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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 22 2011

Summer Observations

As part of our assigned pre-institute work, corps members are required to observe at least two classrooms in the community and record our observations about teacher and student behavior. The goal is to pinpoint which behaviors encourage academic achievement and see them in action.

The class I observed was a multi-age kindergarten and first grade group. The children were selected for this classroom based on their ability to complete work independently. The teacher was very welcoming to me and had built rapport with the administration and her colleagues. She was flexible enough to know when it was time to give the kids a few seconds to get their wiggles out, but held enough sway with the class that they quieted down when she asked them to.

There was much room for improvement, however. High heels and white clothes were the first hints that she was not going to be very interactive with her class: If I teach anything below second grade, I’m going to choose comfortable shoes and sensible clothes so I can help with art projects and get down on the carpet without hesitation.  Besides that, there was a great need for procedures; kids bounded down the hall on their way to lunch, pushed each other in line for water, and had to come to her desk each time a pencil broke or they finished their assignment because there was no set routine built in for these everyday occurrences.  There was a lack of an over-arching goal for the children so each assignment or game or lesson was just an activity to complete rather than an important piece of the puzzle to helping them meet their academic goals. When I teach, I’m going to set high expectations in the beginning of the year for each child and for the class as a whole so that they will know what their end goal is. I also did not notice any trackers in her classroom to help children visually understand how their progress so far aligns with their goal.

What bothered me the most about this observation was the amount of times I heard teachers and administrators blame parents for specific childrens’ low academic progress. I know that having supportive, educated parents is a huge help to students, but pushing the blame does not solve the problem.When I’m a teacher, I will pay extra attention to the students who need it, and will make sure they know that I am invested in their success in my classroom. I will work with them to understand where their problems lie and make an individualized plan so they can improve. I will give leadership opportunities to children in my classroom so that everyone feels like an important part of the team, and I will celebrate our achievements. I will not give up on a single one of my students no matter what their home life is like.

Overall, the first observation experience was good because I was able to see how much time and energy can be wasted on classroom management without solid procedures in place. I also felt the anger of seeing a child be left behind, as early as kindergarten, because the teacher did not find a way to motivate, invest, and engage him. It also prepared me for mindsets I will surely come into contact with in my future school.

3 Responses

  1. Polly

    While it’s admirable that you have that go-getter mindset, be careful of judging other teachers. Non-TFA teachers don’t use classroom trackers ( well, none that I know). When a teacher is forced to follow the curriculum, and that curriculum calls for worksheets and activities that seem (and probably are) like they’re only timefillers, there isn’t much room for being innovative, especially if your job will be on the line if you don’t follow the curriculum to a T.

    The one comment I am in total agreement with is the one about procedures. Kids need structure and rules to ensure a well-managed classroom. I wish you luck during your first year. I can guarantee it’s going to be quite the experience!

    • j00lerd

      I realize in hindsight that I was pretty judgmental about the teacher I observed. I guess after all that reading and envisioning, I was discouraged that my classroom visit was not what I thought it would be. I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as we are to be part of TFA and have high expectations!

  2. Dominique

    Wow this is a great article! I definitely don’t see you being the “high heel white clothes type” and your craftiness will definitely help the younger crowd. You are so inspiring making vows to make sure you don’t blame the parents and to do everything you can to not leave a child behind. You are going to do amazing things, Julie :o)

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