Walking in Freedom

Miscellaneous musings along the way

Raspberries, Rationals and Rap September 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 6:57 pm

I continue to be amazed at how little exposure my students have to common experiences.  Every morning students are provided with a fruit or vegetable (strawberries, apples, carrots with ranch, etc.)  The fruit for today was raspberries- a pretty common fruit, right?  My students examined the berries closely commenting on the “hair” on them.  I explained that that’s just how they are- similar to how peaches have “hair.”  Then students commented on the sour taste.  No, the berries weren’t very ripe, but this was all a very new experience for them.  Who knew eating raspberries could be so notable?!

This week I’ve begun teaching about rational and irrational numbers.  Overall Monday was a little rough with regards to student behavior.  Students were coming back from a 3 day weekend (we had a professional development day last Friday) so that probably didn’t help.  My “R boys” group was particularly bad.  So yesterday, we discussed what I should do differently to make class go better.  (Their first suggestion was for me to give them candy- haha!  but they had some other good thoughts.)  I also had them tell me what they could do to make class better.  Overall they were a lot more attentive.  I checked their binders later and most of them had copied all of the notes about rational and irrational numbers.  Today we did some practice with these concepts as a class.  Once again my “R boys” did well.  Let’s hope they keep this up.  The biggest thing that I’ve learned that I can do to manage the class is to make sure I don’t present any content that is too challenging.  Yes, the students need to be pushed, but it’s crucial that I meet them where they are, or else they’ll just give up and shut down because “I can’t do this!”

On the way home from a “new to CPS” teacher meeting, I was listening to “my” new Flame CD (Christian rap CD that I got from the library today- I love the library!! 🙂 )  I was stopped at a light with my window down getting into the song “We Need You.”  I glance at the SUV sitting next to me at the light and there’s this 25 year old guy looking out his window smiling and bobbing his head to my music.  I just laugh and keep enjoying my music.  haha!  Being in the inner city really does make me want to listen to rap music more! 😛


Open House September 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 10:33 pm

After school today from 3-5 pm, we had our open house.  It was quite different from the open houses that I had at my middle and high school.  Back home, my parents would follow my schedule and parents would herd through the halls to meet each teacher.  Today, the teachers worked in their rooms and spoke with parents as they came in to see how their child was doing.  Out of my 50 or so 7th and 8th graders, probably about 15 had someone come (a mom, dad, older sister, grandma)- that’s approximately 30% (we’ve been working with percents so much, I couldn’t help but calculate it! :-P)  It was great to speak with the parents a bit to help me understand a little bit more about where these kids are coming from.

Not surprisingly, for the parents who showed up, I didn’t really have anything negative to say about their child.  The fact that the parent (or relative) showed up to meet their child’s teachers demonstrates that they value their child’s education.  Knowing that many of my students are not getting much needed suppot at home, both academically and emotionally, both frustrates me and makes me feel helpless… to a certain degree.  Yes, I am in a position to impact the lives of these kids and I pray that God would utilize every gift he has given me.  But at the same time, no matter what I say to these children, I can’t change the homes that they walk home to everyday.  Only God has the power to change such deeply rooted injustices.

What was Robbie’s dad up to this afternoon?  Where was Sidney’s mom today?  What about Bo’s parents?  Since for whatever reason these parents have not stepped up, I guess I’ll do what I can.  I’ll step up and speak life into these kids.  These kids have been cursed by teachers, relatives, peers– but I cannot and will not join these voices.  I’m eager to bless these children and speak truth and hope into their lives!  And it has been kind of weird- they almost seem surprised when I tell them I like them.  But I’m not putting up a front or lying through my teeth (if you know me at all, you know I’m a terrible liar!).  I genuinely enjoy working with them.  They make me laugh.  They frustrate me on occasion.  But most importantly, they make me come alive! 🙂 This is what God created me to do.  This is who he created me to be!

How I got from open house to that, I don’t really know, but there you have it, folks!


Flying Solo September 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 1:13 pm

For the past two weeks, I’ve been responsible for pretty much all aspects of teaching- picking the kids up from specials (music, art, gym, etc.), writing all the lesson plans, teaching 4 classes each day, assigning and checking homework, creating and grading quizzes.  It has been going very well.  The students are really starting to get used to me teaching and being the main teacher that is in the room with them at all times.  (Sometimes my teacher will take small groups out for enrichment or remedial work, so it is not uncommon for me to be in the classroom by myself with the students.)

On Thursday, however, my teacher had an obligation outside of the classroom- so I was flying solo all day.  One of the building subs was in my room all day, but his activities consisted of texting, checking his email and sitting in the back of the classroom.  Also a guy who is in my classroom 2.5 days each week and serves as an aide was in there.  Things went quite smoothly since the students are used to having me teach.  There were a few comments about where my cooperating teacher was, but nothing that threw us off our routine.

While I was talking with the aide, who has seen me teach quite a bit, he commented that I am more firm with the students than my cooperating teacher and that they seem to respond to that and behave appropriately (for the most part).  To be honest, I was pleased to hear this because at times I feel like I might be too nice or relaxed with my students, especially my girls classes.  It’s really important for me to set clear expectations firmly and fairly, while also building relationships with my students.  Everyday I realize again that this will be a process, but we’re all moving in the right direction.

To facilitate communication with my students and to let them know that I really care about what they have to say, I will have a “talk box” in my classroom.  In this box, students can write little notes to me if there’s something they want me to know about- something going on at home, drama with friends (or enemies) at school, a question they have, etc.  I’ll read their notes and write a brief response to their note.  I got this idea from a 3rd grade teacher during our Professional Development Day yesterday.  I think this will be a great outlet for students and provide an opportunity for me to give them some much needed attention without having to stop instruction.  We’ll see how this works- it’s definitely worth a try! 🙂


Robbie September 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 7:41 pm

I wrote this at journaling this week.  It represents the unspoken voice of the children I’ve met down here- both the little neighbor kids and my middle schoolers.  “Robbie” is one student in particular who is starved for attention!

“Look at me!  Pay attention to me.  Listen to me as I teach you a game.  Listen to me when I say your name.

“Now you’re closer, but I want your eyes on me.  If you listen, I’ll tell you what I want to be.  I’ll ask you a question and wait for your word.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m even heard.

“So I may twist the truth and begin to tell lies, hoping you don’t see past my disguise.  I’ll do whatever it takes for you to hear because being alone and neglected is my biggest fear.

“And if you don’t notice me doing as I should, it won’t be long til I’m up to no good.  Even negative attention is attention, you see- but what I want most is to be loved because I’m me.”

I enjoy reading your comments- and please let me know if there’s something you want me to write about or if you have any questions about my experience down here! 🙂  Thanks for reading!


Pierce the darkness September 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 10:09 pm

So, in my last post I mentioned something about the students starting to warm up to me.  Well, I had no idea how true that statement was until last Friday and again today.

I’m working at a K-8 school and the 7th and 8th graders are dismissed 10 minutes before the rest of the students to make things slightly less chaotic.  Everyday I walk out and make sure my students head home right away (you would think they’d be eager to leave, but you’d be surprised at how much prodding they need!).  Last Friday I was standing on the sidewalk watching the students walk home when Greg approached me.  Now you have to understand that Greg is one of my quietest students- very bright and doesn’t get into trouble.  With his arm on my shoulder he told me that he had been talking to “the ladies,” but preferred talking with “the older ladies.”  Greg followed that up by asking for my phone number, telling me he would wait until I gave it to him.  I told him I was WAY too old for him (he even lied and said he was 15- he’s 13)!  But he couldn’t leave it at that- he asked if I would give him my phone number if he were my age (all of this while grinning the typical Greg grin).  I declined to answer his question so Greg responded by saying, “So you’re saying I’m ugly?”  At this point I guess he decided his antics for the day were done and he proceeded to walk home.  hahahaha!!  When I told my teachers, they could not believe that Greg, of all students would do this.  We shared plenty of laughs! 🙂

And then today, I was having a 5 minute chat with one of my girls’ groups before we delved into the warm up.  We were talking about birthdays and two of my girls were already making plans for their birthday party in February!!  I jokingly asked if I was invited and they said “yes.”  Maybe I’ll be headed down here to visit then- haha!

It’s these little moments that I hold onto.  I’m not looking for huge breakthroughs; I’m looking for little beams of light piercing the darkness.  It is these little rays of light, these blessings from God, that give me reason to rejoice and praise the God who is orchestrating all of this! 🙂


Little Talks September 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 10:37 pm

I love teaching!  This week, I have taught all four classes each day!  Tomorrow the sex ed guy will be in our room, so there won’t be any math instruction.  Overall, teaching has gone well and I really enjoy working with these students.  As we get to know each other, they are more willing to participate and learn in class.  It’s so great to see their enthusiasm to come up to the board to write the answer to one of the warm up problems.  There are always plenty of volunteers.  And while my cooperating teacher gives the kids candy frequently, today was the first day I opened my bag of tropical starburst to give to the students who did a warm up problem on the board.  I really want to take the focus away from tangible incentives and help the students learn how to celebrate a job well done (without candy!) :-P.

In addition to teaching, I’ve had several “little talks” with some of my students.  On Monday, I talked with Daniel about earning the privilege of playing basketball on the school’s team.  He had skipped class that day, so he was not allowed to stay after school for practice.  I asked him what he had to do to earn the privilege of playing ball.  With just a little probing, he told me that he had to listen to adults and respect them, show up to class and do his schoolwork.  This brief conversation was a good reminder that these kids pretty much know what they need to do, they just need a ton of encouragement (role models would be good too!) to do the right thing.  That’s on of the reasons that I’m really not a fan of yelling… it’s not like they don’t know they need to be quiet…

I had another little talk with Tiara.  She had just come into my room and her body language told me she had no intentions of starting the warm up anytime soon, if at all.  There had been some drama the previous day or so between her and another girl who had talked of fighting.  I came close to Tiara’s desk and spoke softly.  I asked if she was ready to start her warm up.  With arms crossed and a huge frown on her face, she shook her head without saying a word.  I asked if there was anything she wanted to tell me because it looked like she was upset.  Same response- silent, subtle head shake.  I followed this by saying that maybe there were some things you would want to talk with me about later.  Still a non-verbal reply- but this time it was a nod (yes).  I’ll take it!!

There have been so many of these little talks- some with individuals some with the entire class (about how I was really quiet and kind of a nerd in high school! :-P)  This is why I’m here.  This is why I want to be a teacher.  Yes, math is important… but it is definitely not all these kids need!  And although I feel like the kids are really starting to warm up to me, I’m realizing that building trust with each other will be a process.  I know I can be trusted, but the kids need to see that in my actions and hear that in my words.  This process may be frustratingly slow at times, but I know it will be worth it.  If one life is changed for the better because I’m here, I’ve done my job! 🙂


Belonging Precedes Learning September 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — songofjoy88 @ 2:15 pm

The separate boy and girl classes are working well, so we will be keeping things this way at least for the time being.  Also, the classes are smaller now too, so that is a plus.  We’ve moved the students around a little for this next week and are hoping things will be even better.

This weekend I’ll be working on my lesson plans for next week (at least mapping out what I need to cover).  The students recently had a quiz on ratios and proportions and are currently working on fractions, decimals and percents and the necessary conversions between these.  We’ll be finishing up an Alphabits (cereal) activity next week where the students figured out the percent of each letter that was in the cereal box.  Also, we’ll work on a teacher directed activity where everyone will be shading specified percents in 10 x 10 grids.  So far, the students have done well with lessons in which they follow along with what the teacher is doing on the document camera.  It keeps them busy and focused on the lesson.  This coming week I’m also planning to do some things with the boys groups relating to sports statistics (shooting percentage, batting average, etc.).

But, good lesson plans do not guarantee that students will learn.  In order for students to learn new material, it is essential that they feel comfortable enough to take risks.  Students need to have a sense of belonging in the classroom whether they give the right or wrong answer.  To build a comfortable classroom community, I have some ideas that I am eager to implement.

First, I want to create classroom jobs for which students can apply.  They will be simple things like distributing and collecting the pencils, organizing the bookshelf/floor space in the back of the room, decorating a bulletin board, etc.  Students have been very eager to help out in the classroom, so these jobs will be a reward for students who have done well in math class and have good attendance.  These jobs will help students gain a sense of ownership and importance in the classroom.

In addition to classroom jobs, I want to play some class games to establish the classroom as a safe place for students to learn, interact with each other and have some fun.  Some non-math related games are the ninja game and the hand-tap game.  Classes are 65 minutes this coming week, so we should have time for an engaging lesson with some time for a game at the end.  I aim to do these things with my students because of my belief that belonging precedes learning.