Sunday, August 14, 2011

a new beginning

Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. ---Khalil Gibran

In one week, it all begins. Here I sit, at my kitchen table, in a power-productive mood (yes, I just downloaded some new music to get me going). I was up at classroom working on stuff for the first week of school, and I found myself staring at my empty desks. In one week's time, they will be filled with chattering 7th and 8th graders. Am I really prepared? My college diploma (a very expensive piece of paper) tells me that I am credited, certified, and capable. My classroom is pretty much ready, aesthetically speaking. My stomach tells me that I'll be the only adult in my room. My spinning head tells me that 29 adolescents in my homeroom will be overstimulating at times. And my heart tells me that I am in the right place.

I always loved the back-to-school time of the year. New clothes, new school supplies, new teachers, and a fresh start. It's finally hitting me that I will get this experience every year, and hopefully it will get easier as time goes on. I feel like I've already done two months' work for no pay, but the real work is still yet to be done, probably within the next two days. I report on Tuesday, but I'll be at school far more than the in-service days. I have so many goals, so many ideas...and no patience. I want to start it all right away. I know that it won't be possible to do everything I want in one year, but I feel like if I execute this properly, I can get maximum results. It just takes an insane amount of planning, something I LOVE to do anyway!

One thing I am looking forward to the most is the fact that I will get to teach these kids (especially the 7th graders, who will be new to this) how to organize and plan their days. We're going to spend extensive time learning how to use their planners provided by the school, how to set and reach goals, and how to make mental (or physical) lists that ensure they are ready for each day. It's not meant to prepare them just for high school, but life.

It's going to be a great year. I can feel it. But for now, I should probably get back to planning. Thanks for reading. Look for more soon!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Decisions, decisions...

Using the power of decision gives you the capacity to get past any excuse to change any and every part of your life in an instant. ---Anthony Robbins

So, kind of a dramatic quote, right? You're probably thinking to yourself, "what sort of life-changing decision has she made today?" Actually, I'm talking about my classroom. And my curriculum. Somehow, carte blanche seemed like a good idea ages ago, but now it's very daunting and I fear I do not know where to begin. I was so anxious to get my keys, my curriculum and texts, ready for August. And now, I'm panicking every time I look at the calendar. "It's almost July? Whaaaaat?"

I suppose I'll get through it like I always do. :)

In other news... I've graduated. I'm waiting tables. Until August, and let me just say that I will not be working food service ever again. Every person should wait tables for a day for all people to understand the crap that servers go through on a daily basis. I'm attending a Holocaust Educator's Seminar this coming week. It's gonna be AWESOME, and a chance to reunite with some amazing educators who have truly shaped me as both an educator and as a person. I feel nothing but overwhelming gratitude.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bittersweet Symphony

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. ---Nelson Mandela

So, here I am. It is my last day of student teaching. Last block of the day, my cooperating teacher taking back over. It still hasn't quite hit me that tomorrow, I don't have to get up at 6AM and be somewhere. I won't have papers to grade, or lessons to plan; my Capstone project is complete. Each student got a letter from me, and I got a few from them.

The most striking moment for me today was that there was a line of students wanting to hug me after my most challenging class. I couldn't believe how, because it was my last day, they came to realize how much work I had done for them. Teaching is not a job for people expecting gratitude, but I was overwhelmed with their gratitude and my own.

Upon reflecting about the semester, at first I didn't think I had changed, but I have begun to realize that I have, even from just a few weeks ago. It's been an interesting ride, but to have the challenges that I have had are the reason why I feel so prepared for what I am about to tell you, reader.

I have a job :) I will be teaching junior high English and Literature. I am so fortunate, so very blessed. I've had it for a few weeks now, but wrapping up the term and finishing everything for college AND moving has consumed me. I have summer vacation starting tomorrow, graduation on Saturday, and then... I go to see my classroom/sign contracts on Monday. But I guess summer starts pretty quick here. I think the first month and a half will be devoted to reading every book I can get my grubby little hands on and doing things that I haven't had the opportunity to do in a long time. This includes a full night's rest.

I am planning to continue the blogging, especially because student teaching was just the beginning. Veni, Vidi, Vici

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Show Goes On

All right, already/the show goes on/all night til the morning/we dreamed so long/anybody ever wonder/when they would see the sun go/just remember when you come up/the show goes on... ---Lupe Fiasco, "The Show Goes On"

This entire week, I have been on my own. Thankfully, I have a sub license, so I'm getting paid to do what I've been doing all semester! At first it was weird, running the show on my own. But eventually I came around and it's been nice to have full autonomy. It's a nice preview for when I have my own classroom. There have been moments throughout the semester where I've been flailing, and my CT has let it happen. During those moments, I couldn't help but wonder WHY he was letting me struggle. Afterword, he would always say, "There's not going to be a CT to save you when you're on your own." Looking back, I am eternally grateful for those moments. The show must go on...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Playing Ketchup

Who of you by worrying can add a single moment to your lifespan? ---Matthew 6:27

That quote really spoke to me and compelled me to make a blog post after nearly a month of silence. It was not intentional silence, dear reader. Rather, it was a contemplative silence, I assure you.

One thing that student teaching has taught me (not only about myself, but generally, as a life lesson) is that I worry too much. Granted, I have forced a pretty full plate upon myself, doing things that weren't entirely necessary, but at the same time, I used to stress myself out to the point of shaking and crying if I didn't have something completely prepared down to the minute. I've learned that the classroom takes its own natural course, and there's nothing I can do to stop the inevitable.

Today I had my mid-term evaluation with my CT and supervisor. I was pretty shocked with their marks, apparently I do not give myself enough credit, as my evaluation of myself was significantly lower than theirs. One criticism they had for me was that I always judge my performance based on my "worst" days. They warned me that if I continue to do this, I will be burnt out in three years, definitely something I don't want to happen. So now, I am attempting to make a conscious effort to evaluate my strenghts rather than my weaknesses. Wish me luck, as this is an attempt to reverse a habit nearly 22 years in the making.

In other news, I'm loving my new group of Holocaust Lit. This is a group that I wish I had for MORE than 90 minutes a day, because I constantly have to say, "sorry guys, we need to keep going if you ever want to get to the Holocaust." Currently, we are studying Darfur. It's amazing how many of these kids had no idea it is such an issue. It's probably the only genocide that has occurred in their conscious lifetime, as Rwanda was occurring as they were being born. I love our daily conversations. :)

I was fortunate to keep most of the kids from Term 3 in American Lit. There are still challenges with many of them, but to see the progress I have made with them is really rewarding. And... we get to start Term 4 with a biographical criticism unit on one of my favorite authors EVER... Sherman Alexie. I jumped all over that unit, and so far I think the kids are really enjoying it.

Reading Ideas is a new group of kids-smaller class, with a mass ball of energy. I could do a lot of activities with last term's kids that I definitely can't do with this group, but I'm learning how to structure, so it's a great experience.

On top of all that, I leave for New York City and Washington, D.C. the day after tomorrow! I'll gain chaperoning experience AND I get to meet Elie Wiesel. Oh, AND newly added to that list is Jim Loewen, author of LIes My Teacher Told Me. I will be approaching him with my ridiculously annotated copy and sheepishly asking him to sign my copy as I explain to him how he changed my life. I suppose it would be like what meeting a rock star is like for normal people.

Well, I won't take up any more of your time, dear reader. I have job applications to finish, lesson and sub plans to write, laundry to do, and packing! I suppose I take from my CT the art of balancing multiple things at once. It's been a full semester, but worth every moment!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. ---Elie Wiesel

Oh, how I am growing to love Elie Wiesel more and more each and every time I read something by him. I know he's famous for Night but I just started A Mad Desire to Dance and it's phenomenal.

Wiesel gets me fired up, about becoming an educator, a writer, a reader, and an activist. I don't understand how people read what he writes and not be inspired, engaged, and, possibly even a little outraged about what has happened to humanity. Holocaust Lit is wrapping up Night at the moment, and I have been hitting a wall with this class.

Maybe it's the fact that Holocaust Lit is first block, first class in the morning. Maybe it's the fact that I am not as confident as my CT in leading discussions. Maybe the content is just so shocking to these kids. Whatever the reason, I CANNOT get these kids to talk.

I don't want to take their silence as indifference to the subject at hand, but day in and day out, that is what it feels like. I have a handful of kids whom I know I can depend on when the others are not willing to contribute to discussion, but I feel terrible for calling on them when the awkward 45-second silence has taken hold and I feel trapped. I try to call on everyone, but many kids will just sit there and say, "um... I dunno."

How do I cultivate meaningful discussion on a subject that requires activism in a class that has been resistant for an entire term? One student gave a presentation on human trafficking ( and it was completely shocking. Did you know that I-80 is used for mass amounts of human trafficking? I did not. We sat for a full 60 seconds in silence and no one said anything. I called on someone who doesn't normally talk, saying, "what are you thinking about all of this?" and his response was, "I'm thinking about how nobody talks in this class."

Granted, this term is almost over, and a new group of kids will be shuffling in, but I'm wondering what to do if I encounter this again. When we discussed the difference between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, I introduced the term indifference, asking what it was. And they sat there in silence. I wanted to say, "think about what you're doing right NOW."

I don't think these kids are indifferent. Many of them indicate their understanding through written reflection. Many are brilliant writers. However, trying to lead discussion on a heavy subject when your class won't talk can sometimes be a little nerve-wracking. I hope this is something I just gain with experience.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Multiple Hats

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line... but that's not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimmage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or doubling back...I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often, I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often, I have received better than I deserved...I am an ignorant pilgrim, crcossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off teh feeling that I have been led. ---Wendell Berry

Hello, dear reader. Did you miss me? I definitely missed you. My sincerest apologies for not keeping you updated. They told me I would be tired after long days of teaching, and I believed them, but I guess it didn't really hit me until about 5ish weeks in how tired I would be.

Let me also say that if you are student teaching in the next year, PLEASE do not work while you do so. Ten hours a week is ten hours too many.

SO much has happened since the last time I posted. I am now chaperoning a trip to NYC/DC where I will get to meet Elie Wiesel and have a reserved time in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with no one else but our group. And that's just a small portion of the trip. I won't try to make you any more jealous than you already are.

I have three full preps now. It's exhausting. I think the hardest part is keeping up with the grading, out of anything. A part of it I brought on myself with Composition. But I love seeing what the kids produce each week.

I'm finding that with each passing minute, a have to wear a different hat. I have to be an authority figure one minute, and then an educator, and then I have to slow down and explain things. I have had the opportunity to speak with parents at Parent-Teacher Conferences, and I've gotten to say, "your kid is awesome." I love it, for as tired as I am.

I feel like there is something else I want to discuss, but I will save that for (hopefully tomorrow) another blog post. Look forward to reading about Indifference.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

good heart, good human.

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.---Nelson Mandela

I will admit it. I'm a softie. I really am. I cry at the drop of a hat over things like a beautiful sunrise or those darn ASPCA commercials with all of the abused puppies, or the most recent "We Are the World" video after the Haiti earthquake. Oh, and the ending of It's a Wonderful Life, every time. Let's see, I know there's more...

People tell me I'm just tender hearted. But that's beginning to become a problem. Like when students tell me, "Ms. Kurtenbach, I work every day of the week and thats why I couldn't get the reading done socanIpleasenottakethequiztoday?" as I'm passing out the reading quiz. And I feel for them, I really do. I worked every day too in high school. Some weekends I feel like I live at work. But I still manage to accomplish all that I need to. But boy, that summative quiz is going to tank this person's grade if they couldn't read any of what I asked them to... What to do, what to do...

Part of being the teacher who cares (once again, being a "good human" to our students) is making ourselves accessible to the student. If only more students took advantage of this accessibility, they would truly see how much the teachers want them to succeed. For those small numbers of students who have taken a proactive approach to their grades and their commitment to their education by coming in to see me or at least being honest with me about their difficulties with a text (or even admitting to not reading) they see that I AM willing to help. And I think that it increases my integrity as a teacher. Now, for the kid who didn't read, one of the most difficult things I've had to do (and it happened today) was to say, "sorry. You've had 3 days to read this AND time in class. Do the best you can on this quiz." It was like stabbing my heart with a butcher knife.

We have talked so much in 403N about "integrity as a leader". One of my colleagues noted in his blog that in order to become leaders with integrity, "we need to know exactly what makes us whole." What makes me whole, what pushes me forward is the constant will to help others and make others recognize the human conditon. I now completely recognize why I was placed with my CT. He is a wonderful person and an excellent example of what good can be brought to a school if only one person works for a meaningful learning opportunity such as Holocaust Lit. His integrity is well-recognized throughout the school. He is an educator I hope to become some day. In the mean time, I will start with my students now.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

snow day=productivity

Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.---Will Rogers

I love snow days. Seriously, I love them. In fact, I think I love them even more now than when I was a student. Why? Because the past two days saved my butt from falling dangerously behind on life.

After sleeping in, I have used the past two days to get ahead on planning. I've used it to clean up my apartment, which was really getting quite embarrassing. Grading papers? Well... that's probably the one thing I didn't get to do as much of as I would have liked. I think eventually, I will loathe the idea of them after I've been teaching for a few years and have everything planned out more than the night before. Now I just need to keep utilizing the fact that I'm ahead of the game.

I texted my carpool friend to let her know about Snow Day #2 and her response was "Oh my gosh! I have to get online and reserve the computer lab for a different day!" I suppose I will feel the same way someday if the situation arises again.

On a happy note, a student told me that I'm "getting better at this whole teaching thing." Well, gee thanks. It must have been after I showed an entire episode of The Office in order to teach ethos, pathos, and logos that changed his mind about me. Well, Friday I'm using Lupe Fiasco in my lesson plan. I hope I can keep this up. Maybe one day they will tell me I'm cool...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

sometimes, it's bigger than you alone.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. ---Frederick Douglass

Wow. The past two weeks have been a crazy, surreal blur. I would be lying if I said that I hadn't broken down in tears. Twice. Once was after a lesson completely tanked, and my CT and I sat down to talk about it. The other caught me completely by surprise. I was observed on Friday and everything went well. I sat down with my supervisor after I was observed and I had tears in my eyes.

I couldn't believe how much of an adjustment this was for me. I think thats why I became overwhelmed. Teaching all day is like running a marathon full of peaks and valleys. You work really hard and sometimes things go really well. And other times, things flop.

I have a wonderful car-pooling mate to school every day. As we were driving home on Friday, she made a very keen observation about teaching, and that is that teaching is often so much bigger than yourself. It's no wonder that there are teachers who burn out so easily. Don't get me wrong. I am not planning on changing my career path. It's just a matter of adjusting to a new schedule, a new lifestyle, and new commitments.

For as stressed out as I have been the past couple of weeks, I am so incredibly happy. I'm now in a situation where I can create lesson plans that are my own. I've planned two lessons with The Office in them. My CT is a great man who offers great feedback and is slow to impatience. I totally understand why we were put together because of the balance we strike with each other. It's a lot of work, but so far, it has been worth it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

O Captain! My Captain...

"O Captain! My Captain, Rise up and hear the bells; Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills; For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths-for you the shore's a-crowding; For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning..."---Walt Whitman

Well, the first day has come and gone. I approached it with a perspective I don't normally take. I was relaxed, and anxious to be up in front of the students again, but in a way that felt calm and ready. I joked that I was going to go Dead Poet Society on my students and have them reciting the brilliant O Captain! My Captain by the end of the day. I chose to veer away from that poem, as it is dedicated to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln and each stanza reminds the reader that the Captain is dead.

My CT and I planned to have me lead a small portion of each class, and the most natural one for me seemed to be American Literature and Composition. I don't know if my jokes were funnier in that class or what, but I thought that class went the most smoothly. I ended up entirely planning the rest of the week for that class, showed it to my CT and he thought it looked fine, so I guess I'm on my own tomorrow in American Lit. I'm sure if all of a sudden, I'm flailing and clinging to dear life he will rescue me, but hopefully if my brilliant lesson goes according to plan, it will be wunderbar and they will just offer me a job on the spot. (Joking. I guess I have to be a little careful about my sarcasm via computer).

...Actually, I'm sort of looking forward to the moment when I crash and burn with skid marks on my face. Seriously. I want to get that advice. Because it will help me grow. And that first time will be out of the way.

I thought I would hate planning for a 90-minute class, constantly having to change the plan, mix it up to keep kids' attention. But it definitely allows me to do a lot more, get more creative with what I want to accomplish with block scheduling. In my practicum, everything felt so rushed, as if I did not do the subject or the students justice. I think this has been good, because it forces me to really over-plan and have back-ups if something doesn't go as long as planned. I can also be a little more leisurely with attendance, housekeeping, etc at the beginning of class.

At the risk of being a little academic, I was reminded of Paradoxes in the Classroom article that Parker J. Palmer writes about. One of the classroom paradoxes is that "the space must be open and bound." That's one thing I'm trying to really take into consideration with American Literature and Composition. I want to give my students a lot of creative freedom, but give them enough guidance that they are bound to follow certain guidelines. I sometimes forget that what is second nature to me is not for them, so giving them the boundaries is what is difficult for me. I put a post-it note on my laptop that just says "Bound Open Spaces" on it to remind me.

I heard from every single person who has ever student taught that I will be wiped out after a day of teaching and planning. I sort of didn't believe them. OHMYGOSH. Exhausted. I never thought teaching was easy. It's not. But the physical toll is something that I never took into consideration. I hope I get used to it. And that I eventually get enough ahead of the game that I can get maybe 6 hours of sleep.

Until next time, cheers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

voyage to improvement

The real voyage to discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ---Marcel Proust

I would like to omit the word "discovery" from the above quote and replace it with the word "improvement." I would also like to say that I think that improvement will lead to discovery if I let it.

I know what I am good at. Allow me to blow my own horn a little in a vehicle that I am the master of: List-making. I pride myself on that, as well as these few things:

1. I am good at planning, perhaps this is because I practically sleep with my planner.
2. I am good at delivery-I will always deliver on an assignment.
3. I am good at being early.
4. I am good at logistics/practicality- I will be able to look at the practical side of things to envision the potential bumps in the road.

However, for all the things that I am good at, I know that there are a few things that I want to focus on this semester. In "having new eyes", I want to think about how other people view me. I want to improve on some of my habits, so that I may discover better habits. Think of this not so much as a "new year's resolution" but as a professional development plan.

I need to work on...
1. NOT BEING FRAZZLED. If for some reason I am not on time, (or even late for being early, but still early) I tend to get frazzled. As a teacher, this is something I really need to work on. Students come in with questions. Traffic jams happen. Administrators or teams call meetings. If my plans have to change, I CAN'T let myself become frazzled. I see this is something that my cooperating teacher share to some extent, so for the past few days, we have been calming each other down. It's been wonderful.

2. Making my bed in the morning. Call me a slob, but some mornings, I just really can't get out of bed. Then I take my time. Then I rush out the door before I think about making my bed. I think that I should work on that.

3. Limiting my distractions. Facebook, Email, and Twitter have been the main source of procrastination lately. I'm considering eliminating my Facebook account, just so that I stop taking 5 miunte breaks every 15 minutes.

All right, that seems like it's a good start. Cheers.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

making the most of it all

It's really a wonder I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart. ---Anne Frank

It's hard to believe that the events of the past week have really unfolded, just fifty miles away from where I live. The Millard South shooting was a harsh awakening for everyone. It reminds us how truly fragile life is, and that every action and interaction, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, impacts us all. To the victims and their families of the Millard South shooting, you have my prayers, my thoughts, my condolences.

I may be going out on a limb here, and I hope I don't receive horrible comments for it. But I started to think about the shooter, Robert. I started to think about how, in his final words, he spoke about how awfully he was being treated at his new school. From an educational perspective, this breaks my heart, that students can't reach out to someone who is so obviously in need of a friend in a new and scary environment. He was just a kid who needed someone to talk to.

What is the responsibility of the educator here? The head of the English department at the school where I am student teaching spoke to our cohort about the responsibilities of a teacher that go far beyond the importance of following the curriculum. She said that "we need to be good humans to them." I won't ever forget that. Robert needed a someone to be a good human to him. Research has proven that adolescents need to feel that they have an adult who cares about them at school. Think about it. They spend nearly 8 hours a day at school, and if not a single adult in their lives during that 8 hour period makes an effort to be a good human to them, they won't feel wanted there. He was a kid who probably fell through the cracks of adults like many who so easily slip into the crowd.

I observed my cooperating teacher last Thursday. One thing I noticed was how he made a point to be in the classroom as the students came trickling in before class to talk with them. Although some got more attention than others, almost every single student got some form of acknowledgement from him. I now see how essential all of this truly is for adolescents to feel like they are wanted. I had adults who cared about me at school-and I didn't realize it at the time, but I have a feeling that they carried me through during some dark and depressing moments that high school brings sometimes.

My first "official" day is Wednesday but I am going in Monday. I need to start getting next week (when the new semester begins) in order. This is a semester-long job interview. I want to make the most of every day and knock the socks off every teacher and administrator I come into contact with. Thankfully, I have some awesome cohort peers that are also student teaching at the same school, so I won't be too alone in all of it. The English department eats lunch together, so I will get to see them every day.

All right, dear reader. Thanks for taking it all in with me-quite a long entry, but I feel it to be entirely necessary. I'm off to spend some quality time with the American Lit textbook to hash out ideas for units.

I look back on all of my experiences and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.