Saturday, January 31, 2009

One down, 15 more to go

My current pair of day-to-day work shoes.

I have mixed feelings about the first week. In some ways it was awesome. In other ways it wasn't so much. And in still more ways it was down right weird. Always it was exhausting. I crashed at 7 last night and didn't regain consciousness until 7 this morning. The last time I did that was jet-lag from going to Florida.

Anyway, some things were weirder than others. There is one particular event that really surprised me and I've talked so some of my cohort mates about it and they think it's really weird too. However, I guess they only got the story from my point of view. And I guess I shouldn't be such a prude about it. But still. I should probably talk to my supervisor about it as well. It was that weird.

Which leads me to dressing and acting professionally. I make it a point never to wear jeans at school. Probably the only acceptable jean wearing situation is if said jeans were a super dark wash, really nice (not faded, no flamboyant embellishments, a clean cut, etc), and I had a blazer or something extra dressy on top. My current wardrobe does not contain anything like that, but I'm looking forward to the day when I can buy a couple nicer things.

No one has been really down on my appearance so far. The only border-line comment was when my supervisor commented on my "comfy" clothes (I had layered a skirt with toe-less tights [I cut them off] and had a collared 3/4 sleeve under a black tee; I think the scrunched leggings made it look "comfy," although I never associated tights with comfortableness before) once. I caught on and turned a little more conventional, no matter how my increasingly individual aesthetic combined with increasing body confidence might make me want to experiment more.

I notice my choices have been much more conservative in the 5th grade than in the 1st. First, because some of these kids are nearly as tall as me and I need to dress differently from them (they do have a uniform, but many of them don't adhere to it, especially when it's cold with the availability of various outerwear). Second, because I'm at this school more often and I'm expected to have learned more professional habits from phase II. Third, because the way I dress gives a certain image to my students. With first graders, it's ok to be a little casual because it's going to get messy. Fifth graders should get used to the idea that people who work dress a certain way.

I'm slightly confused that my current school doesn't really have a uniform appearance across the board with the teachers. I've noticed some nicely dressed, some business casual, some casual, and some collegiate styles. Everyone seems to have their own idea of what is appropriate dressing for school. Again, I don't mean to compare, but WB was not like that. All the teachers were at least business casual, with one or two who always wore a tie and jacket. To give credit to WB, it is a much smaller school that EIB, and they also had a much stricter code of conduct. Which made sense that teacher and staff appearance would reflect that.

What does this have to do with the weird incident this week? Well, I'm just confused I guess. There are mixed messages being sent about appearances and I guess i would just like them to be clarified.

But then, I should dress as a representative of UTEC as well as myself - as opposed to a representative of EIB. And UTEC's expectations are nice and clear. I'll probably stick with those.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quote of the day

As poetic as these orchids.

I get the feeling I'm going to come across more and more of these quotable student sayings this semester. There were a lot during the previous semester too, but they were harder to convey in a concise written form since 1st graders oral mannerisms tend to have one word of actual, pertinent meaning for every ten spoken. The really good ones I've already included as conversation logs before.

"I cry tears that fall like rain on dry cement." - 5th grader.

Isn't that gorgeous? This came from a lesson on similes using the "hint" words "like," and "as ___ as ____" in poetry form. There were lots of other note worthy ones (these kids are natural poets!), but this line struck me not only for it's beauty, but also because it came from a boy. Not that boys can't be sensitive, but my first impressions of the boys in this class is your typical shonen archetype. In other words: tending towards the loud, crass, and oblivious.

But then, even Naruto has a sensitive side.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Quote of the day

"What's 'Chinatown?' Um, it's about China, and it's a town." - 5th grader

Let the red envelopes come!

Still sick but surprisingly a lot better than I anticipated. Warm salt water gargle is my current best friend. I didn't do much on my first day; just some light non-verbal behavior intervention and math guidance during independent work time. But tomorrow I'll be in charge of two first-year (and by "first year," I mean FOB-levels) English learners during ELD, leading a small group (aka "workshop," although I don't really think this word does justice to what actually goes on in a small group lesson) on the topic of similes and conjunctions, and a vocab/word knowledge mini-lesson.

I get the feeling JL is purposefully assigning me tons of language arts lessons to begin with expressly because I told him I feel stronger with math. And I am ok with this. Really. I love math and I love teaching math. But I also love language and I didn't get to do a lot of creative stuff with it last semester. Not because first graders can't handle creative stuff, but because, well, they are first graders. There's not a lot to work with until more sound/spelling rules are panned out.

Time to get cracking.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"It's more likely I got it from them

My best friend for the past 24 hours

I already knew I wasn't feeling very well starting Friday, but today the full-blown germies came out to play killing me dead in half and hour flat. I've gargled with quarts of warm salt water, drank gallons of liquids (currently on the fourth pot of tea today), taken vitamins and medicine, slept for literally half the day, spoke as little as possible and when I did it was in monosyllables, decided today would be an absolute rest day.

Results: I am feeling a little better, at least the surface of my tongue isn't this weird yellow-green color (TMI?) anymore. But tomorrow will be simply awful - my first full day of the semester and I start it being sick. It's like being back in China all over again.

I probably won't be of much use outside of nonverbal interventions and side-whispers. Good thing I've had a lot of practice in that, although I'm not quite sure how it'll go over with older students. Also a good thing that my CT is making me observe at least the first couple of days, although I'm kinda sad that I'm not starting out with any section, like I did with read alouds last semester.

Tonsils, you are so going to come out the minute I get non-emergency health insurance coverage. Although, if you develop into an emergency this time around, you'll probably get cut. Still, I'm hoping you can hold off - the timing is quite awful, just like my eyes and their "cornea's too thin for lasik and the other way will take three months to heal" attitude.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Arts in the classroom

I spent the majority of today in the EDTE 317 Visual and Performing Arts Methods course. The rest of my day I spent driving and wishing I had gotten out of the door just five minutes faster so I could have made the 7:20 light rail to campus instead of driving.

Anyway, because I did spend so much time sitting in my car or in class (with the exception of the dance and theater section of the course), I want to take a relaxing bike ride in the remainder of daylight. So here are just some initial notes of the course. I'll expand on them later. Or not.

- I'm so glad I chose UTEC. More and more I get the feeling I would NOT have meshed well in the other cohorts. And not only because UTEC was the most ethnically diverse group there today.

- I'm glad my cohort-mates are who they are. I don't think I would have learned as much, both about education and about people, if they weren't. =) Props to you guys.

- The theater and visual arts classes were my favorites. The one on standards was a snore as well as a chore. The dance and music one was a little incoherent and rather repetitive of the P.E. (dance) and social studies methods (music, because of US Constitution rap, the other round-robin chants on social skills, and the whole West African drum part).

- I kind of can't wait to take some of these methods and use them in student teaching. My CT would totally give me a good evaluation on improvisation and bringing new/different things to the classroom.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Because interviews are scary, part III

This is a very crappy photo of the villain from Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind manga.

See the similarities?

On instruction:

Describe a typical class period.

Typical class periods involve as little wasted time as possible. For every teacher action, there should also be a student action - in other words, the teacher spends as little time as possible giving instructions and the students spend as much time as possible doing something, whether it is independently working, participating in activities, actively listening and responding, or working with classmates. Students should always be busy and attentive to their tasks. Instructions given by me are clear, direct, and concise. If students need help with their task, they are first to ask their neighbors or group members before signaling the teacher. Routines for materials will be in place so students have everything they need for the activity, maximizing engaged learning time.

What instructional strategies have you found most effective?

Mixed group work has worked well for my teaching style, so I try to incorporate at least some collaborative work into every day. Guided inquiry has also worked well for me, especially for science and math lessons. I would pose a story problem and ask students for suggestions on how to solve it. Then we would launch into some direct instruction so students are prepared to practice on their own. Otherwise, I like to vary my instructional strategies often, not only to keep students on their toes but to address the different types of learning styles and backgrounds any given classroom may contain.

What are the components of an effective lesson plan?

The anticipatory set, differentiation for different levels, plenty of practice in new skills, relation to real life or student’s personal schema, a way for students to share their work with others, and time for reflective activities, such as journals with question prompts are the main components I would never leave out of a lesson.

Describe a lesson which was particularly successful by walking me through each stage from planning through delivery.

First, I studied the scripted curriculum, identifying the main student objectives and deciding on the formal and informal assessment pieces. Then I looked up the California standards that these objectives address to figure out the objectives I should have for teaching the lesson. I would spend as much time as possible researching the background knowledge on the lesson, especially if I was unfamiliar with the topic before weeding out the activities from the scripted curriculum that would not work with my student’s schema or cultural background, only keeping those that I know my students will respond positively to. I will search in my files of activities to augment those that remain from the script, then break them down to serviceable parts which students can grasp, always keeping in mind the assessment piece I created earlier. I gather all materials for the lesson, working through any experiments or unfamiliar events (like math problems) myself in order to identify the things that might go wrong, fixing them as they appear. I also prepare some extra elements in case the students blaze through the main lesson quickly and easily. I will practice the procedure of the lesson, usually by imagining what might happen and how I would word the lesson and directions. By this time, the lesson should be half-way memorized, which helps me to deliver it in a smoother fashion. During lesson delivery, I constantly monitor student responses, adjusting the pace, taking short hand notes on who is struggling with what aspect as well as who are excelling easily with the lesson. After the lesson delivery, as soon as I can, I reflect on how I can improve the lesson as well as how I can integrate this lesson with past skills learned as well as future knowledge to be learned. The material on the lesson will probably need to be re-taught in a different way at least one more time before the majority of the students can achieve the objectives at the basic level. The second delivery of the lesson will be slightly different but most students should be able to recognize what I am asking them to do and how it relates to prior knowledge.

Explain what a strong balanced literary program would look like in your classroom.

I would like my students to keep a portfolio of all their writing as well as a daily journal, which will look more like a log for reflection on other lessons as well as writing prompts. Revision of previous work is an absolute must. They should be exposed to as many different types of text as possible, both in reading and writing. Students should also have opportunities to publish or perform their work at least once per school term. Reading circles/groups can be set up for students to discuss their own writing or text they have read. An abundance of text should be found in the classroom: on walls, the bookshelves, at group tables, etc. Students are encouraged to observe the environmental text around them at home and other places outside of school. We would visit the school library, and perhaps a local county or college library if one is within walking distance of the school.

What research-based teaching strategies have you used?

I have used collaborative work, scaffolding, multiple intelligences, metacognition, differentiated instruction, and multicultural/culturally responsive strategies.

What specific strategies would you use to assist students who are struggling in reading and mathematics?

For students who are struggling tremendously, I would offer free, private, one-on-one tutoring immediately before and after school on school grounds, depending on the times convenient for the parents. I have tutored students after school during my student teaching and have seen how much they benefit from one-on-one instruction. I would also make a complete assessment on the student’s study skills and home environment, asking questions such as: How much sleep do you get each night? Who helps you with school work at home (older sibling, grandparent, etc)? Do you eat breakfast every day? Do you spend at least an hour doing physical activity each day? How much time do you spend reading in a week? What are the situations when you have used math in real life? This is to pinpoint any environmental factors that might be affecting student performance. In addition, I would also provide the parents/guardians with more frequent progress reports than just the ones mandated by the school.

Describe how you have differentiated a lesson to accommodate varying student needs.

The lesson was on creating a “word dragon” (i.e. table elephant two other row). For below basic students, I allowed them to choose from a word list first as practice, before making a short word dragon on their own. For above and far above basic students, I challenged them to create a word dragon as long as possible.

What would you do to actively engage your students?

Introducing something novel using hands on material, stories and story problems, group work for accountability each member has a “job title,” relating the lesson to cultural significance or personal life, friendly competition.

What do you do when you see some students are not learning?

I would first assess what is preventing the student from learning. Is it environmental? Is the lesson too difficult? Too easy? Are their under lying emotional or social events affecting the student? Is is behavior? Or is it something distracting the student? I want to find out what is causing the problem before addressing how to help a student return to learning. I private conversation can usually identify the issue. I would then work with the student to help them deal with whatever is preventing them from learning.

How would you motivate the reluctant learner?

I would develop an extrinsic motivational system and gradually turn it inwards to an intrinsic one. Stickers and other small prizes in recognition for work well done is effective for most young students. I would give specific verbal praise as well. Perhaps researching the interests (fishing, art, sports, etc) of the student and including it in lessons are also helpful. Most of all, I should deliver lessons with enthusiasm and conviction in the functionality as well as the fun of learning the content. The focus is on improvement, effort, critical thinking and problem solving, and eventual mastery rather than determining how “good” a student is at a task upon immediately being introduced to it.

What would you do with students who fail continually to complete homework?

First, homework is an extension of classwork: everything that a student needs to know to complete homework should be addressed in class with the teacher prior to assigning it as homework. I would first pinpoint, through private interview, what exactly is preventing the student from completing homework. There should be someone at home to help with school work. Homework should be one of the first things students do once they get home, rather than leaving it until right before bedtime. Older students can perhaps have a network of their classmates to rely on if they need homework help (i.e. phone numbers, study groups, etc). They should have a relatively quiet, distraction-free place to do homework. All materials needed to complete the assignments should either be provided by me or are so common as to be easily acquired by elementary students, especially for the demographics in Title I schools. When all other obstacles have been resolved and the student still fails to complete homework, I’ve observed in student teaching that a “homework club” is effective in changing those habits. Students who have completed all homework for the week are allowed a “free choice time” at the end of the school week. They may watch a movie (in a separate classroom, perhaps teaming up with a buddy class), play games, do puzzles, spend time on classroom computers, work on extra credit, or do personal art projects. Those who have not completed their homework will spend this “free choice time” completing it. If they complete it before the free choice time ends, they may use the remaining time to participate with the other students. Perhaps a display board of the students who have completed homework for the week on the classroom wall would help too.

Upon looking at my answers to these interview questions a couple weeks after I wrote them, I realize that my opinions have changed some what from when I first started the program. They will probably continue to change. Which is partly why interviews are so scary for me. I'm not good at "selling" myself because my sense of self is continually evolving. What kind of integrity can I possibly keep when my ideas change constantly? I can only say what I believe at that moment, and perhaps add how they've changed over time, but no more. What if I later change in a way that won't make me a good fit anymore, even though I was initially?

Maybe I'm just thinking too much into it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That d*** RICA, part II

My dream is to own a room full of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves

Finished the multiple choice section of the practice exam on the RICA website. I got an 87%, which is not terribly great, but also not terribly failing either. But then, a 60% is a passing score. Which I really don't understand, it's almost like a waste of time to even have people take the test when one can pass with an equivalent grade of D.

Anyway, here are some of the questions I got wrong.


A second-grade teacher informally assesses students' reading development by listening to them read aloud. Anna, a student who generally reads aloud fluently, reads aloud a short story selected by the teacher. In this instance, Anna correctly decodes about two-thirds of the words and pauses frequently as she reads. This informal assessment suggests that Anna:

a) needs instruction designed to improve her phonemic awareness.
b) is likely reading a story at her frustration level.
c) needs instruction designed to improve her oral language skills.
d) is likely reading a story at her instructional reading level.

Correct answer: b

I chose d) at first. I always forget that instructional and frustration levels actually have numbers attached and aren't just a subjective assessment. The instructional reading level is if the student is reading fluently at least 75% of the time. Frustration level is at least 50%. Of course, independent reading level is about higher than 75% of the time, and complete incompetency (this is not the technical term, but I'm too lazy right now to look through my notes for it) is 50% and below.


Which of the following instructional strategies is likely to be most effective in improving the reading fluency of Tolana, a third-grade student?

a) Tolana practices reading a favorite story aloud several times and then reads it into a cassestte recorder to tape the reading.
b) The teacher helps Tolana increase her reading rate by prompting her when she hesitates over unfamiliar words while reading aloud.
c) Tolana reads aloud an unfamiliar passage from a content-area text and then completes a semantic web to clarify the ideas in the passage.
d) The teacher models for Tolana how to take advantage of context clues to identify unfamiliar words while reading aloud.

Correct answer: a.

I chose d), again, at first. I guess I just didn't understand the question very well at first. Practice is usually the most effective way to improve fluency. However, fluency does not equal comprehension, nor does it mean the student will have the same fluency level for a completely different text selection after practicing one story over and over again. Also, some students can read really fast, but at the same time make many careless mistakes. I would rank comprehension and fewer reading mistakes much more important than reading fast.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Student of the student of the student of the...

Photo from: One Manga

I've already mentioned that my phase III CT was the CT of my phase II CT. Which is pretty funny, especially taking into consideration that student teaching placements are strategic rather than coincidental. Of all the people and of all the personalities they could have placed me with, I sort of got the position of the Fourth Hokage (the center blonde dude in the above manga scan). An even more interesting thought: if I stick with SCUSD, I'll probably end up with ST's in Kakashi and Naruto's positions a couple years from now. Weird.

Anyway, I visited my new classroom for the first time today. I think I will learn a lot. I see similarities between JL and KM, but there are also vast differences too. For one thing, KM finds social studies a little boring to teach while JL rigged up his classroom so that his students, and another 5th grade class, can watch Obama's inauguration in full this morning. On a digital projector. Streaming from the internet. And anything dealing with technology may *seem* simple, but the set up for it takes some careful thinking. Not to mention technical difficulties that might arise.

JL has high expectations from me too. It'll be harder to meet his standards than KM's, since KM didn't have the advantage of a previous CT to discuss me with. I'm pretty sure KM didn't hype-up my reputation, but I don't know JL well enough yet to judge how he takes insight from her. Also, I have little to nil experience working with males, especially those close to my own age, in this female dominated field. Let's hope we all keep things realistic.

But he seems personable and easy to get along with enough. I got pretty nervous and was literally shaking by the time I left. Well, it was only part nerves. The other part was from pure excitement at the new challenges and the very near free reign I'll have in JL's classroom to experiment with lessons. Also, it was cold. I know I'm lucky to have CTs who look out for my professional development and put opportunities in my path to grow as an educator. Not every CT is willing to share control of the classroom like that.

The students themselves seem very friendly and motivated. They did not display any massive behavior issues today. There might be some "show off-ishness," particularly in some of the boys. Which is normal, as upper primary goes, and there's nothing wrong with showcasing skills and abilities one is good at and proud of. I just hope I can channel that energy into non-egotistical ways.

I better work hard, harder even than last semester. These people are the ones giving me performance evaluations as well as recommendation letters, so no slacking here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Because interviews are scary, part II

The more I look at it, the creepier it is.

Blog while the sun shines, no? The previous set of Q&A were just "getting to know you" stuff. The following is about interpersonal skills.

If I spoke with your students/cooperating teacher/university supervisor/principal/colleagues/friends what three words would they use to describe you?

Fun, thoughtful, dedicated. (I think...)

How would you facilitate collaboration between home and school?

Besides notes home, phone calls (including positive ones), emails and home visits, I would like parents to know that the classroom is a sort of “second home” to them and their students. Open communication between parents, myself, and students is probably most important to alleviate any mistrust families may have towards the school system. I would explain the reasoning behind my teaching, not just handing students and parents a seemingly endless “to do list” which can seem arbitrary to the parent’s goals for their child. Parents are welcome to visit the classroom at any time, either as a volunteer or simply as an observer. One of my pet project ideas is to publish a regular newsletter of school and classroom events, student work, and other relevant education news for students to share with their families.

If confronted by an angry parent/colleague on an issue, how would you best respond?

I would listen to the other party first and ask for some time to think about what they say before responding. Apologizing for offended feelings is a must. Asking for a chance to explain myself is even more so. I want parents of my students to know that there is always a reason for my actions and that the whole purpose is for their child's educational benefit. If possible, the presence of a neutral third party might be helpful to dispel any volatile situations.

How would your students know that you genuinely care about them?

I will treat all my students fairly, providing them chances to explain their behavior as well as self correcting misbehavior. The focus is on techniques to help them succeed academically and socially so my actions will target the behavior rather than the person. I’ll give praise when it’s due and natural or logical consequences as needed. I want my student to know that I “like” them all equally and that rewards are won through individual achievement rather than partiality. Community building activities, especially those that involve group work, will also be incorporated into academic lessons.

How important is it for you to be well liked by your students?

It is important that I get along with my students well enough to effectively do my job as their teacher. I certainly do not want any student to hold grudges or resentments toward me, which may develop into an obstacle for their learning. I understand that being a teacher is not a popularity contest, but a professional relationship.

How would you respond to a student who asked for your advice on a difficult personal situation?

I would lead them to discuss all their possible options, and have them weigh the pros and cons of each as well as predict any consequences which might occur. The goal would be to help the student make a smart choice, one that doesn’t harm themselves or others. If they are having difficulty deciding, I would recommend that they speak to another trusted adult or friend, and to take time to think about it carefully before taking any action. It is important for students to learn how to gather as much correct information as possible before making a difficult decision because ultimately each individual is responsible for their own choices.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

That d*** RICA, part I

Literacy: the more you read the more you know!

I'm taking the RICA in about 2-3 weeks and I'm STILL not particularly anxious about it. My intentions for winter break were to study for the thing everyday, but so far I've probably only accumulated about an hour and a half of actual study.

So I'm worried about not worrying about it. Great. I should be worried because a significant number of people I know failed it on the first try. I'm not worried because I was lucky enough to have taught first grade in phase I and pretty much have a solid base on teaching literacy in elementary school.

Still I'm studying the sample questions available online this last week of winter break. I don't trust the study guides for RICA - I looked at them in a bookstore once and found a lot of mistakes. The commercial CSET study guides were like that too, lots of mistakes. But I figure if I can identify the mistakes for myself, then I'm good to go on the actual test.

Sample question 1

Compared with standardized reading assessments, one important advantage of informal reading assessments is that they allow the teacher to:

A: characterize a student's reading proficiency in terms of grade-level performance.
B: personalize reading assessments to identify the needs of individual students.
C: avoid bias in the administration and interpretation of reading assessments.
D: compare the reading performance of individual students to other students in the class.

Correct answer: B

Informal reading assessments by nature are biased and differs according to each individual student. Thus they can't be used as a comparison. Nor can you judge a student's grade-level performance because informal assessments target specific reading weaknesses, not an overall picture of the student's abilities.

Sample question 2

An elementary school teacher is considering various instructional methods and materials to use in relation to specific reading objectives. When making these decisions, the teacher's first priority should be to select methods and materials that:

A: address the reading strengths and needs of all students.
B: reflect the latest trends and ideas related to reading instruction.
C: represent the most cost-effective approach to reading instruction.
D: are recommended by other experienced teachers in the school.

Correct answer: A

This one is pretty obvious. The latest trends are not always the ones that work the best; same applies to recommendations from other teachers. It may have worked for some students, but for sure it won't work for all. I believe they just threw option C in there to fill up space.

There are basically two choices for reading curriculum mandated for California public schools: Open Court and Houghton-Mifflin. Both cost and arm and a leg, and maybe a soul. It's such a waste too, because most effective teachers will supplement these materials with their own stuff anyway - stuff that's usually better suited for the class because it's the teachers that know the students, not the curriculum creators.

Sample question 3

A 6th grade teacher is reviewing the results of a standardized reading test that include a grade-equivalent interpretation of student performance on the test. When reviewing these data, the teacher should understand that a grade-equivalent score of 6.4 is intended to indicate that a student's reading performance on this test:

A: was as good or better than 64% of students in the same grade in the same school.
B: places her/him in the top 6.4% of students at the same grade level in the same school.
C: was as good or better than 64% of students in the same grade nationwide.
D: corresponds to the expected skill level of a student in the fourth month of 6th grade.

Correct answer: D

A typical school year is about 10 months long. The common decimal system is base 10. Toss in some quick math skills and I'm golden. D is also the only option that has nothing to do with % - which good test takers should be able to deduct that "the one different from the others is the correct choice."

If that weren't enough to convince anyone: grade-equivalent scores mean that if a student gets a score that matches their grade, then they are at the level of a student beginning that grade. A 5th grader with a score of 6 means they are at the skill level expected of a 6th grader at the beginning of the school year. But if the 5th grader scores a 4.5, then he/she is at the same skill expectation as a student halfway through the 4th grade (which, by the way, is quite tragic, even though the score difference is only a point and half). More simple logic, and the "0.4" part of "6.4" is solved. ::sigh:: If only all of the RICA questions were so handily based upon mathematics.

Keep in mind that even grade-equivalent scores can be misleading. Although a 5th grader scoring 5 sounds like he/she is meeting standards, it really depends on when the test was taken. If it was at the beginning of the year, it's fine and dandy. If it was at the end of year, the student really should be scoring something closer to a 5.8 or 5.9, if not higher.

I would put more, but that's enough for now since it would make this entry super long and I haven't figured out how to make my blog template recognize the html codes for expandable post summaries.

Questions from

Friday, January 16, 2009

Because interviews are scary, part I

Kind of like these "red eyes."

So the 2008 Job Search Handbook for Educators has this huge list of most commonly asked interview questions, and because interviews usually freak me out (the most awful experience was with JET, ::shudder::), being prepared is the best. Here are just a few for now.

Why did you choose this profession as a career?

I enjoy learning and the novelty of learning. Children usually have a very fresh outlook on life and have a natural curiosity that I admire Their energy is contagious and inspires me to continue my own academic and personal development.

What makes you the best candidate for this position?

I have confidence in my skills and my potential growth. I hold problem solving in high regard, seeking to resolve the main issue as well as anticipating and preparing for any other problems that might appear. Some problems take longer to solve than others, but I’m sure a solution (more than one, usually) can be implemented.

Describe a personal experience which had an impact on your teaching.

I studied abroad at Hong Kong University as part of the UCEAOP. Because of the differences between the HKU and UC systems, the undergraduate math classes at HKU are closer in nature to graduate math courses at a UC. The courses I took were exceptionally difficult and although some of the HKU faculty were very encouraging and helpful, there was one professor who was very adverse to me staying in his class. I met with him, in search of guidance on a particularly challenging class assignment and was met with a condescending attitude, skepticism, and overall unwillingness to meet my academic needs. Granted, he was correct that the course was above my abilities of the time. Bluntly, he told me he did not want me to take his course and asked that I remove myself from it. I did, and for a time I felt discouraged and bitter about the situation. I thought it was unfair of him as a teacher to refuse to help me, a student willing to attempt anything in mastering the topic. But the humbling experience made me realize that I had not been working as hard as I potentially could when it came to math. When I returned to UCD to complete my degree, I applied what I learned in HKU and passed my remaining course requirements with some of the highest scores I’ve ever had in upper division courses. Of course, grades are not the only indicators of success. I gained a lot of confidence in my academic and cognitive abilities from this experience as well as new found appreciation for the complex logic involved in math. I know that a good student takes effort and exhibits an incredible work ethic in order to succeed. And a good teacher should do all in their power to help their students on their path to success.

What are your interests outside of teaching?

I enjoy outdoor activities such as biking, tennis, and swimming. My family has a sometimes unfortunate medical history so I am proactive about making healthy choices as often as possible. I also enjoy reading and blogging. I would like to publish something of my own someday.

What would your worst critic say about you?

My critics will say that I can be very critical (is it just me, or is there some irony here?). I believe in saying the truth and sometimes the truth can be painful. With some exceptions, I tend not to dispense my opinion unless explicitly asked since the receiving party may not be ready to hear it with any benefit yet. When I am asked, I try to make my ideas and advice edifying for all involved. I hope other people will do the same for me: telling me the hard truth when I cannot see it for myself.

What would you like us to know about you?

I am very interested in pursuing additional degrees, possibly up to a Ph.D. and I would like to continue my own education by taking night and weekend courses at local colleges or universities.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The bridge to nowhere

Slightly discouraged tonight. One of the reasons is that I'm still burnt out from the fall semester and am not particularly looking forward to the new orientation next week. Is it REALLY next week already? Very rarely is 6 weeks of holiday not enough for me. Unfortunately, this is one of those times.

Another reason is that I spent the last two hours filling out online applications to three different school districts. I haven't clicked any submit buttons yet, even though two of the three are basically complete. The third is about half-way done.

Doing job hunting stuff is really nerve wrecking. Each time I take out my academic and employment history files I usually get this really queasy feeling. Am I good enough? Do I have a well-balanced as well as in-depth background? Are those repeater courses going to come back and bite me where it hurts most? Most of my career and school choices were made, frankly, on my wims at the time. I was pretty much directionless up until relatively recently, although a wider perspective would find that most people are directionless at one point or another. Or was it that I was going in so many different directions that it seemed like I was just going in a circle, like a set of tangent vectors? I had a lot of dreams and ambitions, they just were (still are, sort of) all over the place. Looking at the headlines doesn't really give a clue as to what I wanted for myself. Which makes me feel like I'm not good enough in comparison to other potential candidates. It took me a long time to learn how to make choices that were not negatively pressured by outside sources. Is it going to take another lengthy period to find a place where I'll be a good fit?

Anyway, I'm done with application work for tonight. I would like to apply to two more districts, but I'll save those for another day. In any case, I'm glad I got this thing started early.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Your trash, a teacher's treasure

Despite it being in my genes (both my parents, and to some extent my brother, do this) I'm not a natural pack rat. Rather, I prefer to purge stuff, which can go awry especially when I'm cleaning out the files on my hard drive. More than once, I've made my computer unusable because I accidentally deleted something vital. Thanks goodness for factory restore and flash drive storage.

But I've realized that being a teacher means stocking up on certain things like a nuclear fallout waiting to happen. The more expensive items - books, P.E. equipment, organizing storage - I'll probably accumulate slower and more deliberately than things like paper towel tubes and 2 liter soda bottles. I started hoarding cereal boxes and the like about a year ago and now my closet is full to bursting of what some people might describe as kindling.

One of the most useful things I've collected are magazines and mail order catalogs. These are great for collages and other projects that require a lot of glossy, color photographs and pictures. However, some of the magazines are just not child-friendly (what is the commonality between fashion and naked people? aren't fashion magazines supposed to advertise clothing??). And I don't want to recycle them simply because I have such a volume of them, and it'll seem like such a waste of good material.

Hence, the table made of magazines as pictured above. No glue or other fastening materials needed. Just magazines and about 20 minutes in front of 30 Rock last night, plus some tips from here, and I've got myself a new little round stand. Of course it's not the most permanent piece of furniture on the planet, but it is surprisingly sturdy and there's nothing at Ikea that can do better.

I haven't decided what to do with it yet. Although there is a potted plant sitting on top of a wooden file cabinet which I would like to re-commission. The file cabinet, not the plant. The stand made of magazines can be the plant's new home.

Point is, there are all sorts of cool DIY things one can do with trash. It just takes a little creativity and patience. And really effective google search words.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Phase III

English tutoring, Form 5, St. Paul's College.

Yay! Finally got news of my placement today!

5th Grade at EIB with JL as my CT. Funnily enough, I think this is the CT that my phase II CT had as a CT when she was in the program. Whoohoo! How many more times can I type CT into this paragraph? By the way, CT stands for "classroom teacher," "cooperating teacher," or "master teacher," all of which are interchangeable.

Scanned the schools' statistics on They aren't great. But they aren't terrible either.

Ok, let me rephrase that. Their overall API score last year was 704. The state of California aims for every school to be at 800. A difference of 104 may seem like a lot, however I know many other schools with WAY less points than that.

But it definitely looks rather bleak for EIB. The 4th grade team seems to be really on the ball, according to their CST and CAT6 scores. But 5th grade has awful scores, especially in science and math. API ranking of 2 (out of 10) with a slightly better score of 5 (out of 10) when compared to schools of similar demographics and etc. averages it out to 3/10. They were just shy of 2 points in meeting their improvement goals from 2007 to 2008. This 5th grade class will be taking their 2009 tests with me as one of their teachers.

Awesome, a challenge.

And thus that sinking feeling in my stomach begins anew.