Archive for the 'First Year in the Classroom' Category

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: What Happens Next

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the third of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

image 1By Michelle Fedran

The name of the village I am in is Tununak (sounds like two-new-nik). If I had the money and control over nature (nature is a HUGE factor out here and I’ll never stop mentioning that haha) I would pay for anyone who held an interest to fly out here to take a look for him or herself. It’s one thing to hear about it and another to experience it upfront. We are an hour flight out from Bethel and are right on the coast of the sea, surrounded by some mountains and cliffs so the views are breathtaking. A fun thing with being on the coast, I can still say Wisconsin still wins as one of the worst places I’ve been in when winter hits! Although besides the slightly warmer temperatures, the winds up here get pretty rough sometimes, but Wisconsin Avenue definitely help put in some good training for walking against the wind. It’s especially fun when the wind picks up to 50 mph, picking up and blowing snow, and I have to climb a hill up to school because the stairs have already been covered with snow. Some people would think I’m getting ready to climb a mountain if they saw the gear I sometimes have to put on before going outside! The closest village to us is about seven miles away through the tundra, and people normally travel back and forth by snowmachine, honda (ATV), or walking. There are other surrounding villages but when I travel to them it’s usually by bush plane. Something I have found out interesting by traveling to different villages is that it almost seems like everyone knows well, everyone!

image 4.jpgBesides physical characteristics, something I really love about it out here is the simplicity of how things seem to be. Especially coming from a bustling city with a booming market of the next generation car and little devices that control things around your house, it is refreshing to experience simple living. I have met some of the nicest people out here and have been able to experience, as well as witness, genuine happiness. I often feel that people get so caught up with work or media that personal relationships sometimes fall on the back burner, but that isn’t what I see. Up here, the people I have met so far exhibit tremendous respect and care for their loved ones, and it is really refreshing to see the happiness that good company can bring. Coming out here made me realize what I need to be truly happy and that doesn’t involve the latest high-brand purse, hottest sunglasses, or super cool kicks that just came out. I have realized it’s the little, simple things that really count and that loving friends and family are all that I—and anyone—really needs to lead a happy life.

If any of you are considering making a move to teach in a remote location such as Alaska, I would suggest that if the thought is lingering in your mind, take a chance and do it. Even if it terrifies you, that’s a greater reason to do it! I remember it was about a week before I was supposed to leave my home and fly out to basically the edge of the country (no really, look up my location on Google Maps), and I began to panic. Thoughts began racing through my head and my anxiety was about to burst through the roof! However, my friends and family told me if my dreams didn’t scare me, they weren’t big enough. So, I took those words, held them close, and now I’m truly experiencing some of the happiest moments of my life. I’ve created memories and friendships I know will last a lifetime and beyond that I will forever cherish.

Nothing is forever, things can always change, and so now is the chance to take control of your life!

sunset 1

Thinking about my future and looking five years down the road from now, I see a blur. Anything is possible! I could still be up here in Alaska, or I could be in a new location whether it be state, country, who knows! I have been asked this question quite a few times and every time I like to remind people that I’m just taking life one day at a time. You never know what can happen within 24 hours. One day you could be just fine and the next your world could be flipped upside down (good or bad). So for now, I try to focus on what I have in the moment. Although right now I am truly enjoying my time up here and am excited to say I’ll be returning next year!

Tales of a First-Year Teacher in Alaska: A Bird’s Eye View

A 2017 graduate of the College of Education, Michelle Fedran made an unusual choice for her first teaching position: she moved to a remote part of Alaska to begin her career. Reflecting upon the changes that have occurred in her life since last May, Michelle shared some of her story. This is the first of her three-part series on The Marquette Educator.

view from bush plane

view from the bush plane

By Michelle Fedran

When I first heard about this job opportunity, I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime not only from the location and cultural aspects of the position, but also from the personal adjustment I would have to make for myself. As I slowly learned more details about this opportunity, I went from a state of wonder to a fit of laughter. Sure, Alaska has always been on my list of places to travel to, but I never would have imagined throwing myself into rural Alaska to live and begin my career three months after graduation. Going from being one of the quietest girls in class since kindergarten, never winning that Presidential participation award in gym for completing 10 full push-ups, forcing myself not to cry as my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm room even though they lived a short 20-minute drive away, I thought there was no way I would be able to survive so far away by myself. Now, I’m a five-plane ride, 24+ hour, six-hour layover (if we land in Seattle) trip away from my family. To make it even more challenging, I now live in a village that I’m sure most people never heard of: Tununak, Alaska.

Thinking back to where this started, I never would have been introduced to this job opportunity had it not been for my fellow Golden Eagle friend Danny Smith who already worked for the Lower Kukokwim school district in Alaska. Once he and I began talking about my potentially seeking a job with the district, he eventually became my go-to person for questions. I picked his brain, and he did a wonderful job of preparing me for what I was about to experience. Honestly speaking, if it weren’t for him, my expectations probably would have been silly and slightly embarrassing. For example, a lot of my friends joked that I would be living in an igloo. My expectations weren’t as silly as that; however, they may have been involved riding with sled dogs across the tundra. For those curious, I’ve only used snow machines or hondas (not the car, what they call ATVs) when there is no snow.

igloo

Coming into this, I expected to change some of my simple living habits. I remember my friend telling me one of the scariest moments is when the bush plane first drops you off in the village and leaves, and you realize you are stuck there until another bush plane comes back out for you — weather permitting. Going from the luxury of hopping into a car and going anywhere I wanted, you can probably imagine this was a bit soul-gripping realization and something hard to swallow. In addition to accepting the fact that my traveling relied heavily on nature and was not up to me, I had to be prepared to live conservatively. I would no longer be able to drive to Target 10 minutes away from where I lived to pick up shampoo or crackers. Where I live in the village, there are two small stores we can go to should we need anything. However, it comes at a high price – $18 for a case of soda, $8 for lunch cheese…  Our other option is purchasing from Amazon or waiting until we fly into Bethel, the closest main city, to do our shopping. Still, things are pretty pricey there as well and even flying to Bethel would cost me $400 round-trip. As you can imagine, most of the time I find myself making a lot of purchases on Amazon seeing that is usually the cheapest option. And as funny as it is, even though Amazon prime promises 2-3 day shipping, I’m lucky if I get my package within a month of my order placement date. To sum it up: changed expectations and simple living is key out here. Knowing and being well aware of this while preparing for my move, I understood it was crucial for me to pack necessities I would need right away upon arrival.

In terms of my first-year teaching in general, I expected it to be difficult no matter where I went. I actually felt this job opportunity was quite similar to my experience at Marquette given the vast differences there were. For example, in Milwaukee, I was placed in schools with a number of bilingual students who primarily spoke Spanish and English. Up here, I work with Alaskan Natives immersed in the Yup’ik culture. The two languages spoken here are English and Yugtun. The school where I work is a dual-language school in which my students learn different subjects in either English or Yugtun. My students learn Math and English Language Arts with me in English, then they learn Social Studies, Science, and Yugtun Language Arts in Yugtun with my partner teacher, who is an Alaskan Native. I felt my experiences at Marquette helped prepare me to have the mindset of working with bilingual students and what to be mindful of when working with these students. The biggest thing I can say is time and patience are two important skills I believe every teacher should adopt no matter with whom you work.

rock formationWhen it comes to thinking of what I have learned so far, the list is LONG.  I was able to learn so many things not only with the general work of being a teacher, but I was also able to learn more about the culture here. It truly is a unique experience I’m forever grateful for. Looking at the teaching side of things some advice I would give all new teachers is that some days will be rough, but you need to brush the dirt off and keep pushing forward. With this, I encourage new teachers to take advantage of all resources, whether that would be supplies, coworkers, or anything thrown at you. It is important to have an open mind and use every moment as a learning experience. I constantly find myself making daily adjustments on Mondays to improve the flow of things on Tuesdays and the cycle sometimes repeats itself throughout the week. Overall, a lot of my first year felt more like an exploration, and from this year alone I have learned so much that I plan to do differently next year. It’s so easy to get down on yourself, and this is something I have experienced my first-year; you need to remind yourself that you are also still learning (even though yes, you have graduated college and you have a fancy paper to show it). Mentors I have worked with each shared the same piece of advice that I know will stick with me: “if ever in your teaching career should you feel that you are done learning from others, then it is time to leave the profession.” As a student we were learning, as a teacher we are now teaching AND learning. You never stop learning and should never cut yourself off from learning – especially when it comes to improvements you can make in your own practice. So, use what is around you and never be afraid to ask for help! In your classroom, you may be “king” or “queen” but in the school and district, you’re a team player. Teamwork and support are huge pieces that I see in what makes a school successful, and I’m grateful to be working in a school with a staff that demonstrates those qualities.

 

Year One: Complete

Denali_Mt_McKinley

By Danny Smith

Waqaa!

So I feel as if I start all of these saying how much better I’ll be about posting … blah blah blah…well, I don’t have to do that because it is summer and I am back to living the same boring life you all lead! I have been done for about a month now though, and have been back in the lower 48 for a few weeks. I have been sitting here wondering what I would write about and how I should write for the last few weeks. I think that this post will again be reflective, but before I do that, I want to list all of the new things I have tried or done in the past year:

New Foods Tried:
1. Akutaq
2. moose (dried, sticks, stew)
3. muskox (stew, chunks)
4. fish, dried (halibut, smelt, pike, whitefish,salmon, probably a ton more)
5. fresh and wild berries (cranberry, blueberry, salmonberry, blackberry)
6. seal oil
7. seal
8. shelf-stored milk
9. bird (duck, crane, goose, ptarmigan)
10. and the most important from an Alaskan’s P.O.V.: Tillamook Cheddar Cheese

download

New Things Attempted:
1. halibut fishing (proceeded to give to an elder at fish camp)
2. camping
3. salmon drifting (then used that salmon as bait for halibut)
4. wearing waders
5. holding a rifle
6. maqii (steam bath)
7. teaching by myself
8. running a student government
9. fundraising for a senior trip (despite it not working out)
10. trick-or-treating as an adult and walking into homes instead of knocking
11. speak a new language (Yugtun)
12. waking up at 6AM to fish alone before school
13. living without wifi at home
14. water conservation
15. -60 temperatures
16. seal skin/fur hat (never knew that fur was more than just for style)
17. SIOP lesson plans
18. Word Wall
19. casual conversations with students about firearms…
20. hauling water
21. riding in a sled of mail being pulled by a snowmachine over a melting river
22. riding on the back of a snowmachine
23. calling snowmobiles snowmachines
24. raising my eyebrows instead of saying ‘yes’
25. Iqmiik (aka black bull, or the native chewing tobacco)
26. flying to district trainings
27. not going through TSA to fly
28. Amazon Prime taking 2 weeks to deliver
29. paying $100 for a couple things at the store
30. boardwalks instead of roads

There are a ton more things I could add, but cannot think of at the moment, but there they are: 40 new experiences in the course of a year. As far as reflecting back goes, I’ve realized while writing this post that those lists kind of summarize my experience. I’d love to sit here and reflect on teaching practices and such, but that would get quite boring for the majority of you. As far as teaching goes, though, I will be spending the month of July working on lessons and such — many of which I have to just completely abandon and re-make due to how poorly designed they were. I think knowing our curriculum now and knowing my students and how they learn as individuals will benefit me tremendously going into next year.

As for my plans on staying or leaving is concerned, I have not made a decision on that. This upcoming year will definitely be the determining factor. My plan at the moment though is to be present (elders will tell the younger community members this often: to just be present in the moment and in my words, observe and absorb) and take things as they come, and then evaluate at winter break.

As far as this blog goes, I will probably keep it going throughout next year as well based on how popular it was among you all this past year. However, I am going to be realistic and not claim to have a post every week or every other week. I WILL try to keep it up once a month, or at the bare minimum bi-monthly.

I hope you have all enjoyed this year with me and have a great summer!

 

Six Tips for Classroom Management

classroom managementBy Nick Rocha – One of the most important aspects of the teaching profession involves effective classroom management skills.  After teachers plan out their lessons and curriculum, being able to properly implement the lesson within a classroom is crucial for engaged learning and to minimize disruptions.  Dave Foley, a retired teacher and counselor from Michigan, suggests six tips for classroom management.

  1. Take charge of your class: Before you start the lesson, make sure that you have everyone’s full attention and everyone is in their seats.
  2. Focus on disruptive students: Make sure to address instances of disruption through either non-verbal communication, pausing while giving a lecture, or specifically calling out the student’s name in class to answer questions or to give their opinion.
  3. Let students choose their seats: Dave argues that allowing students to decide on their own seating arrangement gives them “ownership” of their spot and often encourages students to behave well so that they do not get moved.
  4. Give incentives to do their best on assignments: Sometimes assignments are either not graded or collected from the students. One strategy is to tell the class that all of the activities will be collected and one response will be randomly selected to be evaluated on the board.  If the response is well done, the teacher can give incentives such as smaller warm-up assignments.
  5. Keep an eye on your students: When you are teaching, make sure that you are in visible site with all of your students within the classroom. This allows you to make eye contact with all of your students and address concerns before they become disruptions.  Another recommendation is to vary your position in the room when you teach.
  6. Establish consequences for misbehaving: It is important to explain expectations and consequences of actions in the early days of class. One tactic is to write a student’s name down on the board if they are misbehaving and mention that if they do well for the rest of the class, they name will be erased from the board.  A consequence of having the name on the board could be staying after class.  Dave recommends that teachers should follow up with their consequences of misbehavior to show students that you are serious and as a result they will be serious with you.

New Year, New Role

13965306323_217afc85c3_oBy Shannon Bentley –  Happy belated holidays, readers, and Happy New Years!

It has been a long time since I have written a blog and, trust me, I have missed the tiny steps and taps of the black and white keyboard. Since the end of November, I have been diligently working as the new 10th grade English teacher at Washington High School. The transition has been a bumpy road, but I am surviving the teenage battlefields of hormones, cliques, dominance, and identities. I am embarking on an endless journey trying to discover my own teaching techniques and my identity as a teacher. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the students.

Final exams are coming, which means that the first semester is almost over! My workload consists of figuring out how to motivate my students in their learning experiences. They’re currently reading the novel “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and the book caught some of the students’ interests, but left a drag in the rest. The students cannot identify themselves with “Night.” Even though the Holocaust did create cruel outcomes for millions of Jewish people, the students chose to ignore the cruel outcomes. My co-teacher and I tried to give mini explanations on Syria and countries in Africa. Unfortunately, the students have a strong belief that the Holocaust will never affect them.

Therefore, my co-teacher and I began to orchestrate a number of possibilities that we could turn in to empowering unit plans. We took in to account our students identities. The first key to creating unit plans is knowing what your students might be interested in learning. The past three weeks that I have been with my students, I have come to understand that they are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, most of the students know someone who has died through violence and/or went to jail, the students love to create raps, and they also love to talk about sports. We took those interests and created ideas.

We came up with unit plans as monthly themes so that the students are not stuck on one topic for more than 4 weeks. These topics consist of research on their identity as black youth such as the Black Lives Matter movement, black women’s hair, sports, employment, education, etc. We also thought of doing slam poetry, teaching Shakespeare’s Othello, along with a follow-up unit of film adaptations of the classical play. Will these ideas interest all of the students? Probably not. However, as a teacher, you have to start somewhere, especially when you want your students to learn the necessary reading and writing skills.

It is important to always reach the students based on their interests. We have seen classrooms on the news more successful in that aspect. My co-teacher and I will test our ideas and put them to work, along with changing our techniques when teaching the information to the students.  It is a bumpy road, but I am willing to learn and be dedicated. It is like one of my education professors at Marquette said: “If you quit after your first year, how do you know that you learned?”

Rethinking Black History Month

black-history-monthBy Elizabeth Turco — February is one of the most important months.

It signifies love, through Valentine’s Day.  It shows presidential spirit with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln celebrating birthdays and the annual celebration of Presidents Day. The Super Bowl happens in this month. It is the strange month with the extra day every four years. It gives hope as it is the first month where winter starts its end. Of all the things that make February great, however, there is one over which I am torn: Black History Month.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating African American culture and historical importance, especially in the classroom. I like that the culture gets a chance to celebrate and be emphasized instead of simply being forgotten and passed over.

However, I do not like the hidden message that the notion of Black History Month sends.

The tradition of Black History Month spans almost ninety years. Ninety years ago, America was at its peak of racism. Reconstruction movements were completely ended and all but forgotten about. The Civil Rights Movement had not yet started. What started as Black History Week was an attempt to emphasize and celebrate an oppressed culture. Sixty years later, as a part of the Civil Rights Movement, this celebration was lengthened to the entire month of February. African Americans had their chance to become better recognized and appreciated across the nation.

As a history teacher I was met with a mental conflict about how to approach this month. Should I go out of my way to teach the African American influence in history? Should I just keep going on as scheduled? I was uncertain of where to find the balance.

My semester curriculum includes African American history. To only cover it in depth in February would be impossible. The African American influence in history is just as significant as the white influence. To only tell a one sided story, regardless of the side, would be an incomplete picture. Racial tensions have marked this nation from the very beginning and white and African American relations are a constant.

To have one month set aside for the celebration of one culture, regardless of which one it is, to me, is wrong. While it is good to embrace diversity and learn more about others, it is bad to set them apart so strongly. Continuing Black History Month only continues segregation.

To have one month for African American history would imply that all eleven other months are for white history. African Americans represent more than 1/12 of American history. This also poses the question: African Americans get their own month, should every culture get their own month? While there are months for different heritages, they are not as well-known as Black History month, even though their history is important, too.  While the history of America is full of black and white racial issues, there are a variety of other races involved too. Dividing history by the race of the people participating in it only continues the separation between races, instead of bringing them closer together.

The Curse of the Inspirational Teacher Movie

Inspirational-Teacher-moviesBy Elizabeth Turco — With my student teaching right around the corner, I have been preparing long and hard.

No, I have not been rereading all my education books from the last few years, nor have I been looking back through my old notes. I have been doing what I imagine all prospective teachers are doing to get excited for teaching: watching inspirational teacher movies. 

These movies are great and all follow the same equation: young naïve teacher + urban school + dedication and enthusiasm – life problems = success in the classroom. Everyone wins. Everyone lives happily ever after.

In the midst of friendship and fuzzy feelings, however, is an unsettling plot element. In every inspirational teacher movie, there is always at least one old and jaded teacher, who disagrees with every innovative and engaging activity that the new teacher brings to the classroom. These teachers are shown as the mean and uppity antagonist—and are more preoccupied with making their job easier than benefiting the students. They oppose all the new and innovative teaching techniques that these new teachers bring to the table.  They are exactly how society perceives old teachers.

As a new teacher it makes me worry. Having the old teachers as a road block for success is troublesome. Weren’t those teachers once young and eager for success? What has happened to them to make them so negative and jaded? The more I watch these movies, the more I fear for myself, turning into this creature, one who hates students and longs for the beloved school vacations.

Especially as a new teacher, I worry of encountering the many problems in education, but having no positive role models to turn to, thus making myself an army of one. Can I handle these teachers like in those movies? In addition to showing the greatness that teaching can have, these movies also show teaching at its worst. These movies tell me that my effective teaching time is on a countdown. Eventually, I will become just like the crabby old teachers, ineffective and uncaring. The pressure of student difficulties will overwhelm my high hopes, enthusiasm, and pizazz, therefore destroying me.

This simple stereotype of old teachers cannot be true. Do years of experience count for nothing? In my own experiences, I have encountered my fair share of wonderful older teachers and incapable new teachers. These movies show youth as the key to educational success, but is that really true? To become an expert in something, you have to do it over and over again, for years. One does not simply walk into a classroom and make an infinite amount of impact with no prior knowledge of how to do it. While these inspirational teacher movies are heartwarming and give hope to all new teachers, they do not give justice to experience.


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