Sunday, May 21, 2017

Farewell, Mr. V

Mr. V early during his student teaching experience.
February 15, 2017

I always wanted to host a student teacher in my classroom, but in my twenty-seven years at Blue Ridge High it just never happened. During my nine years in the Mesa Unified School District (1980-1989), I saw plenty of student teachers come and go, and then in spring 1990 I became one of them as I finished up my degree and earned my teaching certificate. But Mesa is urban, part of the larger Phoenix metropolitan area, a short drive from Arizona State University, so there are literally hundreds of education majors looking for a placement as they conclude their studies each semester and prepare to launch into the world of teaching.

Our area, however, is rural. The nearest college is two and a half hours away, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, so we simply don't get a flood of student teacher applicants every semester.

February 27, 2017

That's why I was so thrilled when the father of two of my English students asked whether I was willing to host him as my student teacher. My response was, "When do we start?" The timing seemed perfect, the final semester of my teaching career. I hoped it would energize me and prevent me from catching the older students' disease called "senioritis" as I neared the end. And it has been a fun experience.

Following several knee surgeries, Mr. V had to reinvent himself after a long, successful career in construction management and education. Inspired by his own children's educational experiences and his wife's career as a teacher in our district, he chose to go into education. Having completed all his coursework at Grand Canyon University, all he needed was to complete seventy-five school days as a student teacher in a classroom matched to his certification area, secondary English.

Sophomore English students wrote and produced their own children's books.

Once all the paperwork was submitted, we were ready to begin. Mr. V started on January 9th and worked with me right up until two days ago, May 19th. It's been so much fun to see my curriculum through the eyes of someone new to the craft, full of idealistic plans and fresh ideas.

He began by observing for a week or two, taking some time to build relationships with the students, but he was anxious to plunge in and soon had taken over the teaching in all seven of my classes. I offered to give him an hour off since I do not have a prep hour (a class-free period for preparation, grading, and so on), but he declined. He felt he could handle the nonstop instructional day. And he has.

After another couple of weeks, he took over the lesson planning and all of the grading. It. Was. Awesome.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.
January 30, 2017

When he joined the class, my sophomores were about halfway through the novella The Little Prince, and we had taken a break to have the students write their own little children's books. They could work individually or in pairs, and each book was required to contain both illustrations and text, with no more than two sentences per page, on a minimum of six pages. Then they would read their finished books to the class.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

When Mr. V took charge, though, he took it a step further. He arranged for the kids to read their books to children in several classes at different grade levels in the elementary school. Thus, one day we all walked over to the elementary school and watched our nervous teens read aloud to their very eager young audiences. Their books were well received. The youngsters asked intelligent questions and made observant comments. It was quite the success. And this was just one example of that little extra push Mr. V brought to the game, which made this semester so much more interesting.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

Please be aware that, while Mr. V did all of my usual daily work, it didn't mean I spent my days eating bonbons and snoozing in the teachers' lounge. In fact, I was in my classroom most of the time, observing his instruction, monitoring his progress, looking over his plans, providing feedback, and participating in his evaluations. I also volunteered to take on extra IEPs, which meant I spent a lot of time at my computer.

An IEP, or Individual Education Plan, is, at minimum, a 14-page document that must be updated annually for every student receiving special services. It is the bane of the special educator's existence, but it is mandated by federal law and therefore a necessity. This document requires assessing the student in all areas of disability; interviewing him to determine aptitudes, interests, and career goals; making a transition plan to guide him in attaining the career goal; seeking feedback from other teachers who work with him; researching and analyzing old testing data and health issues relating to educational access; determining what classroom and testing accommodations are appropriate for the child; and setting goals for that student to strive to attain throughout the coming year. That's just a small taste of the information we must gather and document in the IEP. And then we who write the IEP are also tasked with conducting the meeting of the IEP team, which includes an administrator, a counselor, a general education teacher, the parents, and the student himself, as well as anyone the parents may invite and any other involved parties, such as a speech pathologist or psychologist.

An IEP for a student who is new to our school, whether an incoming freshman or a move-in, can take up to four hours to complete. You can plan on about two hours for a student whose IEP you wrote yourself the previous school year. So you can see how this ate up a lot of my time during the six- to seven-week period that I was doing two or three IEPs per week, thanks to volunteering to take on extras. No time for bonbons.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

It all made for an interesting final semester. Strangely, having someone else teach my classes really defined what I love most about my job. It isn't the planning of lessons, although I'm good at it and find organizing a solid, creative lesson plan to be very satisfying. It certainly isn't the mountains of grading or the testing. It most definitely is not the dealing with behavior issues in the classroom.

No, the one thing I found I missed most over the past four months is my interaction with the students themselves. It's energizing, almost like I come alive when I'm in front of the class and engaging the students in a great discussion. The more invested they become in the topic, the more the energy flows.

I didn't realize how much I missed it until one day when Mr. V had to leave early for a baseball game (he's an assistant coach) and I had to step in. At that moment it hit me how flat it felt working at my desk every day, and I found myself reveling in those moments I got to spend with my classes again.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

Now Mr. V's experience is over. He did so well that he's been offered a contract for next year, and the kids are glad to know that he'll be back. It was a learning experience for me, too, and I'm glad we got to share it as I conclude my years as a teacher. I look forward to finishing up with my own students as we enter the final seven days of school that remain over the next two weeks. I'm very ready to begin the next phase of my life, but it also feels almost surreal, as if this can't be real. But it is happening, and it's been a great ride!

Good luck to you, Mr. V! Thanks for sharing this semester with me and our kids!

Another activity involved the students designing their own little planets,
like the one the Little Prince came from.

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