Friday, September 11, 2009

T Minus One Week

August 12th marked the one-week point. Only one more week until students would be walking through our doors. One week did NOT seem like enough time to get everything done.

Construction continued to move forward; every time I went somewhere, I discovered something new that had been installed or finished. I got all of my classroom supplies unpacked (HOORAY!) and I got my room all set up. Adam and I stayed late to finish our rooms. Poor Barbara hurt her foot yesterday and has to wear a walking boot. Rachael finished making the students' schedules, so we finally have a list of names of our students! Hour by hour and day by day, this was starting to feel more real.

Moving Day

August 10, 2009 was the day we had all been waiting for. We received an e-mail late the week before letting us know that we could FINALLY start moving in our things.

We started the day with a tour through the building. We were in awe of how beautiful our new school was - such rich colors, the elegant tiles, and the lovely woodwork that is everywhere! My favorite feature is all of the light that pours in from the outdoors. That natural lighting seems to bring in such a positive energy.

After taking in all of Schoo's beauty, however, reality set in. The construction was still not done. Construction workers were everywhere. There was plywood on the floors of the hallways, the academic connections rooms weren't finished, and the worst thing of all (in my germophobic mind) was that there was still no soap in the bathrooms. "It will all get done eventually," I kept reassuring myself.

The rest of our day was spend entirely on opening boxes. Boxes of books, boxes of suppplies, boxes of bookshelves... boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes. Opening and sorting, opening and sorting.

Overall, it was an exhausting day, but also a very good one. I'm finally able to picture in my head how things at Schoo will be this year. Things became more real that day, and I was just sure that it was going to be a great year!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In the Boxes on the Semis...

All of our stuff was packed up in boxes and loaded on semis. We had access to nothing. As I sat around enjoying the lazy days of summer, all I could do was think about all of my teachers' guides that were in the boxes on semis, instead of being in my possession. If only I could have had them during the summer, I would have felt so much more prepared. I could have planned out elaborate lessons with fun projects and experiments. I could have made PowerPoints and study guides. I could have searched for additional resources to share with my class. Instead, I sat around playing solitaire and chess on my brand-new MacBook.

I am a planner, and I need to know (rather, I think I need to know) what is ahead, both in the short term and in the long term. I had high hopes of filling the pages of my lesson plan book (which was also in a box on the semis) before school even started.

I longed to decorate my classroom with colorful posters. I wanted to stock the cabinets with the brand-new school supplies. I wanted to arrange the desks and write on the white boards and stamp the textbooks with the "Property of Schoo Middle School" stamp. The posters, the supplies, and the Schoo stamp were all packed up in the boxes on the semis, and these things just had to wait. To appease my need to be in possession of something that would eventually be in my classroom, I went shopping. I spent hundreds of dollars on school supplies for my students and packed my car with my new purchases. Those school supplies came with me everywhere I went as we awaited the day when we would finally be able to unpack the boxes on the semis.

Finally, that day came.

A Moment of Truth

One of the things that I was most looking forward to in advance of the opening of Schoo was the diverse population that our school was expecting. As a girl from a small town, I have come to realize what was missing from my educational career - the opportunity to know and work with people who are "different" than me.

One of my most favorite professional development days was the day when we took a bus tour through the neighborhoods from which our students would be coming. It was truly eye-opening. We began in the Highlands - a nice neighborhood with seemingly average-sized homes. Across the highway, we drove through the sunny Fallbrook neighborhood, where the homes were bigger, and the grass was greener (literally, not necessarily figuratively). From there, we drove to the Air Park neighborhood. Although these neighborhoods are relatively close in proximity, they are not similar at all. The homes were smaller, many of them appearing as though they might collapse at any minute. The bus ride through that neighborhood reminded me of those drives my parents used to take us on whenever my brother and I complained about the rough life we thought we had. The drives "south of the tracks" that were intended to make us grateful for all that we had been given. These kids would have to board the buses earlier in the morning than I hope to wake up.

There is much to be learned about people and cultures and customs and traditions, and I believe that learning about them first-hand is the only way. Sure, it was nice to have holiday parties at school and to be able to call that three-week vacation at the end of the year "Christmas Break." It was easy to go to a school where the teachers all looked like me and spoke a language which I understood. I never had to deal with going to school over my religious holidays or pack a lunch because the school cafeteria's food choice conflicted with my mandatory diet. If I needed a Band-Aid, I could be sure that the color of the bandage would match the color of my skin. I said the Pledge of Allegience to a flag of my home country. So many of these seemingly little things are a big deal to many of my students. I hope that my students appreciate the opportunities that they have to experience the kind of diversity we have at Schoo. It is truly wonderful. I am learning so much, and, for that, I am grateful.


Truly, I intended to start this blog months ago when my journey as a brand-new teacher at the brand-new Schoo Middle School began. I failed.

In a perfect world, I would journal every day and document each day of my experiences as a new teacher. We all know that this isn't a perfect world, and I know that I can not follow through with that kind of a commitment.

This is my poor attempt to recall all of the excitement/stress/nervousness that is my first year...

When I received the call in January to interview with Lincoln Public Schools, I was elated. Prior to filling out any applications, I had deemed LPS as the "Plan A." I love Lincoln, and I love even more the schools in which I have been blessed to work over the last four years, and I love most the people with whom I have worked - students, families, and staff members. The journey from that point on is a whirlwind for me.

One day, I was interviewing in the LPS District Office. A few days later, I interviewed with the administrators of Schoo Middle School. Within the next week, I had my first teaching job. Over the winter break, I had come to terms with the possibility that I wouldn't be so lucky to work in Lincoln. My "Plan B" at that point was to move to Chicago, a place where I was sure would have plenty of openings. I even kind of liked the idea of picking up everything that I had and everything that I knew and moving to a place where everything would be unfamiliar. As spontaneous (something I am NOT) as that sounds, it was a sense of relief to have a job that I felt comfortable with in a place that I couldn't wait to officially call home.


Because Schoo Middle School is new, we were blessed to be given ten days of professional development over the summer. On these days, we really got to know each other as a staff, talked about our collective vision for what Schoo Middle School would be, and begin making plans for the year.

Instantly, I could tell that our staff was going to work. We clicked. This was our school. We, together, created a vision and a mission, and we, together, would get to see it through. What a unique opportunity we had in doing so! I love everything about the ideas in which we believe... the culture of collaboration, the focus on every student as an individual, and the pursuit of improving our students' performance. While these work days were beneficial and necessary, it was hard to picture what things would be like. All this work was being done for students who we didn't yet know. All this planning being done for a building we were not yet allowed to enter.

Although I was not sure exactly what to expect, I remained focused and excited throughout the journey.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Attempted Update

Blogging is one thing that I swore I would keep up with this semester. FAIL! It is unbelievable how many things I find myself doing in a day, and blogging, unfortunately, has taken a back seat to everything else.

I feel like a lot has happened to me since I last posted. My student teaching experience is going amazingly well. I ended my first eight weeks in Language Arts, and have nothing but good things to say about my experience. I had the luxury of running the classroom independently from week two of the year; my cooperating teacher was never more than an earshot away, but she thought that I would be most successful if I had the chance to run the classroom the way I wanted to without pressure from her to do it her way. It was nice, and the students responded very well to the new ideas that I implemented in the classroom. My students were wonderful, and we had a lot of fun and did a lot of great projects!

One of the things that I loved the most were my literature circles. They were in groups of four and met twice a week. They would read a certain amount of pages out of a novel and complete two "roles," including: vocabulary enricher, artful artist, discussion director, passage picker, investigator, summarizer, connector, and literary luminary. When they met in their literature groups, they would share with the rest of the group what they had done. The kids really liked being able to discuss the parts of the book that they wanted to, and they loved being able to work in groups.

During my first eight-week placement, I had an interview with Lincoln Public Schools, and was hired to teach sixth grade at Schoo Middle School. I will be teaching Language Arts, Social Studies, and Math. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to open a new school and be a part of everything that is involved with it. I mention this job because it affected my second eight-week placement...

I was originally scheduled to spend my second eight-weeks teaching 7th grade Social Studies. Since I found out that I will be teaching sixth grade, however, my Language Arts cooperating teacher suggested that I move into the classroom of another teacher on my team who teaches social studies and math. It made perfect sense to me, but I would soon come to find out that there were many hoops to jump through to make that happen. My University Supervisor has basically neglected me (to date, I have only been observed once), so she was of little to no help in getting this to work out. I contacted Dave Van Horn, and he was supportive of the switch, but needed approval from Tom McGowan. To make a long story short, I did get the approval to stay in sixth grade on my team. Apparently, they are going to use me as a research subject, as the national trend in education colleges is to have school districts hire teachers after their junior year of college and them have them student teach in the exact school, grade level, and content area in which they have been hired to teach. I imagine that this will involve follow-up with me next year to find out what the benefits were of knowing the content and curriculum ahead of time.

My experience has been wonderful. I am working with the same teacher whom I was with during last year's practicum, so I was already familiar with her teaching style. Also, since I was able to stay on my team, I already knew all of the students, which made for a much smoother and more seamless transition. There was much sickness on my team as well, and my local substitute certificate has come in quite handy. In a very short amount of time, I used up nine of my ten sub days, but the experience (and the money!) was very nice.

So far, I think it has been a huge benefit to be able to see the sixth grade social studies and math curriculum. Additionally, I have a math intervention class every other day, which has been a valuable learning experience for me. Especially because I am not endorsed in math, I am glad that I get a refresher before I am handed the teachers' manual next year. In Social Studies, when we return from Spring Break, we will begin our unit on Latin America, which I am excited about. The kids really enjoy social studies, which makes it fun to teach.

Friday, January 30, 2009


I am writing this blog from Lux. My diff. students are blogging about their books right now, so I figured that I should get caught up on my blog as well.

This week, I have been totally independent while teaching. Most of the time, my cooperating teacher isn't with me in the room. This is allowing her some time to get some writing curriculum written for the district. The kids are responding very well to me being in charge, and they are absolutely a delight to work with! I'm feeling very comfortable with the routines in the classroom as well as my routines for getting things done at home.

We're working on a theme about ancient cultures right now, so my diff. kids are reading a novel set in 12th century Japan. We have set up literature circles, where each student has two jobs to contribute on discussion days. I am so impressed with the level at which these kids can think! They do amazing research and have very thorough analysis of the texts and very rich discussions. I am spoiled, I think. Also, we're doing research projects. They all got to choose their own topic, and we are working on note-taking right now. It is fun to see the kinds of questions the students are coming up with to investigate! I'm excited to see what the final products will be like.

Last night, I went to a class about Promethean boards and how to use them in the classroom. These boards are incredible teaching tools, and this class was very helpful! I have already signed up for the Intermediate class that will be held next month. That one is supposed to focus on integrating curriculum into the Promethean board. In addition, I signed up for a Classroom Management course that will be held on March 5th and March 12th. It is recommended for substitute teachers and new teachers, as it is full of suggestions on successfully managing a class. I think both classes will be full of very useful information.

Since having my interview with LPSDO, I have been getting many pieces of advice as I gear up to begin interviewing with building principals. These comments have been very helpful and are much appreciated. I am certainly getting attached to my students here at Lux, but I'm also excited as I begin to think about the students that will one day (sooner than later) be my own!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Teacher Work Day

Today, LPS had no school for a teacher in-service. Last Friday ended the semester, and the district gives teachers a work day to get caught up on grading. I thought that today would seem long and boring, but in fact, my day was quite full.

The administrators made breakfast for us first thing in the morning. The pancakes were delicious and were a great way to start the day! At breakfast, I ran into Marti (Christensen) Blecha, a girl I knew from my home town. She is also student teaching at Lux with the Speech-Language pathologist. That run-in was certainly unexpected!

After breakfast, we headed to an ordering meeting. My teacher and I sat down with the other 6th grade Language Arts teachers to order supplies for next year. I like office supplies, and I thought this meeting would be fun, but it was actually kind of stressful! My role was typing in item numbers on the Office Depot website and trying to find the cheapest price for the supplies the teachers needed. I learned a lot about working with limited financial resources from this meeting!

After that meeting, we headed up to the media center to do some planning with the media specialist. For the next eight weeks, my sixth graders will be working on research projects. In addition, they will be learning things like writing thesis statements, writing good paragraphs, using main ideas and supporting details, making citations, and Internet reliability. It was very tricky to make lesson plans for the next eight weeks, but it needed to be done in order to reserve the computer labs for the times we needed! I learned that reserving computers is a scheduling nightmare, and must be done very far in advance. I equate teachers signing up for computers to soccer moms on Black Friday; they elbow and shove until they get what they want, and it is kind of nuts!

After the lunch break, I spent most of my time grading theme tests and entering scores into the computer. I am actually really enjoying grading because it is giving me a better idea of the variety of abilities of my students. Also, I feel like I can kind of get to know them through their writing. The stack of papers to grade easily grows very high! I'm excited for students to come back to school tomorrow, but that stack of papers that is yet to be graded seems daunting! I have a feeling that this weekend might be the first time that I bring work home with me!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On My Own

First thing this morning, I sat in on an administrator meeting. These meetings happen once a week, and it is where an administrator from the building comes to meet with the team. Mainly, we discussed "problem" or "at-risk" students and talked about what needed to be done. Largely, these conversations resulted in making further accommodations in the classroom.

Today was also an exciting day because my cooperating teacher was gone to a conference, leaving me to teach by myself. I spent a lot of time preparing to make sure I knew what I was doing, and to my benefit, everything went very well! I felt like today was crucial for the students to finally see me as a teacher and as an authority figure in the classroom. Throughout the day, I got many questions about myself which presented me the opportunity to ask questions in return to the students. I got to know quite a few things about many of the students, which was good for me.

I was floored by the quality of discussion that I had with my first diff. block. The extent to which they analyze the texts that they read is much deeper than many college students I have had classes with. They have incredible vocabularies, and they are able to raise some very interesting points! I wish I had the opportunity to participate in a class like this when I was a sixth grader.

My second period class didn't have quite the level of discussion as first block, but they did pretty well. I would say that about 1/2 of them were actively participating the whole time. I suspect that the other 1/2 didn't get the story read. I suppose I'd better get used to that happening. Unfortunately, once they leave the classroom, I don't have any control over what they choose to do (or not to do).

All in all, I felt very comfortable being in charge today. I think that today changed the way the students perceive me for the better, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the week goes!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 2

Today was an exciting day for me because I got to teach everything all day. It went really well! I love having plan periods for the first two hours of my day because it allows me to really get my head wrapped around everything. At this point, I'm most hesitant about the extent to which I should discipline my students. Since I have only been in their classroom for two days, I don't want to seem super strict, but my cooperating teacher is encouraging me to get after them more. My morning diff. class is still very good about following the class rules, but my afternoon class today tried testing me a bit! For the most part, I was able to stifle them simply by looking at them, letting them know that I wasn't oblivious to their disruptions! My cooperating teacher has the students very well-trained; for the most part they do exactly as they are supposed to, and there are hardly any side conversations! I'm a bit surprised, because my understanding of middle school students is that they are social beings. My cooperating teacher is showing me that it is possible to keep an orderly classroom, even with sixth graders!

After school, I sat in on my first all-staff meeting, which was a great way to gain an understanding of things that are going on within the building. A teacher on my team, Mrs. Bubb, gave a presentation on how to have effective class meetings that have a purpose. So far, the sixth grade team that I am working with has had very productive meetings that have shown amazing results! At the class meetings, students were able to raise issues or concerns that they were having. Topics have included talking too much in class, bullying, and running in the hallways. Through structured discussions, the students were able to problem solve and come up with solutions. They have really taken ownership over the issues that have been raised!

Next, all of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) groups reported on what their quarterly or yearly goals are and the progress that has been or is being made. I enjoyed hearing all of the different things that different teams and disciplines are focusing on. Some of the statistics were very good and show much improvement! The team that I am working with is focusing on an increase in vocabulary skills, which is also a district goal. It is interesting to see all the ways that teachers in all subject areas are working to improve students' vocabularies. This meeting was a very good experience!

My cooperating teacher will be gone tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the students do without her in the classroom!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The First Day

The alarm went off at 5:53AM this morning, which is the earliest I have woken up in quite a while. Drew Adams is also student teaching at Lux, but his car is being fixed this week, and I volunteered to go pick him up in the mornings and take him back home in the afternoons. Unfortunately, he lives on the opposite end of town (NW 16th and Hwy 77), which makes the morning commute last nearly an hour. I can certainly sympathize with the broken car situation, but I'm definitely looking forward to next week when I can sleep in a few extra minutes.

My day went quite well! My first two periods are plan periods, which allows my cooperating teacher and I to get our ducks in a row. Every Monday, my team meets to discuss any problems they are having in their classrooms and to talk about possible solutions. Today, we discussed a few students who are in the at-level classrooms who they think need to be re-tested to see if they could qualify for placement in the gifted class. Conversely, there are also some students in the diff. classes that they think may need to be bumped back down to the at-level class. This was a very interesting discussion to sit in on! Also during this time, I was trained on the very high-tech copy machine (referred to as the MFD), which I have already become very familiar with!

After the two planning periods, I had the differentiated Language Arts block, which lasts for two hours. They are a great group of kids! My cooperating teacher is able to do some really cool projects with them because we are able to go through the concepts very quickly.

Next, I had the two-hour block of at-level Language Arts, which is broken up by lunch. I ate lunch with the teachers on my team, which was also very fun! One teacher brought us peanut butter cupcakes and another teacher brought us chocolate chip cookies! Both were delicious! This class was somewhat rowdy this afternoon. My hunch is that they were eager to get outside to play in the snow. That was all they seemed to be able to talk about!

After school, I stayed until 4:00 (an extra 45 minutes) to get things ready for tomorrow. I will be teaching everything for the entire day, which makes me feel nervous and excited at the same time! My cooperating teacher said that she had planned to throw me right in, and she certainly wasn't kidding! It will be interesting to see how tomorrow the end of the day, I get to sit in on my first all-staff meeting, which I'm also very excited to see!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Meetings

Yesterday, I went to Lux to meet with my cooperating teachers. I'll be working with Mrs. Janike's 7th Grade Social Studies class and Mrs. Ringenberg's 6th Grade Language Arts class.

For the first eight weeks, I'll be with Mrs. Ringenberg's class. She told me that she basically plans on throwing me into everything, and I'll be teaching right away. Among the many things she has planned for me, I will be in charge of giving and grading the theme tests. My day is very well-laid out. My first two periods are plan periods. Then, I have a two-hour block with 24 differentiated students. After lunch, I have a two-hour block with 32 at-level students. I think it will be nice to have such a small number of students to get to know. Two classes seems very manageable! One project that I am very excited about is having my students be online pen pals with Rachel Fehring's Japanese students. Mrs. Ringenberg will be setting up a blog for the students to use, and I am excited to see how this goes! Lux has a close relationship with Senshu Matsudo Junior High in Japan, and as eighth graders, students have the opportunity to do a student exchange with them. Having these Japanese pen pals will be a great way to get the students thinking about the exchange program!

For the second eight weeks, I'll be with Mrs. Janike's class. She has a very set routine established in her room, so I will be observing her classroom for the first week or so. Once I begin, though, she said she is leaving everything up to me. Among the things I will be teaching are: Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Russia. This makes me nervous, because I haven't really studied much about any of those places. I plan to use up much of my weekend time studying up on the history of these places! In her classroom, I will teach five sections, including one differentiated section. From the sounds of it, this differentiated class is structured much like many of my college classes! It will be interesting to see how the students do. As a part of the unit, we will be having Greek Olympics, which also sounds like a lot of fun!

Both classrooms have a SMART board, so I'm excited to have the opportunity to teach using that technology! It is relatively new for me, but hopefully I'll be able to figure out how to work it! Mrs. Ringenberg has developed several lessons on the SMART board, so I'm hoping she'll share some of them with me! Overall, it sounds like student teaching is going to keep me VERY busy, but I'm excited to dive in and get started!