Because I’m Happy!

Let me start by saying that this is a very exciting time of year! Since the beginning of the residency, we have heard about the PACT and the oral exams. I would say that these were the two biggest tasks required of our course work with the University of the Pacific. I devoted a lot of time to writing my PACT and studying for the oral exams. I stayed home many weekends to write and study because I wanted to feel prepared and complete my work to the best of my ability. And now I am happy to say that both of these tasks have been completed! In addition, there are only days left to complete our college courses. I am excited to have reached this great milestone in the program.

And now that I have more free time, I have started two dance clubs at my school. Today was our first day of dance classes. I am working with the after school program, and it is so much fun. There is one dance club for grades two/three, and one dance club for grades four/ five. Teaching dance to the after school program enables me to share my passion for dancing and teaching. It also enables me to meet and work with more students at my school. In addition, I am teaching a dance to our kindergarteners. They are going to perform it at their graduation. The song that they are dancing to is Pharrell’s “Happy.” When my mentor, the other kindergarten teacher and I played the song for them, their faces lit up and they began singing. A room full of kindergartners smiling, dancing and singing “Happy” will make anyone’s day bright! I feel so grateful for my experience this year as an Aspire Teacher Resident. I can’t believe that in one year I will have earned my Master’s Degree and preliminary teaching credential. I can’t believe that I have had the opportunity to get so much experience teaching. I am grateful that I had a mentor to guide me, and a director to support me. The learning is not over, it has only just begun. But as my college course work winds down, I just want to dance and celebrate “because I’m happy, happy, happy!”

Written by:
Karen More
Teacher Resident
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

100-days-smarter-starFebruary was a very busy and productive month. One of the highlights of the month was February 7 which was the 100th day of school. I am in a kindergarten class, and we have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this important day. Every morning leading up the 100th day, we counted each day that we had been in school. As we got closer and closer to the 100th day, the students’ eyes would light up with excitement. During the morning assembly, my mentor Maria Vizcaino made a special announcement. She congratulated all of the students on their 100th day of school, and gave a special acknowledgement to the kindergarteners who were experiencing their very first 100 days of elementary school. When our students entered the classroom, the room was decorated with balloons. The students were extremely excited, and they took out their bags filled with 100 items. Throughout our day, we did lessons and activities that incorporated the number 100. I felt so proud of our students. Looking back to their first day of school, I am amazed by how much they have learned and grown.

On this 100th day of school, I also reflected on my experience in the residency program and the kindergarten classroom. One year ago I was applying to the residency program and being interviewed. I can’t believe how much I have learned as an Aspire Resident. I am incredibly grateful for everything that I have learned from my college courses, mentor, resident director, principal, and teachers at my school. I know that there is so much more to learn, and I am excited to gain more experience and continue to practice what I am learning in the classroom.

Looking ahead, I have some big projects coming up for my credential and master’s degree. I am working on the PACT, Performance Assessment for California Teachers. I am also thinking about the oral exams that are coming up in a month. In addition, I am starting to get ready for job interviews. In the resident seminar, we are doing a mock interview which is a wonderful way to get prepared. Tomorrow I am teaching my lessons which will be recorded for the PACT. I have been revising my lesson plans and preparing materials all weekend. I have been working on these lessons for a couple of weeks, and thinking about them for months. I can’t believe that I am finally teaching them tomorrow.

Looking ahead, I am very excited for my students as they are getting closer and closer to graduating from kindergarten. It’s such an exciting time. My parents were planning a trip to California (from Florida) to visit me. I asked if they could come for the kindergarten graduation because I want them to meet my students, mentor, and everyone at my school. And I want them to share in the excitement that we all feel as they reach that milestone of graduating from kindergarten. Tonight, my dad confirmed that they will be here for the graduation. I am looking forward to it, and appreciating each day.

Written by:
Karen More
Teacher Resident
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy

Highs and Lows

When I’ve talked to other residents about their take-over weeks, I received pretty similar responses. Most said something along the lines of: “It went okay. Not too many exceptionally good things or bad things happened. So, I can’t complain. At least I got through it!” Well, I wish I could say the same about my take-over week. Going into my take-over week, I spent many hours planning science activities that I thought would be interactive and fun for my students to learn about our body’s organ systems. I reviewed the math lessons tirelessly, so that I would be comfortable presenting multiple ways to drive home the day’s objective. I prepared homework and handouts, and I organized my time each day to make sure that I accounted for everything. With a little bit of anxiety and a lot of excitement, I felt ready to take on the week.

Fast-forward to my take-over week, the preparation only went so far. I teach two cores of 7th graders in math and science. I taught my first core with a fellow resident, Jennie Wu, and in my second core, I was on my own. The very first day of class, a student noticed that our mentors were not there and exclaimed “Yay, no teachers today!” Panic flooded my mind. I questioned whether the students would see me as an authority figure and respect me as their teacher, and not as a substitute. With no time to dwell, we continued the day’s lesson, frequently stopping to manage behavior. Throughout the period, a lack of motivation lingered among my first core of students. This worried me, but I had to direct my attention to making sure that everything would go according to plan in my second core. And, that it did! My second core went amazingly. My students were engaged and on task with very few redirections, they were asking a lot of question and completing the tasks that I presented to them. Ending the day with these little successes in my second core made me feel excited to take on the rest of the week.

As the week progressed, I was having polarizing experiences with my two classes. The productivity and motivation of my first core continued to decline, despite many conversations about scholarly behaviors and practices. I grew frustrated because I had to stop so frequently in order to ensure that I had the attention of all students. When tasked with working in their groups or independently, very little progress was made. In the whole group setting, only two familiar hands would be in the air for each question that I presented to the class. A science lesson that was only supposed to take one day ended up taking a full two days to complete. On the other hand, in my second core the week that I envisioned and planned for came to reality. The students tested the boundaries a bit, but got right track when I addressed their behaviors. We were able to get through all of the math and science lessons, and I really felt like I was getting into my teacher groove. I felt confident and that I was really acting naturally in front of my students. It felt real, and I think that was the most exciting part of this experience.

Thursday, however, was definitely the climax of my take-over week. Not only was it nearing the end of a long week without my mentor, but also it was the first day of rain in Los Angeles. If you are familiar with LA, you know that 1) it rarely rains here and 2) rainy days breed a bit of insanity due to its unfamiliar nature and the students being held indoors all day long. In the first core, I had to send four students out of the classroom for separate defiant behaviors. Their disruptive energy controlled the focus of class and I was at a loss. It felt like I was stopping every two minutes to correct a behavior or wait for 100%. There came a point where I did not know what to do to pull my students out of this funk and get them to invest in their learning. Once that period was over, I consulted with the dean, assistant principal, school psychologist and my partner teacher about the morning’s events. I felt like so much was out of my control, and I hated that feeling. I felt defeated. I couldn’t understand why there was so little respect for me and Jennie as their teachers, for themselves and their learning, and for their classmates. I was definitely at my lowest point, and I feared that my mood would affect how my second class went. All I could do is shake off the experiences and the frustrations of the first core, and begin my next class with a clean slate. And I am so glad I did. I planned a competitive, sorting activity for my science lesson that day and it was a hit! The students really got into it and worked together with their teams to assemble matching organ systems with their organs and functions. I am a competitive person, so I loved witnessing the spirit of my students. So many laughs were shared and lots of learning was happening; it was incredible. This was definitely the highlight of my week.

It is crazy to think that the highest point and the lowest point of my take-over week were experienced on the same day. This day allowed me to realize that I had so much support from my colleagues at OUP and how attitude and perspective is so important when teaching. When asked how my take-over week went, I can definitely say I got through it. But, unlike other residents, I’d have to add that I had BOTH exceptionally good and exceptionally bad experiences in the classroom. Honestly, I am glad that I had both (now that it’s over) because I learned so much about myself through the process. While I have a lot to work on, I know that I am doing great things. I also learned that no matter how perfect and organized my planning is, things will always run awry. I just have to accept it and adapt!

Written by:
Lara Heisser
Teacher Resident
Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy