Friday, May 22, 2015

Something to Celebrate!

The end of another academic year – The young teachers-to-be who come last fall with doubts and courage are now prepared to "go forth" and do good things.    I am involved with two different programs – so I get to learn and borrow good ideas from each. 
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I have been with Mills College for the longest – I had Mills student teachers in my own classroom when I was teaching, and I  formed a bond with that program – and now I have been working as a field supervisor with Mills for over 10 years…  To understand the Mills approach see the following: strength of the Mills program is the personal support that the student teachers receive from the cooperating teacher (master teacher) in whose classroom they are working, course work instructors on the Mills campus, from the supervisors (that’s me), and in the weekly seminars when all the student teachers in the program gather to share ideas from their own practice and to learn from each other.  

One of the joys of the program is to see how the group of young teachers meld together into a supportive family – they support and care for each other …it happens each year.  It has been a full year for them!  They share course work in the theory and methods of teaching – with an emphasis on teaching in inner-city schools – complex practical skill building, and a good deal of personal reflection.  They are leaving with a good "bag of tricks" - but more important they know how to keep learning on their own.

Mills Hall - on campus

Teach for America is also selective for the students selected to participate.  In each location, TFA partners with a local university – In the Bay Area it is Loyola Marymount University.  The young interns are trained in an intensive summer program in an inner city community, in the art and skills of teaching… class management skills, presentation and assessment activities, and lesson planning and evaluation skills.  

Part of each day in the summer training is direct hands on classroom experience.  Interns are then hired by inner city districts to teach 5 periods a day, and receive a full beginning salary.  As their teaching commences they also have the benefit of their field supervisor, an in-school support person, weekly evening classes, several scheduled weekend seminars, and reflective team meetings with a small group of teachers who meet in scheduled team meetings.

One common feature with both programs is working in inner city schools.
Following is a list of some of the characteristics of the world that both the Mills student teachers and the LMU/TFA interns have chosen for their work:
 * More than twice as many students are likely to be living in poverty than those in suburban locations.
*  The number of single parent families is directly proportional to the poverty level.  Often the working parent is working and not present to support the child with homework or with issues of ‘growing up”.

*  The increasing proportion of children with non-English backgrounds in urban locations has led to a greater proportion of children with difficulty speaking English in those locations.
* Our Bay Area inner city schools tend to have high proportions of Latino, Black, Pacific Island, Asian, Indian/Pakistani/Afghani students.  The cultural diversity is both a learning opportunity but oftena cause of cultural isolation.
* A high concentration of low-income students in a school is related to less desirable student performance.
* Urban students were more likely to be exposed to safety and health risks that place their health and well being in jeopardy, and were less likely to have access to regular medical care.
* They were also more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, which can make desirable outcomes more difficult to reach.
* Urban schools had larger enrollments, on average, than suburban or rural schools at both the elementary and secondary levels.
*Urban teachers had fewer resources available to them and less control over their curriculum than teachers in other locations, as did teachers in urban high poverty schools compared with those in rural high poverty schools (figure E).
*Student behavior problems were more common in urban schools than in other schools, particularly in the areas of student absenteeism, classroom discipline (figure G), weapons possession, and student pregnancy.
*Students in high poverty schools were less likely to feel safe in school, or to spend much time on homework than those in low poverty schools.
* Students in urban high poverty schools were much more likely to watch television excessively (figure H) and to require more discipline by teachers in class compared with their counterparts in other locations
*The turn over rate of teachers is very high as teachers come for a year and then move on to “greener pastures”

*Young adults who had attended urban and urban high poverty schools had much higher poverty and unemployment rates later in life than those who had attended other schools
*Is it easy to teach is such a school – definitely there are challenge.  For student teachers or interns raised in a white middle class environment it can be jarring  to learn to navigate a new culture and to find richness and satisfaction there.

Classroom wall poster 
*Is it rewarding – unbelievably – as you connect with real students who may not have had many in their lives who encouraged them and saw their potential – as you create a safe learning environment and build genuine possibilities for kids with a lot of emptiness in their lives.
*It does require courage and willingness to take emotional and intellectual risks… and to see it through. 
So there is a lot to celebrate with this graduation – it has been a challenging year – and time now to relax a bit – before starting to take what has been learned and plan for next year…

Home sweet home