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

Recollections…

Of walking these very same halls seventeen years ago seem almost daunting. Back then I was two feet shorter, hair that many inches longer and I would find myself often staring in awe at the large corridors and hallways that surrounded this place. I can tell you—to this day, I might add—who my teachers were, starting from first grade and ending with eight, and I can pinpoint exactly which classroom I was in when I had said teachers. When I pass the garden, in its beautiful and grand state, I can recall the countless hours I spent with my classmates sitting in a snug classroom, spitting out math problems and calculations in order to build the perfect beds for the flowers and plants soon to be nestled there.

Bianka - then

Bianka – then

When I see the third grade homework, I remember spending hours on it myself. I can tell you the subject I struggled with and say with much excitement my favorite part of homework was getting lost in those great heavy Harry Potters books that were—back then—all the rage. Yes, I have fond memories of EPACS…all very dear to me.

It’s strange that as I end my takeover week and reflect on the outcome of the events, it slowly sinks in that yes—I use to be a student at EPACS, and now I’m teaching here. I was the one who my teachers would prophesize returning to the campus; not as a student but as an educator. I would be that role model for them they would say, and show these generations that possibilities were endless and that monsters and dragons were only created to be beaten. However, starting my residency I didn’t really see it. I didn’t see the inspiration I could be when I first started. I simply thought of myself as a new teacher learning to be a teacher—with the added bonus of being a former Aspire student. So when takeover began, I went in with the mentality of a new teacher—only contemplating what could go wrong and what needed to be done.

Bianka - now

Bianka – now

It wasn’t until two former teachers of mine (one taught fifth grade while I was at EPACS and the other was my sister’s elementary teacher) came in and observed my instruction. They sat quietly, took notes, left bright colored sickies on my desk and walked out. I didn’t see the notes until the end of the day, but even before then I was dreading the comments—expecting them to have caught all the new teacher mistakes I could have possibly made. Instead, their comments went as follows, “Wow! I’m really impressed with your teaching…I’m so excited and proud that you’re at EPACS!” I didn’t really get to reflect on the comments then, but now that I’ve had time to unwind from takeover week, it dawned on me the subtle impacts I was making.

All my students have big dreams. There are no hesitations, limitations or obstacles in achieving their dreams—and they tell themselves that. However, I think having someone who knows and understood what those obstacles were, who at some point in her life faced the very same difficulties (and made it)…having someone like that believe in them pushes them that much further to succeed. It tells them that they can do anything…that if one person who grew up with the same situation they face succeeded, they can too. Not just my students, but other students as well. I am, and all teachers are, making a difference, and I hope my impact will be effective in the long run. 

I want to end this blog with a moment I shared with some fifth graders back in October, a moment that I will always treasure, and one that I had when I was applying to high school back in eighth grade, only this time, I was the advisor and I had someone else taking all my words in.  I wanted so much to cry as I spoke with these fifth grade students. Three girls who want to apply to Castilleja, my high school. Why I wanted to cry? Because once I said, “I did it. And here I am. You can do it too.” A big smile flew across their faces, ones of confidence. 

And this is why I am where I am today.

Written by:
Bianka Mariscal
Teacher Resident
Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School

The Gift of Time

As a teacher, there are many times throughout the school year where I start sentences with “I wish I had more time to________, that would allow me to more effectively teach my students” or “If only I had time to ___________, then my students would be able to _________” or my favorite ”That sounds really neat!  I wish I had time to learn more about_________” 

Enter Takeover. 

Over the past week, while my resident was rocking it in our classroom, I had the opportunity to professionally develop myself – according to my interests.  A rare, highly valuable, and much treasured gift.  In the past, I have used this time to: learn more about how to effectively teach English language learners, learn ways to meaningfully teach vocabulary to all students, rethink my guided reading instruction, read a variety of professional literature, observe colleagues at my school as well as other schools in action, and more!  This past week, I attended a professional development session put on by an expert in teaching vocabulary and spent time mapping out how to integrate what I’ve learned into my classroom practice.  As a result of these experiences, I am better serving the students in my classroom.     

While being a mentor does take an immense amount of time, it also gives back.

Written by:
Ami Hanaoka, Lead Mentor Teacher
Aspire Berkley Maynard Academy

Twas the night before takeover…

It’s the night before takeover week!  Fortunately, takeover week came before a holiday so I had three days to prepare.  And when I say prepare, I do mean prepare.  I wrote guided reading lessons, made assessment note cards, planned shared inquiry discussions, reviewed lessons my mentor provided, cut out pictures, made a list of what to do when I get to school tomorrow, and that’s just for teaching.  I cleaned my apartment thoroughly, did seven loads of laundry, grocery shopped, dropped off the dry cleaning, went to Rite Aid, and made sure everything in the apartment was stocked and ready.  I’m in serious organization overload.  Strange as it may seem, organizing and cleaning relax me. 

But something that I’ve learned is that no matter how much I prepare, sometimes unexpected things happen.  As much as I wish they would, things aren’t always going to go according to plan.  I am reminded of when I was a dancer, and my director gave me some advice.  I was dancing with a painful knee injury, and felt disappointed because I was inhibited from performing my best.  My director told me that I couldn’t expect to feel 100% all of the time.  It was what I did when I wasn’t at my best that helped me to grow, realize my limitations and capabilities, and pushed me to discover new things about myself as a dancer.  I can relate that to teaching.  I just want every student to be on task all day, have no behavioral challenges, and follow all of my directions the first time I give them.  Wouldn’t that be great?  But it’s learning how to handle challenges that will help me grow as a teacher.  This week is a wonderful opportunity to take what I am learning from my mentor and in seminar and apply it for a whole week.

I’d like to have some goals for the week.  My first goal is to set clear expectations for behavior during the lessons and transitions.  Within that goal I must be consistent with behavior consequences.  In addition, for the students who often receive behavior consequences, I want to work with them to find a solution and set their own goals.  My next goal is to prepare my students (through the lessons) for their end of the week high-frequency word and math tests.  I am going to be pulling small groups and informally assessing students throughout the week to help me with that goal. 

And one more thing I’d like to think about this week is the joy factor.  With all of the lessons to teach, assessments to give, and all of the work the students will be doing, things can get stressful for them and for me.  I won’t forget about joy!  Even though there is always work to do, I’m going to make sure that I spend time with friends, go out to dinner, and even watch my favorite show on Netflix.  For my students, I’m going to make sure we laugh, take time to appreciate our day, and experience joy while we learn!  First takeover week, here I come!

Written by:
Karen More
Teacher Resident
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy