Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No Longer A Stranger

I have now been studying in Israel for over a month, and it still feels like I only just arrived. Occasionally, the truth will hit me and something will remind me of home...a world where Jerusalem is NOT an hour away from campus and where reading bus signs and buying groceries isn't a linguistic challenge. Nearly five weeks ago I began ulpan (an intensive Hebrew language course) with absolutely no knowledge of the language, and it amazes me how I have transformed. I find myself scribbling away, using characters that were once merely a curiosity rather than an effective form of written communication. I open book covers from left to right and write from right to left. This is now MY world.

Linguistically, I have discovered that I would rather know the nuances of English grammar implicitly, even if I must teach grammar explicitly. I have learned that I do, in fact, know how to do research...making the 3.5 hour required research methods course less than thrilling. Most of all, my experiences here have confirmed that I have truly been taught by the best and that I am incredibly fortunate to have the foundational knowledge and experience that I have in education (I have also discovered that I am extremely possessive of this knowledge).

So far from home, it's difficult not to search for meaning and purpose in my experiences and presence here. There is one course, The Israeli Educational Context, that has helped me find this among the slew of introductory courses required during summer term. It has given me a glimpse of my future in this program, and after one short meeting with my professor I realized what has been missing...a classroom.

I will begin teaching in October and will be working with a "particularly difficult" group of junior high students at a religious boarding school outside of Tel Aviv. I will be teaching a subject I have never taught before, in a foreign country, with limited knowledge of my students' native language(s), as a non-Jew in a religious Jewish boarding school...who needs to shop for "teacher clothes" suitable for such an environment (no pants, long skirts or dresses, high necklines, and longer sleeves). What a cultural experience! :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A New Journey

Looking out over Tel Aviv (taken in Jaffa on my trip this Spring)
In one word, this summer has been...busy. I started off the summer clawing my way out of a particularly bad downward spiral after a "trying" final semester. I walked at graduation knowing that, while I would be done soon, MY journey was not yet ending. However, I finished and defended my senior thesis this summer (in record time, I might add) and now the summer is drawing to a close (yes, I know it's only July). And yes, the summer I most needed to recuperate has been anything but relaxing, because instead, I will be embarking on a new and exciting journey as I begin my master's program at Tel Aviv University...that's right, I will be moving half way across the world in only about two more weeks!

Moving does, of course, comes with its own set of fears and anxieties, especially for those of us who despise packing but are hell bent on packing everything that we could ever plausibly need (all while trying to efficiently utilize valuable suitcase space). Anyhow, I'm not even there yet...only dreading the inevitable approach of packing phobia. I am also moving to a country in which I am, for all practical purposes, illiterate. I never wanted to be "that" person, but "Thank God they speak English!" or I would be a nervous wreck. Wrapping my mind around the fact that I won't be seeing a familiar face for the next year has been a challenge (evidently, Israel isn't their destination of choice). I will dearly miss friends, family, and loved ones, but I could not be more excited about the adventure I will be undertaking. I wanted to say quest, but that just reminds me that I will be missing the release of The Hobbit! *sigh* ;)

Back to education... My program is in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and I will have the opportunity to teach in Israeli schools while getting a masters degree in an education-related field (woohoo!). I can't wait to elaborate on these experiences as well as my own experiences learning Hebrew and studying abroad. I'm sure that soon you will be introduced to a slew of new people, a new and exciting backdrop for my educational experiences, and a very different side to my quest for worldwide educational geekiness! For the record I'm not crazy, just enthusiastic... and desperately longing to be in a classroom again. :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Week Thirteen: Final Thoughts

It was hard to grasp the fact that this week was my LAST week in field, especially because I won't be going straight into student teaching. I miss the classroom already, my cooperating teacher, and all of the middle schoolers whose classes I'd taught and whose papers I had graded. I finally realized just how much I had connected with the students in my classroom. The students' responses to my last day varied...one girl  didn't know it was my last day and had been planning to bake me a cake, one boy jokingly cheered (and then told me he'd miss me), another called "have fun in college...if that's possible" as he walked out the door.

This semester I felt like I found the perfect balance, connecting with my students but still maintaining authority in the classroom. For the first time I had a chance to experiment in the classroom, and I had a cooperating teacher that was able to stress the fact that "you don't need to teach it like me." She gave me the freedom to discover what my identity was in the classroom. I made mistakes, I learned from them, and even though I didn't see it happening, I grew as an educator. It's fantastic to be able to look back and realize that I wasn't nervous getting in front of my students, I finally reached the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the semester and I'm not really sure when it happened, just that at some point I reached the level of comfort in the classroom that I was hoping to attain.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Week Eleven: Feedback

While verbal feedback and communication is essential in the classroom, the ability to communicate effectively through written feedback is equally as important. Written comments are useful in that they may provide a record of student performance and progress that may be referred back to. However, in order for this feedback to be useful to students, parents, etc. it must be utilized effectively. For instance, it is important to give feedback that students can use to improve their performance in order to meet learning objectives and expectations without "giving" them the answers. That means that comments should guide students rather than correct them.

Additionally, the language used when praising student performance should be equally as descriptive. Rather than using words such as "good, " we should be able to describe WHAT they did well, WHY their response or perspective is valuable, HOW they might improve, etc. Simple descriptors make a world of difference in written communication. Instead of doing a "good" job, I would much rather use words such as insightful, interesting, or effective. The same goes for "negative" feedback. Also, in addition to comments, I LOVE using other visual forms of communication (underlining passages or words to look at, editing/grammar symbols, etc).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Week Ten: A Change of Pace

Having a week off of field was definitely a change of pace, though I also definitely missed being at the middle school. I'm beginning to grasp the fact that this was our last week to really sit down and talk about teaching as a class and that, for many of us, the upcoming weeks are the last classroom experiences we will have before student teaching.

That having been said, I appreciated that final opportunity to address questions and gather resources with strategies that will hopefully help keep us from getting stuck in the "rut". I feel like those will help us a lot when planning these final few lessons and working on our units, and it's a constant reminder of the importance of the student-centered classroom. Which of these strategies do you think you would be most likely to implement? Why?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week Nine: Goodbye Spring Break, Goodbye Israel

It was wonderful to be back in the classroom this week, and to be able to jump right back in after two weeks of Spring Break, six thousand miles away. It was also remarkable to me how much education had been on my mind during those two weeks. Our last day in Israel, as we sat around in a circle in Jaffa on our last night, I remember explaining how the trip had validated everything I believed about the importance of experiential, student-centered learning and how it had served to solidify my teaching philosophy.

My greatest intrinsic reward this week was the excitement of my students and the exclamations of "she's back!" It was also interesting to see how the dynamics of the classroom had changed, however subtly. Aside from some unrelated hiccups, it was clear that the change in the weather and the proximity to their spring break had affected behavior in the classroom. I was made aware of an increase in student misbehavior and while most of the students remained focused during class this week, it was obvious which ones my cooperating teacher had been referring to. Though, everything considered, it was a surprisingly normal week.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Week Seven: Tragedy

Obviously, the shooting at Chardon High School was on the minds of every educator this week. Not only was it a tragedy, but I saw people connect to it on a very personal level. Even I was wearing a red ribbon earlier this week. People were reaching out to students and peers, not only to those who had been affected in some way by the shooting, but those whom they simply cared about. In fact, there have been a number of tragedies recently, including several threats to other schools after Chardon.

That having been said, I was surprised by my reaction to the recent shootings. While clearly I was moved, I didn't start out in the same place emotionally. I wasn't directly tied to Chardon or the shooting, but I AM a future educator. I feel like in the wake of tragedy we tend to focus on the "what if"s. What if those were my friends? My students? What if that had happened at my school? What would I do? How would I respond? It was comforting to find that I could answer those questions: I knew that I would do anything I could to keep my students safe. For me, the realization that no one can truly be prepared for something like that, but that I am confident that if it does happen I'll know what I need to do, whatever the situation, is mind blowing to me.

I'm not sure quite how to describe the feeling, but that confidence in my ability to react instinctively, even in the worst case scenario is a huge milestone. I certainly hope I never have to put that to the test, but in observing people's responses to Chardon and asking those "what if"s I know that I have, on some level, grown as an educator.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week Six: Diving In Head First...Yikes!

So far my field experience has been fantastic. I've been engaged in activities with students EVERY day, and my coteacher definitely isn't afraid to hand over the classroom and let me dive in headfirst (twice already). Most recently I've been working with the students who are behind on their work and had an alternate activity to work on while the rest of the class worked on a symposium activity having to do with the crusades. This has given me a fabulous opportunity to observe classroom dynamics, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I can compare her second, fourth, AND fifth period classes.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I've been staying at the middle school during third period when my cooperating teacher has a planning period, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to familiarize myself with the school (she gave me a tour and the principal gave me a t-shirt), meet other teachers, watch some student presentations in other classes, learn to use the SmartBoard, and grade student papers! Not to mention, it's a great time to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss how the classes went and how we can modify them for the upcoming periods.

I love that she creates a positive, student classroom environment and the ease with which I have transitioned into a position of authority in the classroom. I appreciate the freedom she gives me in terms of how I approach activities, classroom management, etc. Even when she turns the classroom over to me she reminds me that I don't have to do it exactly the way she did and to feel free to do whatever's comfortable to me. The fact that I have been so involved in the classroom makes it far easier to jump in and teach a lesson despite the nerves.

My goal throughout the remainder of my placement is to achieve the same comfort level I have working with smaller groups of students when I'm addressing the class as a whole. It's frustrating when I feel as if I've finally figured out who I want to be in the classroom and what that's going to look like and then get up there and NOT be that teacher. It's clearly just a matter of working out the nerves, but I'd really be able to cross that threshold!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week Five: Idealistic vs. Realistic

Setting realistic expectations...I know this is going back to the basics, but it's something I've always struggled with. I think we all have this idealistic view of the world and what we can accomplish, but sometimes it's hard to tone that down and look at what is practical, what is doable. That certainly doesn't mean that we don't constantly push ourselves and explore our limits, but it does mean knowing where we stand physically and emotionally and recognizing that saying "no" is an option...even when we WANT to do everything.

Establishing these limits means figuring out what the individual steps are and creating realistic timeframes for accomplishing those goals. It's something that applies to nearly every aspect of teaching, from involvement is extracurriculars, professional development opportunities, and our ability to effectively plan lessons/units and cover all of the material in one short year. Beyond trial and error, have you discovered strategies for making sure that your goals are manageable and realistic?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Week Four: Georgia

This weekend I went to Georgia to do I.S. research (woohoo, Copeland funding!), and finally had the chance to meet the Vietnam veteran who has been the focus of my research for several months now! He and his wife are not only some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of working with, but they gave me the chance of a lifetime...a chance to touch and experience history.

Yes, I had already conducted numerous interviews on his experiences before, during, and after Vietnam, but it wasn't until my trip to Georgia that everything came together (and I was the dope on the plane grinning and happily explaining my research to anyone foolish enough to ask about it). This time I had a chance to connect to history on a personal level, to discuss not only what happened then but how it influences the way he perceives current events. I had a chance to look at the world through the eyes of a teacher, a soldier, a leader, and a citizen.

Even given the short time we had known each other, I was treated like family and in just a few short days I felt like family. I was awed by the willingness with which he gave away items from Vietnam that he had held on to for years, and I returned with stories, photographs, slides, and personal items...his ammunition belt, an extra Vietnam ribbon, combat bandages, and his mess kit complete with creamer and sugar packets from his C-rations. I touched history. Never have I felt so honored or the importance of my research weighed so heavily on me.

My research has afforded me with a valuable, eye-opening experience and a chance to engage my field (both history and education) on a personal level. What experiences have you had or do you hope to have that inspire you and allow you to connect on that level?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Week Three: A Kamikaze Personality

The kamikaze video we watched in class this week (above) was both hilarious and inspirational...and certainly left me saying "I want to be in THAT classroom!" However, along with that statement came the realization that as much as I would love to be THAT teacher, it just isn't me. As effective as that demonstration was for one particular teacher, it isn't something that I could pull off in my classroom simply because it doesn't fit my personality. Similarly, I'm not the teacher smashing a cellphone mockup with a sledgehammer or doing the dance of the parallel lines either.

The key is, of course, to modify these basic ideas to reflect who we are as educators. I say "as educators" because, while who we are doesn't change when we enter a classroom, we emphasize different aspects of our personalities when we are in the classroom than we might outside the classroom. The question is, how do we begin to explore humor in the classroom? The style that works for me isn't necessarily the kind of humor that I can utilize myself, so how do you make the transition from knowing what doesn't work for you in the classroom, to knowing who you ARE in the classroom?

Random Fact: The word kamikaze translates to "God wind" or "Divine wind."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week Two: "Bad Days"

This post is coming from a very emotional place, but I think it touches on aspects of teaching that we all need to consider at some point. We all have bad days, we're human, and most of the time I think we can all walk into the classroom and leave the other "stuff" at the door...because we have to. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to pretend (because then there's the tendency to overcompensate), but we need to genuinely focus on the positive while recognizing that the negative exists.

We need to be able to allow ourselves that bad day in order to get past it, but it's also essential to do so in such a way that it doesn't effect our students. Thus far, I've never had to face this situation in the classroom as a teacher, but I have as a student. I've seen how a teacher's or professor's "bad day" can affect learning for their students, and I've seen how my own "bad days" effect my ability to learn. As a teacher, what are your strategies for addressing those "bad days," and what positive aspects would you choose to focus on?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Week One: Curriculum

It feels good to be back in the game, to be back in classes, and to begin my last semester at the College of Wooster. I have a new roommate who came back from abroad, new classes to get excited about, and only one more semester of I.S. (my senior thesis) to complete! It was incredible to walk in on the first day of class and get to see familiar faces and "geek out" about education again. So, talking point number one, I'm happy to be back and I'm SO excited that education is still a part of my life this semester (not that I could ever separate education from life)!

I had a fantastic albeit busy and hectic first week with a lot of loose ends to tie up in the next few days, but I'm already excited about where this semester and this class will be taking us. I'm relatively sure that curriculum is not supposed to be this exciting. Isn't that the part that most teachers hate? For me, it's a puzzle...problem solving...a new perspective on the whole teaching profession that we really haven't been exposed to before. We've spent so much time focusing on how to teach a single, isolated lesson that it's refreshing to finally look at a larger perspective and see where your students have been and where they will be going in terms of the "big picture" rather than "yesterday they did THIS, and tomorrow they will do THIS."

In keeping with this week's theme, how do you personally view lesson/curriculum planning? Do you look at the big picture first, or do you have a tendency to sit down and go "oh, and then I could teach my lesson on _____ and then I could do ______"? Do you let the big picture dictate your lessons, or do you let the lessons dictate the overall curriculum?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Some Enchanted Evening"

The last few days have been bittersweet...yes, I AM on break so I can't complain about that, but the people I love are scattered all over the world and I desperately miss them. Thankfully chocolate has tamed the hormones, but my brain continues to torture me with "what ifs." I'm not much in the mood to write at the moment. In fact, I plan to distract myself with mindless television and more chocolate shortly. I did, however, get a message from Joseph today...he always knows just what to say to brighten my day, but it also reminded me just how helpless I feel sitting idly at home while he is thousands and thousands of miles away in Israel. Darn my inner control freak! Anyhow, before I curl up by the fire, gobble chocolate, and watch Jeopardy, I wanted to share the beautiful sunset we had tonight with all of you...SO magical! :)

And yes, the title of this post is, in fact, a South Pacific reference! I know, I just couldn't help myself...after all, "Wonderful Guy" has been stuck in my head since last weekend (wonder who the wonderful guy is *cough cough*)!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Years Resolutions

I hadn't realized just how long it had been since my last post here...my attention was temporarily diverted to another blog where I was required to write about my experiences during my education field placement, and I'm afraid I have neglected my readers here! So very much has happened since then. A semester has passed and my life has been touched by so many wonderful people. Joseph is still in Israel, we Skype when we have the chance, but now he calls me girlfriend. I met my Godson, Sebastian, and got to hold him for the first time...he was two weeks old. Life is beautiful, I've faced obstacles, there have been long tear-filled nights, but I'm so thankful for all of it! Goodbye 2011, we had some good times, we had some bad times, but I think I'm ready to move on! :)

I've never been one to make and keep New Years resolutions (mostly the second part), but there ARE a few things I want to remember in the new year. I promise to be true to myself, to follow my heart wherever it leads me, to always try to be the person I want to be, to find happiness in unexpected places, to love and be loved, and to never give up hope. I have one life, and I plan to make the most of every minute...I don't want to look back and wonder where my life went, to realize that I had wasted precious time. This year, I hope you all live life to its fullest and surround yourself with people who love you and will be there to get you through the next challenge, the next obstacle, the next crisis. To all the people in my life...I LOVE YOU and I absolutely couldn't do it without you! <3

Best wishes for the New Year,