This is absolutely a good practice, but the problem is that our experience is filtered through our own eyes and as truthful as you try to be, a bit of editing is inevitable.  To have someone right there to observe and advise is a valuable experience, one that should not end as a teacher's career progresses.

At Crosswinds, it was a whole different story.  There was a lot of work, a lot of learning, and lot of correcting papers.  I am a big advocate of web based curriculum.  As much as possible, my classes are posted on Moodle and students log on to complete tasks.  So if I assign a "traditional" assessment like a quiz or a worksheet, students complete it on Moodle and the program corrects it for me!  All I do is look it over to see what it was that a student is having trouble with and to insure that the program did not misinterpret an answer. In a more traditional classroom like Crosswinds, there is just so much paperwork!  I definitely like my way better!

As I also mentioned before, interactions with parents are much different at Crosswinds than in my district.  In my school, it is difficult to get parents to answer phones or return emails, they seldom come for conferences and few have much to do with their children's academics.  Many of the parents in my school district are poor and spend a lot of time working.  Some are single parents, some had their children very young and are barely adults themselves.  For whatever reason, contact is difficult to obtain in a lot of cases.  At Crosswinds, the majority of parents are all over their kids and their kids' teachers.  

But in addition to that, I found an interesting cultural difference between the parents I interacted with at ComArts and Crosswinds.  (Of course are were exceptions in both cases.) The parents who are involved in my district are from the old school.  They listen to what the teachers have to say and take it right to their kids.  They snap at their child if he/she contradicts an adult or shows disrespect to a teachers or administratort.  When I call them to relay an event, they recognize me as the adult and take my word over their child's, recognizing teenagers tendency to "rearrange events."

At Crosswinds, there were many times that I witnessed TL and other teachers in our house defending themselves to parents.  Parents came in or called, insisting that a teacher account for his/her actions, quoting their children, or even their children's friends.  It seems the balance of proof was heavy on the teacher's side in these cases.  I wonder about this difference.  Of course my experiences are merely anecdotal and by no means prove anything about poor verses middle class or suburb vs. inner city, but they are interesting to think about.

I think the most important lesson that I will take away from Crosswinds, aside from the great classroom management techniques I learned from TL, is the importance of relationships. Joining a class at the end of the year and having only seven weeks to interact with them is difficult.  When I compare the interactions that I was able to have with the class with those that TL did, his deep relationships with students were so very apparent.  They are what enabled him to effectively teach, discipline, manage, and interact in an effective and caring manner.  I like to think that I obtain the same in my own classroom and that they prove to be  just as effective. I will continue to concentrate on this aspect of my teaching as I grow in my career.

Since I know that both TL and AK read this blog, I'll add another thank both of youfor my experience at Crosswinds and my student teaching experience as a whole.  It was a long summer, but it was worth it and I'm excited to jump back into my own career, armed with all the additional understanding that I've been granted with your help.

I hope to continue this blog, detailing some of the triumphs and challenges I face in my career at ComArts and beyond, so keep reading and keep in touch. TW

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Suburbs, Part 1

It was a hard week out in Woodbury. I've often heard that the only thing worse than parents who are not involved in their kids' schooling is parents who are involved. I've visited, in one way or another, with four sets of parents in the last three weeks, all but one on their own initiative.

TL sent a note to F's father, telling him that he was observing F in class while I taught, and that she was having difficulty staying on task. I was unaware that the email was even sent, but the next day, there was a note in my email box forwarded from TL, it was from F's dad.

According to F's father, F and other [unnamed] students found me to be condescending and rude. TL defended me admirably, noting that he had rarely left me alone in the classroom, "I have not seen him be rude or condescending to students, or inappropriate in any other way," he wrote. He talked about issues that students often have with student teachers, about trust and and about how short of a time I had had to earn that trust. He invited Mr. F to talk with me if he wanted, but gently pushed the matter toward closure.

It felt good to be supported in that way. Teachers are so isolated in the classroom. When a student accuses a teacher of something, it is really difficult to dispute it. You can only stand on your reputation and your word. In addition, I sometimes find myself wondering if I did, in fact, make a mistake, even when it is out of character or the exact opposite of my own recollection of events. Many times, my perceptions can be flawed and I need to bounce things off of another person to get a fair read of a situation. In the classroom, unless there is an EA present, or it is a rare evaluation by a administrator, teachers do not have that luxury. I was glad that TL was observing and that he did not see me as condescending or rude.

The next day, I received another forward from TL: an email to me, from Mr. F. It was very long and full of suggestions. For someone who is not a teacher and who had never met me or seen me in the classroom, he seemed to have a lot of answers for my "problems."

There were a lot of things that I wanted to respond with. I wanted to invite him to observe my classroom. I wanted to present him with my resume and my qualifications. I wanted to debate classroom management and behavior management with him until he realized that I know a little bit about this stuff.

Those were all terrible ideas. I didn't need to bounce that perception off of anybody.

I answered him with just a few polite lines:

" Mr. F, Thanks for your input. I had a chat with
F this morning and we agreed that we would chalk this matter up to a 'bad day' and start with a clean slate. We had an engaging, exciting class today with lots of participation from the students. F was one of the most consistent participants. I'm confident that F and I can move on in a positive direction from here."

I did speak with F that day, just to make sure that things were okay between the two of us. She seemed confused and assured me that we could start over with no hard feelings. At the end of our conversation, she asked me, "one thing, what does condescending mean?"

I'm not sure what to think.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

27 kids!

Suddenly, everything was not going so smoothly. It was 4th hour on "B" day and I had twenty-five kids sitting in rows, copies of a pre-writing worksheet strewn around the desks, pencils flying, students poking, a kid begging a pass to the nurse, and two boys in back who refused to pick their heads up off of their desks.

I was strolling up and down the aisles, trying to lead a discussion on writing a product review and reaching about four kids. Each time I paused to put one outburst out, another burst up behind my back. It was like waiting tables in a giant restaurant with no busboys and too many tables.

And every time I glanced up to the back of the room, TL was smiling and writing notes with his little green marker.

When the bell had rung and I was finished picking up pieces of inky, broken pens; twisted, torn worksheets; and the shavings from at least three pencils that someone had just sharpened and sharpened and sharpened, I sat down with my supervising teacher.

"Well," he said, "how did you think that went?" I had kind-of hoped he hadn't noticed.

He went on to explain that I had been bum-rushed by a very tricky class and handed me a piece of paper, full of those green-marker jottings, that detailed where I might have gone wrong.

He gave me some simple tips:
  • Use a timer, say, "Now we're going to put away our worksheets and switch gears to the reading for today, I'm setting the timer for one minute, have your novels out when the bell rings."
  • Tell the class exactly how you want the conversation to run. Tell them that sometimes you will say, "raise your hands," and you will expect them to wait to be called on, and sometimes you will ask a question and tell them to answer out loud, so everybody can talk. Sometimes you may even ask them to turn to their neighbors and talk about the question (for one minute, using the timer)
  • Use the "take a break" strategy that has been systematically drummed into their brains since spring. And remember , it should be a time to collect thoughts or to take a breather, not a punishment.
  • Randomize who you call on. Ask a silly question like, "raise your hands if you are wearing colored socks." Then ask those people with colored socks to share an answer from a group activity or from written work.
Well, today was "B" day again. I used all of TL's suggestions on the eager and calm students of first hour. The class sailed. They were digging the discussion, participating, and even understanding some of what I was saying. But these kids were not at all the same class that I would face in a few hours. 4B is a totally different beast.

And they responded too. More so. I had them in the palm of my hand... mostly. The discussion went just as I described it to them. they were (mostly) quiet when I was talking or when one of them had the floor. They participated in the discussion pairings and they reported back to me when i asked everyone who was wearing a necklace to tell me what they had said. They even took the conversation in a new, unplanned, but totally appropriate direction - all on their own.

It's amazing what a few simple tips from an experienced teacher can do.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Student Support Team Meeting

I continue to be impressed with the care that Crosswinds takes when dealing with individual students. This morning I attended a Student Support Team Meeting. These meetings are held twice a month to follow up on students who may need special attention. The team was comprised of representatives from each house, the principal, and the school psychologist.

I was fascinated by the meeting. I tried to picture it taking place in my own school, where meetings often break down into gossipy sessions full of complaints. The representatives presented their cases in a neutral manner, detailing the interventions that had been attempted. Fellow teachers offered suggestions and shared strategies that had been successful in the past.

These Student Support Team Meetings also serve as the first recorded intervention in the process of making a decision about special education status for students with behavioral and learning disabilities. I was impressed by the fact that Crosswinds has a bi-weekly meeting in place to discuss students who may be in need of services. I would love to see something along these lines implemented at MTS/ComArts.

My enthusiasm for the meeting was put in check by TL as we walked out of the meeting. When I told him how impressed I was with the format, professionalism, and efficiency of the meeting, he thanked me, but confided that he had been listening to similar complaints about the same kids for months, with concrete interventions. Perhaps our schools are more similar than I originally thought.

At any rate, the system is surely worth looking at.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week 1, Crosswinds

My dreaded stint across town has begun, and as I feared, the drive and the hours are a real bummer. It is a twenty mile drive to Woodbury, which takes only a half an hour or so in the morning, but which takes anywhere from forty-five to seventy minutes at the end of the day. Meanwhile the sun is bright and warm and the days have all been beautiful. I am jealous of my family, who are quickly making my spring tan look pale.

But Crosswinds is fantastic. If it were not so far away (and not year-round) I would be begging for a position there. Being in an English classroom this week has made me question the turn that my career has taken. Originally, I planned to teach literature and writing, not video and editing. I still get to teach creative writing in my screenwriting classes, but it is not quite the same thing. It is exciting to discuss books and teach basic writing skills.

Crosswinds is a product of a lawsuit against the St. Paul school system. It is a district of its own, funded by the St. Paul school district, created in order to provide quality programs for kids who live in (mostly poor) areas that were at one time (and perhaps still) offering less quality education than the schools in other districts. It is a 6-1oth grade middle school and is arranged into numerous houses in order to create a sense of a smaller community within the school. Each house is comprised of the four pieces of core curriculum, Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies and contains around eighty students.

As I said, Crosswinds is located in Woodbury, Minnesota. It is as close to St. Paul as you can get and still get an "in the country" feel. The school was built in the middle of a farmer's field, literally. The closest neighbor is a full-on farm with tractors and sheep and a guy in over-alls. It is an absolutely beautiful spot, especially for those city kids who get little chance to experience green spaces outside of city parks and lakes. Yesterday, when I arrived, I was greeted by a giant snapping turtle, laying her eggs in the garden in front of the school.

At Crosswinds, classrooms are all open; you can see above the half walls right out into the hallway and into your neighbor's classroom. Teachers do not have desks in their rooms, but rather an office shared with each other, which results in a massive amount of communication between the faculty and other staff.

Crosswinds employs the responsive classroom design. They have a homeroom everyday where students group up for announcements, sharing, and games.

They use an especially effective system to deal with behavioral issues. When a student first gets out of line, he/she is asked to "take a break." Students go to another part of the classroom for a moment to regroup and rejoin the class when they are ready. If the discipline needs to go further, students are sent to the "buddy room." Each classroom has a partner room to send students to. When a student is sent to the partner room, he/she fills out a form detailing the situation and his/her plan to amend the situation. When the buddy room teacher has a moment, he/she speaks with the troubled student. By this time, the student has had time to cool down and is able to communicate with a staff member who was not part of the problem, but who has a close relationship with the child. It works remarkably well.

I'm really enjoying my time in the classroom at Crosswinds. The students, all seventh or eighth graders, are a very diverse group, both economically and racially. They are very comfortable in their surroundings and the sense of a trusting, close-knit community is strong.

My supervising teacher, TL. has turned out to be just the kind of educator I respect. He has nine years of teaching experience, is thoughtful and calm in the classroom, has a passion for the kids and the job, and a keen interest in education in general. We've already spent a great deal of time discussing the philosophy and the future of the education in the U.S. We need more teachers like TL., far too many of our colleagues are ignorant or disinterested in anything save their immediate classroom needs.

I am already beginning to take over portions of the instruction and have received positive and constructive feedback from TL. As I watch him effortlessly and calmly manage twenty to twenty-five junior high students, I recognize that his patient, but insistent, brand of classroom management is a skill I need to observe closely.

I've come a long way from my first year teaching, when I frequently engaged and argued with students, constantly losing the battle, but I have a long way to go to catch up to TL.

It is Saturday today and I find my thoughts drifting back to the faces of the kids that I met during the week, a sure sign that I am quickly becoming fond of them. Despite all my moaning about this assignment, I am already sure I will miss it when the term is over.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Random Thoughts

End of the Year: It is a very difficult time for teachers in my school. In many schools, students are geared up for finals and are working hard at this time of the year. In fact, several schools declined to participate in the Film Fest because it was happening at the end of the school year and the students would be too busy with finals. At my school, it seems like the entire student body, 9-12, has seniorities. As soon as spring hits, attendance drops by half. It makes for a difficult year-end wrap-up and it makes the last 3-6 weeks feel ineffective. Of course, as I write this I've got several students sitting at computers tapping away at screenplays. They always try to prove me wrong, even when they don't know they are doing it.

Student Teaching, Part 2: I just got a reminder in my email to call my teacher/supervisor for the second half of my student teaching. I am dreading it (the student teaching, not the call). I have never been one of those MEA students who are already teaching and who refuse to admit they don't know it all. I've always embraced everything I've learned at Augsburg and much of has been applied to my classroom pretty quickly. I'm sure this will be the case when I complete my student teaching, but... It's in Woodbury, gas is almost $4.00, I am going to miss my wife and kids, I need a summer break to rejuvenate... On top of all of it, it seems like the supervising teacher is looking for me to come up with all of my own curriculum. He says they are in a two year cycle at this school, and that he is in his second year there, so he has no curriculum written for the units he is teaching this summer. Writing curriculum is one of my strengths; one of my favorite parts of teaching. But I have my own to do! I have given myself the huge task of getting a video/film curriculum online so that I can let the more academic stuff run on its own as I teach the more hands on aspects of the course. I feel like I'll never have enough time.

Filmmaker Badges: I made up all these badges on lanyards for the film festival. Green for regular attendees, red for festival sponsors, and blue for filmmakers (students with a film in the festival). Immediately, my video students started to ask if they could have theirs right away. At first I resisted, I was pretty sure they would get lost and I would have to give them another. Eventually, I gave in and started giving them out...with a promise from the students. They had to wear them everyday, in school and out, and tell anyone who asked all about the festival. They all agreed. I now have twenty or so very proud kids wearing their blue filmmaker badges wherever they go. None have been damaged or lost. Many times, because of the adult things my students have to experience, and because they look so grown-up, I forget that they are just kids. Little things, like being recognized as special with a plastic badge can mean a lot. They amaze me as they confuse me. I don't think I'll ever get them completely figured out.

PS: Still no R. I wrote a letter to his mother and sent it via snail mail. No response. It's time to let it go. maybe he will pop up again next year. I hope so.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Screening: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

Where: Minneapolis Parkway Theater
Presented by: .edu Film Fest
When 5/23-5/25

After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, three 12 year old friends, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, began filming their own shot-by-shot adaptation in the backyards of their Mississippi homes.

Seven years later their film was in the can.

Fourteen years later, in 2003, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin Texas was proud to announce the theatrical world premiere of
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

And in 2004, it was announced that Hollywood producer Scott Rudin had purchased the life rights of Eric, Jayson and Chris to make a biographical film about their experiences making Raiders: The Adaptation.
Writer Daniel Clowes is currently working on the screenplay. To be released by Paramount Pictures.

Please come out and see this picture. Proceeds go to the nonprofit .edu Film Fest and will ensure that this festival continues to be free to all Minnesota high school students. Support this important festival and see a really cool movie at the same time. Tickets are $5.00, available at the Parkway.

Show times available in the City Pages and at

Friday, May 2, 2008


I realized today that it has been over two weeks since I've seen R. Last week, I was calling the answering machines and dead phone numbers that fill the majority of our students parental contact pages and I was surprised when R.'s mother's phone reported that it did not accept incoming phone calls, at the subscriber's request. She was our only link.

R.'s parents are first generation immigrants from Liberia and his family lives miles and miles out in the suburbs. He is not embedded in the usual neighborhood net that can locate a lost kid, or a least report if he's okay or not. He rides the city bus for over an hour to get to school and spends his out-of-school time working at a big, suburban technology store.

R. is a great kid to have around. He's smart, interested in what I teach, and enthusiastic about learning. He comes in at lunch and takes tutorials on the internet, learning things about the applications that I don't even know. For a while, he was a big part of my program, taking both screenwriting and video. Then he started to slip. First it was his attendance, some tardies, then a day or two here and there, then it was a week. Next, when he did show up, he was hanging with a different crowd of kids and he was not acting like himself.

My colleague and I talked it over and decided to call in his parents. The conference was interesting. Liberia is an extremely messed up country - no government, tribal warfare, anarchy - and when R. was very young, he and his parents traveled across the country, waited it out in a refugee camp, and eventually made it to the U.S. Needless to say, these folks are justifiably pissed off that their kid would squander away the advantages that they risked their lives to give him.

In that meeting, R. finally admitted that he had been skipping school and smoking dope again. He made a commitment to get back on track. We put together a plan for him, little things to keep him hanging with the good guys and away from the smoke-in-the-park crowd. Publish PostHe did really well for a while, he was back to the old R. that my colleague and I really liked.

But lately, it is the same thing all over again. When he went missing for a week last month, he claimed that he got confused and thought it was spring break. He convinced his mother, but we weren't so sure. A few weeks ago, he had trouble concentrating and understanding a fairly straightforward task in a computer program that he knows pretty well. So I guess I wasn't surprised when I realized that he hadn't been around for a while.

I talked to the staff member who is charge of truancy. I told him about R.'s mom's phone. He said he'd do a little digging. We know the name of the store he works at, just not the location. We'll try to get him on the phone. Maybe that will help. Maybe not.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Engaging B.

One of my goals for this student teaching exercise is to try and engage more of the students in my classroom. Despite the "fun" nature of my classes, they are actually pretty difficult and I hold the students to a pretty high standard. Add that to the culture of my school, where many students do just enough to get by, and many hardly try at all, and the result is usually a few students who give you that "thousand yard stare" when you are trying to motivate the classroom.

One of these students is B. He is just the kind of student that we want to attract to the Digital Media Academy at MTS. He is bright, creative and non-traditional. He wears emo style clothing (although, like most emo kids, he vigorously denies that he is emo) and has his hair dyed blue. He toured our school with his father and decided to sign up based on our arts curriculum. He started out in two of my classes and from the start, he was not what I expected.

B. has an engaging personality and I suspect that he has used it effectively in the past to succeed in a lot of ways. He immediately became popular with both students and teachers, although it quickly became apparent that he has a taste for drama.

B. knows a lot about computers, so right off, he went about beating the filter system in my classroom. The students in my room have less restrictive access to the internet than most of the school and it a privilege that I guard with a great deal of care. I was not pleased.

B. also came into video class with what he considered a great deal of experience in the subject, although he displayed none of this experience and refused to discuss anything he had done previously.

As the weeks stretch by, I became more and more worried about B. He had convinced someone that his interest in video was so high that he should be allowed to sign up for both the Video for TV and the Film and Video class. These two classes are very similar and while it is possible for a student to succeed in both of them at once, it is less likely that he/she will fail in one without failing in another. So I had B. in two blocks, basically refusing to work and earning zero credits.

Eventually, by talking with the principal, I got him out of one of the classes, but I was wracked by guilt at my failure to engage him in the other. Occasionally, he would take a camera to the park and collect footage that he claimed was for a video he was going to make for some non-existent song he had written in Music and Sound.

I talked to my colleague in the Sound Department and we compared notes on B. We realized that he was performing similarly in both of our rooms. B. basically keeps himself busy enough to not get in trouble, but never does enough to pass. I also conferred with my boss about B. and we agreed to keep an eye on his progress, but I did not find any solutions. This was my problem to solve.

And I did, by accident. On Thursday the 23rd, all of the entries for the .edu Film Festival were due and the video tapes were pouring in the door. We had been spending parts of our classes looking at the work from schools from all over the state. This is very interesting for me, and I found, very interesting to our students. From the different video projects they watched, they began to realize just how competitive we were.

High School video kind of exists in a vacuum. It is very difficult to know the quality of the work the students produce. It is easy to think that your stuff is pretty good, but without anything to compare it to, it is also easy to take that for granted. And what do you compare it to? YouTube? No, too amateur. Hollywood? Absolutely not!

As we watched the videos from other schools, the students began to realize something about themselves. They were pretty good filmmakers. Not always the best, but certainly not the worst. The projects that we made in the last two years could easily stand up to almost any entry in the festival. My students were impressed.

When you grow up as part of the working poor, you sometimes get used to the fact that your "things" are not always of top quality. A pair of Nike Air Jordans are a treasure to be spit-cleaned after the smallest scuff. Jeans are sometimes hitched up at the ankles with rubber bands so they will not drag and become frayed at the bottom. Tags are left on clothing, to show people that you can and do wear new hats and jerseys.

Children who come from this culture sometimes assume that their neighborhoods, their housing, their transportation, and even their education will probably be second rate. It is a joy to present them with a quality program.

As we watched the entries from small town schools and suburban schools, from prestigious public art schools and large city schools, I watched my students faces light up. We were good at what we were doing.

One of the students who was particularly taken with the video entries was B. He commented on each one with an insightful viewpoint. He threw out some editing terms and camera techniques that I thought he had never retained. At the end of the day he walked out of the classroom discussing film with his classmates.

And the next day, he walked right into class and asked for the camera. He had a CD in hand with a techno song that he written and recorded in the sound studio. He went outside, collected some decent images and sat right down at the computer to edit them. He asked a few questions and quickly understood the basic functions of the editing program and was soon putting together a pretty good music video.

When class was done, he asked if he could get the piece into the film festival. The due date had passed, it wasn't really right for me to let him enter. He wasn't even done. So I said yes. After all, this was supposed to be an educational experience, right? I told it had to be done by tomorrow morning. He looked at me, then back at the computer. He took out his cell phone and called his dad. "Dad, " he said. "I'm going to stay after school and work on a video so I can get it in the festival." He paused. "No, I'm serious, do you want to talk to my teacher? He's right here."

B. finished his video that afternoon. It turned out pretty good.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

4/16 Testing and Testing and Testing

It's been two days worth of MCAs. All seniors were excused from classes, freshmen were sent on field trips, and tenth and eleventh graders took math, reading, and writing tests. I proctored the reading tests for tenth graders. Not much to it, you read the script and watch the kids take the tests. I heard that there were problems in some of the testing rooms, but my group was as quiet as could be. I had not one problem.

I had a student in my group who I have never had in class, but who I eventually heard a lot about. I guess W. rarely makes it through a day without getting kicked out of one or more classes. He won't stay still, he cusses out teachers, he ignores requests and he picks fights with other students. The thing is, I didn't recognize W's name when he came into my testing room, so I had no who he was or how he has behaved in the past.

W. came in a little late, as did several other students. He is black, about fifteen or sixteen years-old, and dresses in hip, clothes - his T-shirt and jeans are less baggy than lots of the boys and he wears a flashy belt buckle and wallet chain; it's called the rock star look. He wears his hair in an unusual style too, kind of cross between a fade and a pompadour. He was pretty calm when he arrived and only nodded to another boy in the class and flashed him a guarded, half smile.

As with the other late-comers, I took W. aside, handed him his materials, and went through the script on the packet I was given. He listened intently, then sat down and began his test. He read his passage carefully, mouthing the words and sometimes mumbling them out loud, but no one seemed to mind. He answered the questions carefully and took more time than anyone else in the classroom. When he was through, I asked him if he had checked through his answers and he told me he had. Twice.

In the meantime a colleague popped his head in the door and saw that my students were all working quietly. He nodded his head toward W. and asked, "What's up with him?" When I shrugged my shoulders, he queitly filled me in on W. and his past behavior. "I don't know," I told him, "He's been nothing but respectful today." My colleague just raised his eyebrows and walked away. I had a felling he was thinking that the shoe would eventually drop.

It didn't though. By the time that W. had taken his break and started up on the second section of the test, many of his peers were finished. I crouched down and told him, softly, not to worry that he was taking longer, just to do a good job. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "no problem."

W. was the only kid left in my room by the end, he took all morning and a little more. When it was time to go to lunch, I told him that if he wanted to keep going and finish up, that was fine with me. He told me he was just about done, and a few minutes later, he called me over to seal up his test booklet.

"Good job," I told him, and I had to add, "I thought you were supposed to be some kind of bad-ass, that you never get a long with teachers."

He just shrugged his shoulders and gave me that half smile, "Sometimes, they just be buggin' me, you know? "

"You cool though," he added, and stuck out his hand. I shook it and he took off into the hallway, running toward the lunch room and yelling out to a friend .

I saw him later that day, as he walked toward the front door after lunch. His eyes went right through me; they did not register my existence.

That's okay, though. He'd already paid me quite a compliment that day. I'm certain we will speak again.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Big Fight 4/10

Big fight today. Three kids, one with a hammer. I saw the students rushing toward the door and knew that something was going on. I was the only staff member to respond. There were two smaller boys and a very big kid, over 6 ft, probably 250 lbs. One of the small kids had the hammer and was in between the big kid and the other smaller one. The big guy was throwing punches and the boy with the hammer was threatening him, holding it up and yelling something. I only had a moment to decide. I went for the big kid. He was swinging wildly at the boy with the hammer when I wrapped him up and pushed him away. He went easily. I shoved him back inside the door and went after the other kid. He tried to ditch the hammer and and I grabbed it. By that time help arrived outside but in the meantime the larger boy and the other boy had started up again right inside the door.

When I went inside, another teacher was trying to get the two apart and was getting the worst of it. They were grappling with each other and swinging and my colleague was squeezed between them. I wrapped the smaller boy in a bear hug from behind and pulled him away from the fight. The big kid kept swinging and lunging at us so I kept the boy locked in my ams, turned, and pushed him down into a corner so the other boy only had my back to swing at. By that time, he was swarmed by staff and pulled away.

We turned back around and I just held the smaller by in my arms for a while and he leaned back, limp against my chest. Both of our hearts were beating fast and we were both breathing hard. "Are you okay," I asked him, and he said, "yeah, I'm cool," but he didn't move, he just leaned there against me while we caught our breath and I hugged him to my chest.

It was a funny thing, those few moments that we leaned there in the corner as the crowd of students dispersed.

I don't think that kid gets a lot of hugs. I think he was very scared; that he is very scared a lot of the time. I think he felt safe there in the corner, leaning against his teacher, at least for a few minutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Teaching in the City 4/09

My school works on a block schedule. Four periods with each class meeting every other day. Classes are 90 minutes long. This is new this year and I have mixed feelings about it. The population of our school is very diverse in their ethnicity, but are united in their economic status. Our percentage of students who qualify for free lunch is in the high nineties. We have a great deal of absenteeism and little parental involvement. Homework is seldom completed.

When it was announced that we would be switching to the new schedule, I thought it might be a good thing, that it would give my students a bigger block of time to work on a video shoot. When we had 45 minute periods, it sometimes seemed like a period was over just when we got rolling.

Instead, the block schedule has been difficult for me. Students need to bring costumes and props from home to do video shoots in school. It seems like this is more difficult with the every other day schedule. In addition, whenever a student is absent for one block, it is the equivalent of two days of standard class time. This adds up fast.

So, today is the first day in the new term for my day 2 students.

This screenwriting class is bigger, with more students working on the web-based curriculum. Attendance is low today though. I had a discussion with a student about a reading - the difference between "characterization" and "true character." Another student and I had a talk about 3-act structure in film, specifically exposition. We talked the first 5 pages of the script and how to make every scene count; how to write each scene so that it accomplishes several different things. I also organized each students expectations for the term and assigned them the specific units they were expected to accomplish.

Video #1:
This is a great video class. I have a creative and quirky group of kids who have done more work than any other group this year. Today, we watched a video blog on about depth of field video techniques to achieve it. We took the camera out to the hallway and practiced using manual focus and a density filter to achieve a more artistic look. Then we planned had a quick group discussion about the footage we wanted to shoot and went outside to shoot it. We used the technique we learned today to shoot the footage. Lastly, we came inside to upload the video and even had time to do a little editing. This class is a dream. As you can see, the amount of work accomplished is far beyond the other video classes.

Video #2:
This class is very difficult. The students mostly belong to a group of friends and they always seem to be in social conflict. These guys have completed very little. They refuse to do any kind of preparation work, they mostly want to jump right to the fun stuff. Consequently, the things they manage to produce are not very successful.

Today, they put together some footage with some music that one of them had composed in the sound studio to create a video of sorts. They made short work of the project and then wanted to surf the net. Instead, I directed them to a sight that teaches video concepts with puzzles, blogs, and articles. I assigned them a unit on composition. One student did the assignment, one student pretended to the assignment, one student skipped to the assessment and claimed he know all the answers already, and another student attempted to go to sleep. These guys are so tough.

Sometimes I feel like it is my fault, that I don't provide engaging enough curriculum for them. Other times, I look at a class like the video #1 today, and I know that it is not entirely my fault. I do know that it is my responsibility to offer curriculum that will engage my students, if they refuse to participate, it is not necessarily my fault.

Teaching in the City 4/08

Today was the first day back from spring break. I expected a low turn-out but attendance was pretty high. I should know not to try to figure out high school students.

This class is entirely individualized and taught using web-based lessons. The students complete a week's worth of work, either in class or from home. My job is to walk around the classroom and troubleshoot.

It seems like the students really like this kind of instruction. They are free to go at a pace that suits them and it is impossible to get behind. Our school grades on a three week term. If a student only completes unit 1 during the first term, he/she is able to start up at unit 2 for the next term. Even thought he/she was not successful for the first term, they are not starting out behind in term two.

I've got students at every level in my two screenwriting classes. Some have just signed up and are starting on unit 1, others have completed all 18 units and are working independently on a feature length (90+ pages) script.

This particular class has three students who work independently and several who are working through the web-course. Two of my independent workers are pretty talented, but both suffer from attendance issues.

Today they are excited to get back and see each other so it takes a minute to get them settled in. Once they settle down though, they are very quite. Sometimes it is amazing when the room sinks into silence, except fro the tinny clicks beats from headsets and the sharper clicks from the keyboard.

Video #1:
In my first video class today, I have very few students enrolled. My two mainstays are F. and T. They are making a documentary about graffiti artists. At the end of last term, we went out with the camera and took footage of a bunch of great graffiti under the Ford bridge in St. Paul. Today, we began to piece some of it together in Final Cut Pro, the editing program we use. They girls shared their plans for additional footage and interviews, and used the phone to schedule one interview. I checked a camera out to them to use after school.

Video #2:
In my second video class, we worked on an interesting project. The kids went to the local barber shop and to the bank across the street and interviewed subjects at each. They want to put together a fake talk show, where it appears that they are interviewing the subjects via satellite connection. They want the guest to appear on the wall behind them as they talk. In addition, they want to chop up the interview and have the subject answer questions they were not asked.

We discussed the best way to work out the timing of this with the equipment we have access to. The "talk show hosts" must look at the screen and nod for an appropriate amount of time as the subject speaks, but the subject is not really speaking as the hosts are being shot, the subject will be added later in editing. We discussed this as a group and came up with three solutions to the problem, then narrowed it down to one last solution. Nobody was in total agreement with the solution we picked, so I suspect when it comes time to impliment it, we will have additional discussion.

Next we split up, a couple of kids worked on screenplays and the rest looked at ways to edit the bankers' interview into humorous sound bites.