Monday, May 2, 2011

The Home Stretch Reflection

For the next five minutes, you need to sit down, be quiet and read. You won’t have to read for long because in this reflection I will not be listing the new tricks I have learned to keep kids quiet or explaining how to skirt around the tough questions. Instead, I am going to share a brief synopsis of how my perspective has shifted from wanting to change lives to knowing how I will measure my success as a result of participating in my field experience with Ms. Ansliegh Answers at Saint Elmo Elementary.
Before participating at Saint Elmo, I spent a considerable amount of time in two other fourth grade classrooms at Forrest Hill Elementary and Elberta Middle School. Although these classes were different in regards to geography, race, and socioeconomics, they all led me to one question: how does respect effect the climate of the classroom? Every teacher has a different gauge for the respect that they demand and a different mode of demanding it. By comparing my own teacher workshop behavior with the students’ classroom behavior, I have learned that the only difference is that when adults talk out of turn, no one gets yelled at. This semester, I practiced giving my students the respect they deserve by rewarding them with small song and chit-chat moments, talking to them one-to-one about better decision making, and praising them publicly as an example for their classmates.
I quickly learned that respect isn’t enough, and it certainly is not lasting if it is not paired with confidence. Learning how to teach confidence was a painful process for me. I was developing elaborate lesson plans that were meant to generate new ideas, convey new knowledge, and inter-connect the subject matter. I learned quickly that complex lessons are actually thematic units, and they should be taught in digestible blocks. My pace was fast and defeating-- for them and me. Since then, I have learned a few techniques to help build confidence. Sometimes all it takes is passing out tests one page at a time, sometimes it means using three periods to cover the complex lesson, and other times it just comes down to assessing what the student struggles with and helping them to improve one aspect of their learning at a time.
My last lesson is the one I have yet to find a solution to, but believe to be the most significant. How does one teach another to love? Day in and day out, I witness racism, name-calling, as well as physical and verbal aggressions. How can we teach these kids the power behind their words and actions? How do we transform this ugliness into colorblind relationships, supportive comments, positive laughter, and pats-on-the-back? I am not expecting a perfect classroom, but I do want to know how to shape my own class experience into one that takes advantage of opportunities to learn and practice love.
These three lessons: respect, confidence, and love are the ones that I believe will ensure a strong foundation for academic excellence. This semester has been a good start, but my learning journey is by no means over. I plan to continue seeking out other model educators who share and practice the values I believe in, implementing strategies to improve my weaknesses, and remembering that mistakes are opportunities for growth. No matter how many standardized tests my students ace or how many science experiments go awry, I will measure my success at the end of each day by asking myself, Do my students know more about respect, confidence, and love for themselves and those around them than they did yesterday?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Response to Shaun Johnson of the Huffington Post

I read this post, about Teach for America in contrast to "Run of the Mill" educators as a result of @wmchamberlain tweeting his response. My comments about it are below. Please read the article and tell me what you think-- especially if you are a corps member, have ever been one, or hope to be one.

What is the purpose of this article? I don't mean to be rude, but I think that in order for me to understand why this is written, I need to read the specific "prevailin g educationa l reforms" you cited in your first line.

Without that first line, it sounds like this is intended to gain sympathy for "run of the mill" educators by criticizing the obviously effective work of TFA educators ( I don't mean to say that all "run of the mill" educators are ineffective. In fact, I am just now doing my teaching service hours now, and I hope to become an effective teacher "the old fashion way", but I do think that if our universities had the admissions criteria (or anything close to it) that TFA has, our education system would be in a better place before the "briefer trainings in pedagogy" even began.

I have read your pulled quotes several times now, and the first one (about the revolving door) is the only one that carries any water.

Higher degrees mean more training-- everything after "higher degrees" is a fallacy.

Expensive colleges mean more competitive admissions criteria (ideally). AND you only teach a group of students for one year. The idea that you can't make an enormous difference in that year is demeaning to our entire profession.

The last quote is just embarrassing. If we are trying to rally more support and positive opinion about our profession, why would we launch attacks at another branch of it, especially when the branch that we are attacking are leaving measurable tracks of success.

Finally, I want to address your closing statement:

"I won't join in valorizing corps members at the expense of dedicated educators who plan to make a career out of teaching."

Why is "valorizing" TFA in conflict with "run of the mill" educators?

Shaun Johnson's response:

"You are delusional if you believe that TFA candidates are not exempt from scrutiny in many cases. Additional ly, even though my last quote is sort of tongue in cheek, my students have every right to be outraged. They are working their tails off now, who may be one day teaching shoulder to shoulder with those who received training in a summer workshop."

My response:

I am not arguing that TFA candidates are able to side step criticism, I am arguing that they are not doing it magically. I mean to say that they are escaping scrutiny because they are effective. They deserve the recognition they receive. I don't think we are doing our profession a service by slamming one field of educators just because no one else seems to be doing so. Why aren't we helping to shine the spotlight on others' successes and learn from them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

We've built friendly UFO's

"It's not an alien invasion. They're not coming from Mars to displace us. We're creating them to make ourselves smarter."

"Yes the computer may be able to defeat the humans in this game, as long as you don't have to explain the answer given. The computer does not understand why it answered the question the way it did." Comment on the video thread from Hollycow. I think this comment is what makes us superior to our creations. We are the creative powers, we elect what to build, to change, to eliminate. Those who fear the computer invasion are those who have limited the value of creativity. These people are everywhere. They are controlling our school systems, our government, and our media.

Today, I attended a workshop about the TALENTS teaching method. The main prompts they encourage us [upcoming teachers] to use is "many varied, different, and unusual (but not gross) ideas" regarding student production. Finally, our school systems are sharing the tools to fight the corruption of uniformity. For a while-- it took over everything, from our cafeteria food choices, to kids clothes, to worksheets, and so on... But now we as educators can encourage each other to promote unique, original, and purposeful ideas.

Let's use the tools that we have created to help us correct our derailed system of learning-- let us use computers and other technologies to inspire and equip our students with ideas that will help bring peace, productivity and advancement to our communities.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dancing and Singing Club

Today as I walked between the rows of my students' desks while they were working, I noticed Vaunia writing names down in a column titled, "Club Members". Vaunia is a 10 year old early bloomer. She is smart, obedient, and most noticeably, she is about a head taller than all of her peers. Vaunia is always doodling, reading goosebumps, and waving her hand in the air with an answer ready to be spewed. Unfortunately, because of her natural leader tendency and her size difference, every behavior mishap is overt. So I saw this as a golden opportunity to groom her leadership skills-- I didn't know what I was signing up for. When the students were finished with their assignment, I stuck a post-it note on her desk with a few questions about the purpose of their club. I told her to be ready to answer my questions by lunch. She was more than willing.

At lunch today, Vaunia and a group of about 6 other girls eagerly shared every aspiration they had for their, "Singing and Dancing Club". A few of them said they joined because they are preparing for American Idol. Others just liked being able to sing and dance when they had free play during P.E.

They must have seen my wheels turning because before I could ask them how they could develop their club more (and provide more opportunity for Vauni to become the leader she is bred to be), Jamie asked, "Mr. Capps, will you help us make a video singing and dancing like the one you made with Malaysia?"

And so it continues...

Now I have to wheel and deal with Ms. P to let me steal these kids for 30 minutes each Friday for rehearsals. The first thing on the agenda is showing them PS22 Choir. This is just one of many seeds I intend to plant to motivate MCPSS to allow us to publish these kids to the web and grant them the recognition they deserve.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Special Recognition

This semester, I have decided to highlight a new EDM310 student blog each week. I believe it is time to really start encouraging y'all to make this learning experience YOURS by personalizing your journey and contributing to all of ours in the same stroke.

This week, I want to give a special thank you to Brandon M. Caten for his investment into his blog. I have learned so much about a wide variety of things. Not only has he shared meaningful responses to the required posts, but he has also exposed his online audience to themes of equality, political engagement, and student life involvement around campus.

It's only week three of school, and Brandon bravely posted a video testimony of a high school student's powerful coming out experience to his blog for all of us to witness the power of one young person's voice. It has inspired me because I too just recently came out online in conjunction with the "It Get's Better" movement for struggling gay teens. This young lady displayed a courage unmatched by most. Please take the time to view and share her pivotal moment of empowerment by clicking here.

Brandon's contribution to the EDM310 experience didn't stop there. He has also posted a call to action in support of the National Endowment of the Arts legislation that is currently running its course through congress. As future educators should recognize the power of the arts in their ability to help us appreciate talent, unite communities, and promote individual expression. We should also realize that testing has all but completely pushed aside arts in the school systems. In Mobile County, students get to participate in art class 5 times a year, and music only five times as well. That is roughly once a month for half a year each. How is this enough to teach our kids the significance of art in our lives as adults? What kind of framework are we building if students think that cramming for tests 90 percent of the time is more important than self discovery and expression through the arts? If we can't enjoy arts in the schools, take up Brandon's call to action and spend 3 minutes filling out this electronic form to let your voice be heard by our legislators. For the survival of creativity, click here to participate.

Just when you thought this future music teacher and life-changer, Brandon, couldn't possibly have time to add one more thing to our learning experience in a week, HE DID! Brandon found a way for you to enjoy yourself locally and simultaneously support our Jaguar Talents by attending the show choir performance (which Brandon is responsible for founding and directing) on Monday, February 7 at 7:00 pm. See his page for me details by clicking here.

Once again, thank you Brandon for all the time that you have invested into your own, and our educational experience. I look forward to seeing more great work from you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Effective and Ineffective Elementary Teachers

Thank you Jamie Lynn and Corey for the interview, and Dr. Giles for the topic.