Thursday, December 3, 2009

And This is Why I Love Teaching

I've had a particular student in my class who is struggling. In all aspects - she cannot focus on the tasks at hand, constantly has problems with other children in the classroom, and overall is not doing very well. It's been frustrating for me as well as my CT as we try to help her catch up to her classmates, and it just seems like there's been little progress. She's a bright child, but just unable to focus on what we're doing as a class.

Well, yesterday, I was sitting down for a minute when this student came up to me. She said, "Ms. Pan, I have something I need to tell you."

"Well, tell me then."

"It's a secret."

"Okay..." so I lean in closer and she whispers in my ear:

"When you go back to your desk, there's something really nice on it - I made it for you." She was beaming when I turned to look at her.

"Aww, thank you so much! That's so nice of you!" She was so proud of herself that she had made me something nice, and I couldn't wait to go back and look at what it was.

So I went back to my desk, and this is what was there.

(The front said, "To miss pan"):
It meant so much to me that this letter was coming from this particular student - one that I've struggled to understand, been frustrated with in thinking of how to help her succeed, and one that's constantly on my mind. She gave me a big hug, and I truly felt like I was making a difference.

I wrote this student a note back, thanking her for her wonderful letter - knowing that writing out a few simple lines must've taken a lot of thought and effort on her part. I know she can succeed if she puts her mind to it - I just hope I can continue to help her achieve that goal!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saving Face

Growing up as an Asian American, I think it's ingrained in us that you need to put your best face forward - only show your best work, and that "practice makes perfect". I know my parents did not drill this into my sister and I, but I picked it up along the way - the tiring act of being "perfect".

As a student teacher, we are supposed to observe and take on small lessons each day. My CT (cooperating teacher), however, gives me a lot more freedom and now I teach about 4 lessons a week (two a day, since I'm only there two days a week). It's been a really good learning experience, but also scary! She has been so supportive, though, and really encouraging as well. She gives me good feedback as well, so I'm really learning a lot as I go.

I realized a shift in my mentality, though, about teaching. Before, it was all about, "How can I present the best lesson to my kids?" I would practice repeatedly and most times, present a very polished lesson. However, were my students learning anything? I realized through my first month of actual student teaching that teaching has to be flexible. Students may not give you the response you want, but that doesn't mean they're not thinking - you often just have to probe a little deeper to see where the connections are coming from. The lesson may not go as you had planned, but sometimes, it's even better that way. I've learned that my students' learning comes first, and even if that means taking the lesson I planned and throwing it out and going with where the discussion is going, that's okay! If real learning is taking place, that comes first. :)

It's not about me presenting the perfect, polished lesson. It's about my students, and how much they get from my instruction. I want them to learn the most that they can. My own "performance" does not matter if no one is learning anything - I gotta learn flexibility and the ability to think on my feet faster.

Lessons learned. I love it!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Vision and the Development of Outstanding Teachers" - Gerald Duffy

I just finished reading this article for one of my classes this fall, a second literacy course. This article was on how, as teachers, we need to have a vision (that's constantly revised) for why we do what we do. Here's some good quotes from it:

"I, too, have marveled at the eclectic characteristics of extraordinary teachers. Their success is not attributable to one method or one theoretical orientation. The best teachers use both trasmission and constructivist models simultaneously, going beyond conventional expectations to orchestrate "fluid transitions between two processes throughout the course of a single lesson." Similarly, the best teachers find multiple ways to integrate content..." (p.332)

"The best teachers are not followers... They adjust, modify, adapt, and invent; they do not emulate." (p.333)

"Passion is not lacking in teacher education. But passion for a particular kind of pedagogy leads teachers to think there is a silver bullet and that they must use it. In contrast, the goal of visioning is independent thinking. The intent is to develop teachers who claim the right to make their own decisions consistent with their personal, moral commitment to students and teaching. A teacher's passion for a personal mission governs decision-making, not a teacher educator's passion for a particular theory, method, or program."

I should start working on my own vision for why I teach....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First Week

I started my student teaching placement in Detroit. It's been wonderful so far, if not slightly overwhelming -- meeting all the staff and trying to remember everyone's names, learning the system of the school, setting up the classroom... it's a lot but it's a lot of fun and a great experience as well. :) My CT (cooperating teacher) is wonderful, and we've gotten to talk and know each other better these first three days. I'm in a self-contained second grade classroom, and so far we have 31 students... phew!

We did a lot of prep work for the school year this first week, since students don't come back to school until after Labor Day (next Tuesday). There's sooo much that goes into getting the classroom ready! Stuff you wouldn't even think about -- the placement of desks, for example. How can you maximize space, create a welcoming and open sense of community among your students, and also have it so everyone can see you? It takes a lot more thoughtful planning than I envisioned!

Excited to be meeting all the students on Tuesday! :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

School Starts Soon!

School begins again for me this coming Monday. Well, classes don't start yet until 9/14, but we're going into our field placements starting Monday to help set up the classrooms/meet our teachers/get familiar with everything, and then going in everyday for a week to meet the students. Our schedule for the fall is a full day of classes on Monday and Friday, half days in the field on Tuesday and Thursday, and a full day in the field on Wednesday.

I'm going to be student teaching in a second grade classroom. I'm pretty excited! I've spoken with my mentor teacher and she seems like the sweetest person. Can't wait to see what God has in store for me this coming year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Done with Summer Semester

So ELMAC summer semester #1 is done! It's been a crazy whirlwind these past 7 weeks! Phew. But it's been intense and challenging and so good. I really enjoyed all the time I had with my classmates (it's weird not seeing them every day now!) and learned so much from my teachers. I also gained a lot of insight on the kind of teacher I will aspire to be, and what to watch out for.

We had a 3-week internship at a summer academy program, and that was a real eye-opening experience for me. I was in a 1st grade classroom, and thoroughly enjoyed working with the students in my class. However, from that experience, I learned that not all teachers see the best in their students, and I saw how not to talk about my students in front of them, especially when it was criticism. I was shocked, but I guess not really surprised. It's sad how some teachers only see teaching as a job, something to pass time with, and they don't really care about the student's potential, progress, or even, who they are as human beings with unique personalities, needs, and strengths. It showed me how, when I'm a teacher, to interact with my students as people first, and then as learners. Students cannot learn from a teacher they don't trust, and who doesn't listen to them well.

Many lessons learned this summer. I'm already looking forward to the fall! (and it's only been... 5 days of break? Hahah!)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Reading

I've always loved to read. When I was in kindergarten, I remember bringing home a stack of beginner-reader books to read for the summer. When I was a little older, I remember being drawn in by Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, The Babysitters Club, The Boxcar Children, and so many more. We didn't have cable TV when I was growing up - I don't even think I knew what it was until we moved to Taiwan! But I didn't need it - I had books, and I was a true bookworm. Still am, although I don't have as much time to read for fun anymore. But anyway, I found a few beautiful and profound quotes in my reading today.

From the article Reading Aloud by L. Calkins:

" We read on - dream on - not passively but actively, worrying about the choices the characters have to make, listening in panic for some sound behind the fictional door, exalting in characters' success, bemoaning their failures. In great fiction, the dream engages us heart and soul; we not only respond to imaginary things - sights, sounds, smells - as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real: we sympathize, think, and judge."

"Our goal, like the poet Julius Lester says, is for the literature to 'link our souls like pearls on a string, bringing us together in a shared and luminous humanity.'"

"Read to them. Take their breath away. Read with the same feeling in your throat as when you first see the ocean after driving for hours and hours to get there. Close the final page of the book with the same reverence you feel when you kiss your sleeping child at night. Be quiet. Don't talk the experience to death. Shut up and let these kids feel and think. Teach your children to be moved."

Wow. The power of words and of teachers reading to their students. I hope to be that teacher!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


From the book Other People's Words: The Cycle of Low Literacy by Victoria Purcell-Gates:

"... if even one child does not learn what we believe we have taught, then we have not learned how to teach that child. The responsibility rests, ethically and pragmatically, on the shoulders of educators. This does not mean we are ill-intentioned or bad people, if we fail. It does mean that we have not succeeded; we have not taught. Schools must be places for learning - for all learners. We can no longer afford the luxury of designing curriculums and educational programs which only a favored segment of our society can succeed... we need to raise our expectations of outcomes. We must beigin to design programs whose aim is to allow students and learners from minority, low-income, and low-literate homes to learn and to become fully literate."

Powerful words in this book. This book was humbling, convicting, and inspiring all at the same time. It made me think a lot about what kind of teacher I want to be and what kind of mindset I need to develop in my time throughout this program and into the future. I'm loving what I'm reading in grad school. :)

Monday, June 22, 2009


Orientation for ELMAC was today. It was insightful and there was a lot of good advice from former students. A few funny quotes:

"Now, you can take a break in between classes and walk to the B-School, right across the street. You can see very clearly how society values business over education. (laughter) while you see business school students working out on the ellipticals in between classes. But we can take advantage too! The coffee shop there is relatively inexpensive and close by." - Cathy Reischl

About half of the people in the program are married with kids, some married, and a few just out of college like me. It's an interesting dynamic, and I'm excited to see how this will play out in the classroom. I've always loved being with people from different walks of life, so this will be really cool!

Reading a book called "Other People's Words: The Cycle of Low Literacy" by Victoria Purcell-Gates. It's a wonderful eye-opener to the world of the urban Appalachian people (I felt so ignorant when I started reading... I didn't know there was actually a group of people like this in the US). It documents the journey of a mother and her 7 year old son on the path of literacy - both of them could not read anything besides their own names at the beginning of the book. It's amazing to see their progress, but also very disappointing to see how society has failed them and written them off as "failures" before they even begin.

More on the book later!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting Ready

I decided to start a blog to chronicle my journey through ELMAC this year and onto future years. Just a journal to help me remember and see how I'm growing as a teacher and to share my stories and adventures with you. Stay tuned!

Grad school starts next Monday - I'm excited! :)