Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher – My Interview with a Student Teacher

Lilly Hasenkopf is a student teacher of elementary education at the University of Alabama. We recently sat down and talked about her thoughts and feelings about the profession as part of the series Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher? here on educationrickshaw.com 
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Lilly Hasenkopf, 21

Hi Lilly! Thanks for letting me interview you. Let’s start by talking about how your experience in education been so far. Tell me all about your program, and what you’ve been doing.

I’m going into my senior year of college at Alabama. My junior year last year, we entered block one and block two, which is our first introduction to teaching. In block one, which is in the fall, I was in a preschool classroom twice a week. I had two case study students that I would work with and monitor their physical and cognitive growth, and just how they grew over the course of one semester. This was the preschool class, but I also did a reading class, where I would go to a different school and work one-on-one with a student. We gave them a pre-test and then we created our own activities. We tested the results of the activity with a post-test.
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I also took a music class, which was interesting. It started out with us just teaching music, but at the end we were teaching an academic subject through music. It helped us see how we can use physical activities like art and music to make the content more engaging for students. In Spring semester, that is when I really got to experience the classroom. We were assigned a class, and I was assigned a kindergarten classroom. Instead of just focusing on two students, we were focused on observing an entire class. We weren’t teaching it, but we were watching another teacher teach. Sometimes the teacher would exit for a bit, and I would have the kids for an hour, or I would take them to music, art, and PE. These little things were a nice experience, and helped me to learn how to teach the correct behaviors.

Have you enjoyed your experience so far with the students?

I have! I really enjoyed getting to know the students. My program has emphasized forming bonds and relationships with each individual student, and at first that really made me nervous. But by the end of the semester, I really knew the kids in my class, how they need to be redirected, where they struggled and where they’re strong. I learned that the behaviors that you have in your classroom, they need to be taught. Since this wasn’t my classroom, I had a bit of a different idea of how to do this. My cooperating teacher didn’t really have them do group work, so for one of my assignments I had the students work together in groups to put together one picture. It would get loud and a few kids got pretty upset, so halfway through we paused and broke down what was happening. We talked about how you can work together and communicate, and it doesn’t have to be your way all the time. I thought this was very important. You have to be able to work with others in the future, and since it was a new activity for them, it was harder and a bit louder, but I think it did teach them something new. If I had been able to start doing lessons like that back in August, they would know how to do these things by May.

What challenges have you faced so far?

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Well, with kindergarteners I learned that teaching has to be fast paced and very engaging to keep them paying attention. I’ve seen that some teachers have wanted the students to sit a lot and pay attention. I think moving shouldn’t always require a punishment; they’re still young and need to move! When I have my own classroom I will make it so that the students are sitting still for shorter increments for certain activities.

Was there a particular moment that you’d like to share where you felt successful?

We did a case study where we had to see the growth of a student over the course of a semester. I liked that because I picked a student who is new to this classroom, and seemed to be getting into a lot of trouble. When I would work with him, he would do really well, and I realized he just likes to talk about himself. He would always get so excited about getting together with me to doing our planned activities, and I think that helped him. I made it so that he experienced something different during the days that he was with me.

Finally, I want to ask you the question that inspired this series. Why did you want to become a teacher?

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I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was little. I would play school in my room for hours. I think part of the reason that it stayed with me is because of my teachers. Some of my teachers had a huge impact on my life. Helping me grow and become who I am. I want to do that for students. Students come to school for 7 hours a day just with one person. and that is a huge part of their life. A lot of kids don’t have the role model that I had from my parents and teachers. Just not to be the teacher that just gives out assignments, but a person that you can come to build their character and to be successful in the future. Even if you have that at home, it helps to have someone in elsewhere in your life that helps you to share your ideas and respects you and tells you that you can do what you think you can do. You can be successful.
Another reason is that I love helping people. When something finally clicks in someone’s brain, and seeing them get excited about it. When they get excited, I get excited, and it’s just fun. My mom is a teacher, and when I was in middle school and high school, I would go to work with her some days just to help around the classroom. I really liked that. I would rather go to work with her some days then go to school myself. It was more when I didn’t really like my teacher, I would go to work with her more. I didn’t just skip! But I really liked going down there to help her out.
When I tell people I am going to be a teacher, a lot of people are like “why would you do that?”

haha, I’ve heard that one before.

Some say it because of the low pay, or some say it because it’s just challenging with the kids. But I like challenges, and I feel like teaching is a rewarding challenge, not a punishment challenge where you’re being forced to do something and there is no positivity in it. But there’s a ton of positivity in teaching, through the kids. Really, honestly, I want to be a teacher for the kids.

Thank you for visiting educationrickshaw.com, and feel free to comment below on the titular question. Why did you become a teacher? What have your experiences been like so far? We love to hear your thoughts, and will always try to respond to your comments. 

Part of the series, Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher?

Teacher Gets Through Week of Fidget Spinners Alive

Last week, the writers here at educationrickshaw.com took our school’s swim team to Dubai to compete in a meet with over 800 participants. One of the highlights of the trip (for the kids) has been the visit to the Dubai mall, famous for the Burj Khalifa and its indoor aquarium. Many of the students that attended the meet were from my Year 5 class, and they had told me in the lead-up to the meet that they would all be purchasing fidget spinners, as these are not available yet in Sudan.

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Not only did my kids buy a fidget spinner each, but they made sure to buy a supply of fidget spinners and fidget cubes for the whole year level, and all of their siblings. The fidget phenomenon has officially reached Khartoum.

Now, I feel that I am a pretty patient and tolerant teacher when it comes to students bringing things to school. I hated it when my teachers took my Pokemon cards that I had saved up for and carefully guarded in plastic sleeve protectors. I never wanted to become the teacher that took away toys simply because they distracted ME. Then came these freaking fidget spinners. Really quickly, let me tell you how the first week went with these things.

Every few seconds they fly out of kids’ hands.

The addictive quality of these spinners is that they have the potential to deliver a satisfying spin between your index and forefingers. There is a bit of a risk though; they tend to fly out between a child’s clumsy grip just at the climax of a lesson sequence. Exactly when an “aha!” moment is about to occur, a pesky spinner will fly into the corner of the room, prompting the whole class to turn their heads towards the guilty butterfingers who did it.

They’re not great when you need kids to use their hands

Any time a student is using their iPad, writing with a pencil, or reading a book, these spinners get in the way. It is fun to watch a kid try to keep open a stiffly bound novel with one forearm and their chin as they try to spin a fidget spinner on their thumb, but only if you don’t care about that child’s reading goals. I’ve heard the crack of far too many spinners whacking against the screens of my students’ iPads as well, which goes to show that there may still be things out there more impressive to children than technology.

Even though they can be annoying, they are kind of cool. .

I’m not going to lie. . it is fun to spin a spinner on your fingers, or even on your nose. They fit perfectly in your pocket, and they really don’t do much more damage than a cup and a ball would in a classroom setting. The multitude of colors, styles and types of these fidget devices makes them fun to collect and pass around, and it really made mark on our Dubai trip.

I, myself, am a very fidgety fella, so I was initially curious if somehow these toys could cure my constant need to fuss and fidget. Needless to say, I think I’ll be sticking to flipping pens and markers until this fad dies down. .

Have fidget spinners reached your classroom? How have they impacted learning? Please comment below, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

How Teachers Can Prioritize Building Confidence and Risk-Taking

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Growing up, I was painfully shy. If I ever dared to raise my hand (or got called on without doing so) all of the other students would immediately ask me, “Why is your face so red?” This created a vicious cycle of not wanting to raise my hand because I didn’t want my face to turn red, to loosing confidence because I didn’t have practice speaking up, to turning even more red when I was called on, and so on and so forth.

All of my conferences from elementary through high school were pretty much the same. “Stephanie is always listening, always does her work carefully and on time, but she needs to participate.” Or “I know Stephanie has great ideas in her head, why won’t she share them?”

And (no surprise) although I was slightly better in university, I still rarely shared my thoughts when I wasn’t forced to. As an adult, I am much less withdrawn, but still wonder at my seven-year-old students’ confidence in trying out new ideas, failing, and putting themselves right back out there.

How is it that my school builds confidence so well?

I was chatting with a parent earlier this week who was like me as a student. She is both shocked and incredibly pleased to see her son initiating projects and answering questions in assemblies in front of the entire school. The confidence that our students have is not only going to help them in the future, but makes it so that their self-esteem is through the roof.

Here are the things our school does really well that I think all schools should do (when possible).

1. Have small class sizes

Our school caps classes at 20 students. This not only allows teachers to get more time with each student, but it gives students more opportunities to speak, share, and lead their class members. Allowing students to have so many opportunities to put themselves out there makes it so that what would have petrified me as a child becomes completely normal.

In my class, a math leader leads the rest of the students in correcting the problem of the day every morning. With my tiny class of 12 students, each one gets to be the teacher and call on their peers twice a month. At the beginning of the year, I had a few who were still quite shy, but now they all absolutely love taking the lead!

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2. Give students leadership opportunities

In addition to opportunities for students to be the teacher, our school puts an emphasis on allowing students to take ownership of their learning through

  • group projects and presentations
  • sharing learning by inviting other classes/parents to come see a project they’ve done
  • having classes lead every assembly

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3. Praise students for confidence and risk-taking

One of my favorite parts of the PYP curriculum is the PYP Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile, which are presented to the students as important parts of what makes a good student. One of the PYP Attitudes is “confidence” and one of the IB Learner Profile traits is being a “risk-taker.”

Everyone in the school, then, uses these two words as positive goals to work toward. In fact, when a student shows hesitation to try something new, you’ll hear their friends say, “Just try it! Be a risk-taker.” Or “Be confident, you can do it!”

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Although obviously I have no way of knowing what kind of a student I would have been had I attended a school that prioritized confidence as much as the one I teach at today, I can see the amazing benefits of it in all of my students and hope to see more schools do exactly this.

How do you build confidence in your students? Please share below!

By @SGroshell

How to Set Up a Week of Free Inquiry for Anywhere, Anytime Learning

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When I was just a first year teacher, I placed a lot of value on my ability to control student behaviors. While students were quiet and well-behaved to the passing observer, I could sense that I was not facilitating the kind of learning experiences that I wanted from my teachers during my own education. The relationship between the teacher, the students, and the learning was traditional and strained, and everyday felt like a battle for points and rewards. I felt like I was part drill sergeant, part cheerleader, part disciplinarian, but not at all a teacher.

As my teaching became more and more inquiry based, and more and more student-focused instead of teacher-driven, I began to see that the increased trust that I had for my students did not result in a dramatic increase in unwanted behaviors. In fact, quite the opposite. This year, for the first time, I felt that I had finally built up the structure necessary to facilitate a Week of Free Inquiry, aka a Week Without Walls, or, as my students put it, “College”. For the first time in my career, I had to give up control of movement and control of content as students pursued their own interests wherever and whenever they wanted. Here’s how I did it:

Related: 5 Ways to Give Your Class Back to Your Students

I Organized a Legit Online Learning Environment

When I say legit, I mean legit. There’s no way that you are going to get students to perform at the highest levels in a wall-less physical environment without a dynamic and organized online environment. When my students started the week, they knew how to contact me (e-mail, instant messaging, commenting on assignments) and they knew where and when to find me (in the cafeteria, by online appointment). For weeks I had to build up a wealth of knowledge and skill surrounding the apps on their devices, and I had to foster IT-specific problem-solving skills so that students were able to figure out their IT issues on their own.

I am sure that any robust LMS could be used for a project like this, but I used my class Moodle page (See Moodle in elementary), and students were working on their own school issued iPad throughout the week. Assignments were turned in for review onto their online portfolio (we use Seesaw) and students had their own e-mail addresses. I wish that I had added instant messaging, like WhatsApp or something, to their iPads before the week began, but we communicated fine with just e-mail, Seesaw (see Using Seesaw to Teach Social Media), and the class chat activity on Moodle.

Students Put Together a Game Plan

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As the above sketchnote by @trev_mackenzie suggests, there is indeed a lot of autonomy and independence that comes from true free inquiry. However, even in the illustration we see that there isn’t total, complete freedom. To continue with the pool analogy, the above students may have increased freedom of movement, but they do have to remain in the pool at all times; they are not free to leave the complex without permission. Similarly, they are not allowed to make choices that put others’ safety at risk, or ruin the experience for themselves or others. At all times there is a “guide on the side”, but this guide is much more hands-off than during Guided Inquiry.

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To structure the inquiry I used both of these sketchnotes by @trev_mackenzie. The goal setting (#4) and the calendar (#6) were particularly important in organizing the project.

As students neared their final days of preparation, I had a litany of questions from students to go through, but the main question that kept coming up from my 10 year olds was: Can we do whatever we want? 

I tried to answer this question about the same way every time: This school is a learning space. You can learn whatever you want, however you want, and with whom you want, but you may not choose NO learning. You may take a break whenever you want, but in the end, this project is all about what we can accomplish in one week when we put our minds to it. I think you’ll realize quickly that you’ll need and want every minute that you are given during this special week. 

I Started the Year with a Plan for Gradual Release of Responsibility

There’s no way that a form of learning like this can be possible the first day of school. There are a lot of discussions, mini-lessons and student reflections about how we learn that must take place before a class is ready to embark on a solo journey of this magnitude. Gradual release does ultimately mean giving up the responsibility to the students. I knew my class was ready to take on this project when I felt that they had proven mastery of certain skills at least a few times before in a variety of guided inquiry sequences.

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This one pic says it all about how my class has developed. Idea wall and green screen in the back, flexible seating, blended learning, conferencing, and engagement, engagement, engagement. The students pursuing their own learning is at the center of every experience, not me.

You also have to accept that some students may take longer during the year to get to a point of independence where they will get anything out of a week of free inquiry. For those students, I put them with partners that I knew I could trust to move them along, and I checked in on them more frequently than I did other students. I tried to make sure that their failures at the end were limited to the product rather than the process, i.e. a bad final project, but abundant learning nonetheless.

I Proceeded with the Mantra of “Never Work Harder than Your Students”

After taking attending a workshop at the 2016 Africa Ed Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa by Karen Boyes called Never Work Harder Than Your Students, Let Them Do the Thinking, I began to see how the onus has to be on the student to take responsibility for their learning. When my teaching was teacher-directed, I was doing all of the work, and the students were merely passive consumers of information.

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Why do a song and dance and waste all of your energy while students passively watch the show? Let them do the thinking. Let them plan their path forward. We teachers sometimes just need to get out of the way.

After the workshop, I was very clear with my students about my new expectations: I should never be working harder than any of you! And if I am, then you’re not doing your job right and I’m not doing my job right. This idea of never working harder than your students was critical when I began the Week of Free Inquiry because I had to come to grips with what it meant to release all responsibility to the students as I sat back with a cup of coffee while waiting for my next appointment with a student group.

I Trusted and They Pulled Through

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Our class culture is built around mutual admiration and respect between learning partners. The traditional top-down relationship between teacher and student is virtually gone, replaced with a “learning partnership” model.

In the end of the day, building relationships with students to make them better people is why I became a teacher. I wouldn’t expect a teacher that feels differently and puts less of a value on relationship building to be able to pull off the Week of Free Inquiry. It takes really getting to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and really building a culture of trust and a love of learning. Because I trusted them, and they respect me to the point that they will go to the ends of the earth to impress me, they were able to accomplish amazing things during this highly unstructured time.

What do you think? Could your kids pull off a Week of Free Inquiry? Are you ready to tear down the walls and let them be free? Be sure to follow me on Twitter and check out @SGroshell’s Teachers Pay Teachers account.

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A Letter to My Student About Goal Setting, Body Image, and Healthy Living

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Students set their goals this year by creating sketchnotes and then recoding them as stop motion videos with audio.

I’ve talked about goal-setting before on educationrickshaw.com, including the SMART model. As my school nears Student Led Conferences, using Seesaw as our digital portfolio, my students have all set goals to achieve during the remainder of their time under my care. While most of my students chose goals centered on improving in a particular academic subject or skill, one athletic student set the goal to completely eliminate unhealthy foods from his diet. The following is a letter I sent to to this student and his family after he had just resisted the temptation to eat junk food during a class party. 

 

 

March 28, 2017

Dear S,

I’m writing you tonight to tell you how proud I was when I saw you pass up the opportunity for sweets and junk food during the class party. It was your first big test that you faced since you set the ambitious goal to completely eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet. I was even more amazed when you looked ahead to your birthday and considered not having any sweets at your own birthday party! Since we are partners in this goal-setting process, I thought I’d e-mail you to talk more about the subject of body image and healthy living before student-led conferences.

The most important message that I want to communicate is that you must make sure that you are choosing to eat healthier not because you want to “lose weight”, but because you truly want to lead a healthier lifestyle. Losing weight and healthy living are two different things. There is no reason that you should be thinking about weight loss at your age. As you grow, sometimes you may gain weight because you are gaining muscle, or because you are growing taller, or for reasons that have nothing to do with being healthy. As small changes in weight happen throughout your life, you must always remember that you have an amazing body that is unique and special. Healthy living means maintaining positive feelings towards your body. You are perfectly YOU, and you should be proud of the body you were given.

As you go forward, I also want to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. As you continue your regimen, remember that eating less is not your goal. You still need to consume the amount of calories necessary to keep your body active and healthy. This will require plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reasonable portions of whole grains, meat, and dairy. When you are playing sports, monitor your energy. If you are feeling light headed and dizzy, it might mean that you need to be eating more healthy foods and drinking more water to make up for the lost calories in your diet.

I look forward to hearing how it goes throughout this year!

Sincerely,

Mr. Zach

If you would like to give me some tips or just your reaction, please feel free to leave a comment. For more about teaching and learning, keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, follow me on Twitter, and check out @SGroshell’s resources on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.

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