AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profession

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AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profession

Postby Chad » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:39 am

For our 2nd AMA I wanted to get into a specific profession and of the several that people posted their jobs the one that struck me was teaching.

We entrust our children to them, we submit ourselves to them, we rely on them to help guide and shape our knowledge and our outlook on the world. They open doors for us and give us the tools we need to live our lives in a modern world. But why do they do it? What skills do they need? Who taught them?

We have two teachers, one current and one former, that can answer any questions you have about the profession of Teaching. I present to you:

Mikel

and

DrMikey

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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Mikel » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:53 am

I'm Mikel. (Mee-how. Meow Meow)

I did my Student Teaching during the Spring of 99, when Columbine happened, which is a freaky way to begin.

I taught Theatre and English in Waukegan, IL for the 99-2000 school year. Waukegan is a very poor suburb of Chicago with a 48% Hispanic population, much of it directly from Mexico, Puerto Rico, etc. Many of our students had English as a Second Language. (ESL) A lot of gang activity in the community and a lot of crushing poverty. I loved my kids and what I did, but I could go a week or two without seeing or talking to another adult and that's a hard way to live.

I thought I was going to leave teaching after that year. I took several years off and returned to teaching in 2006 (?) at Rantoul Township High School in downstate Illinois.

Rantoul is a rural town with an urban demographic. When the projects in Chicago were shut down, a lot of the families ended up coming down to Decatur, Kankakee, or Rantoul. There was an Air Force base here (where I lived until I was in the 3rd grade) that shut down and had cheap housing. Our school, demographically, is much more akin to the Champaign-Urbana schools than all of the small towns in this area but, because we're small, people expect us to be like the better off communities.

I've been through No Child Left Behind, AYB, Ruby Paine workshops, Common Core and several other educational fads that people have been trotting out.

I've taught Theatre Arts, Acting 1 and 2, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior English, Freshman Honors, and Creative Writing.

I've also taught workshops in Improv and Commedia dell'Arte. I sometimes teach acting classes at Sullivan Little Theatre on the Square, the only professional theatre between Chicago and St. Louis.
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby runester » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:02 am

How much of "they just don't get it and they just don't care" did you experience and how did you deal with that?

Do you have a tool, technique, or approach that you would recommend to teachers that really got through and fired up your students? Something that moved students out of the "I have to be here but I'm too cool to care" stance?

Is teaching in a public school setting as much of a bureaucratic mess as it's often portrayed?

[Thanks for answering questions!]
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Chris » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:21 am

What is the ration of "good kids" to "bad kids" in your experience? And by that, I mean kids you truly enjoy and remind you how much you love your job, to kids who hate the world and all that is in it.
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Burning » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:27 am

What are (were) the expectations for knowledge and proficiency in the specific subject matters you teach?
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Mikel » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:27 am

runester wrote:How much of "they just don't get it and they just don't care" did you experience and how did you deal with that?


That sound you hear right now? That's me trying not to cry. :)

I deal with a ton of it. This will be different, depending on the school, but Rantoul is rife with it. We have a poor community with a lot of parents who don't instill in their children any intrinsic (or extrinsic) motivation for school. I have a lot of kids and parents who, quite simply, don't care. I have kids who are happy to get a D- because it means they won't have to take the class over again or get yelled at. Basically, as long as it's not a problem they or their parents have to deal directly with, it doesn't matter.

And what's frustrating is how much that can interfere with those students who do care and would like to be challenged more.

Right now, I've had the most frustrating semester I've ever dealt with. It wasn't the worst behaved. It wasn't the one with the most problems. Because Senior English (or at least the credit) is now required to graduate, Senior English is no longer an elective and everyone has to take it. The higher-functioning students went into Multi-Cultural Lit or Dual Credit (both taught by my boss) or AP English, leaving me as the only English 4 teacher. I have never had a lower-functioning group, as a whole. We used to whip through Beowulf's abridged length in the amount of time it took us to get through just Grendel and The Battle with Grendel. A ton of things I wanted to do had to be put by the wayside this year.

And trying to pry 'give-a-damn' out of kids who have no reason to care is soul crushing.

When people are trying, I modify and change things to help those who have difficulties understanding. I work on finding ways to help them get it.

When they don't care, at all, there's less you can do.

Do you have a tool, technique, or approach that you would recommend to teachers that really got through and fired up your students? Something that moved students out of the "I have to be here but I'm too cool to care" stance?


There is no singular tool or technique. It depends on the subject, the class, and the students.

My acting classes get crammed with people who "act out in other classes but I think will do well with you." I've used Smallville's Character Creation system as a way to get them to give depth to characters for extended long-form improvisations in a way that tricked them into doing work. I've also used judiciously redacted Fiasco playsets to get them out of their normal comfort zones for Improvisations, as well.

With English, I've brought in Ender's Game and Shadow Over Innsmouth to get their interest. I've worked to bring ideas from Frankenstein into using their own favorite media, analyzing what a monster of theirs might learn if it were to take one book, one movie, one tv series, and one CD from them. I try to keep writing prompts varied and centered enough on their ideas to keep them going.

There are other things we've done, but it's really a lesson-to-lesson thing.

Bribes work. My Theatre Arts class loved playing Coup and they studied like crazy to play it after we reviewed for the final. English classes enjoyed Mafia.

I used to do a Diplomacy game between my Honor's Freshman and my Seniors, which was a mixed bag. Between two Honor's classes, it worked better. It got them writing for purpose and with specificity that they wouldn't otherwise use. It also got them working formally.

Is teaching in a public school setting as much of a bureaucratic mess as it's often portrayed?


Yes, and it's becoming more of a pain. We have to keep track of RTI (Response to Intervention) and IEPs and modifications to tests and parent contacts and lesson plans and reflections....almost all of which have been added in the last few years. The amount of paperwork we have to do has skyrocketed and gets in the way of actual teaching.
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Mikel » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:38 am

Burning wrote:What are (were) the expectations for knowledge and proficiency in the specific subject matters you teach?


The basic skills test,which apparently became super hard recently, was what you had to pass for subject matter endorsement when I became a teacher. Currently, something like 1/3 of people pass it the first time.

And, honestly, it's not all the necessary.

The schools are doing a better job of teaching classroom techniques than they did when I was in college. I know a ton more than I'll probably ever need to know to teach High School English. Time would have been better spent in college learning more about pedagogy.

Knowledge of the subject is easy. Learning how to teach is hard.
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby VaMinion » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:39 am

I have kids who are happy to get a D- because it means they won't have to take the class over again or get yelled at.


Follow up to this remark...

Have you found a way to motivate a student who has parents who will accept nothing less than an A? Alternately, have you found ways to help students cope with that or ways to make the parents back off a little? I'm not talking about the parents that blame you, but the ones who will habitually punish their kid for earning a B or a B+.

Kind of Cos-ish so feel free to sidestep this one: do you have any experience teaching students who were once home schooled? If so, have you noticed a difference in the quality of education they've received vs. traditional schooling?
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Mikel » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:43 am

Chris wrote:What is the ration of "good kids" to "bad kids" in your experience? And by that, I mean kids you truly enjoy and remind you how much you love your job, to kids who hate the world and all that is in it.


That's the strange thing. The ratio doesn't matter.

You'll have a class that makes you want to jump out the window. A class that makes you want to leave teaching forever, today, and go join a circus. Then, one student will get suspended for a week and the class becomes fun again.

The wrong kid, with a few of the right kids in class, turns those kids into wrong kids as well. I have some students who are great, so long as they are not together.

The few wrong kids can make you forget how great a lot of the other kids are and, sadly, can keep you from spending as much time helping the good kids.

When teachers talk about bad classes, we tend to rattle off names. When it gets to 4-6 bad kids, that's a rough class, though, to be honest, sometimes 1-2 of the wrong kids are worse than an entire class of smaller troubles.

Last semester, I had one class that had enough people who shouldn't be in a class together (and who I'm fine with when they're separated) that it was physically impossible to keep them all split up in the class room.
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Re: AMA about Teaching -the Art, the Science, and the Profes

Postby Mikel » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:47 am

VaMinion wrote:
I have kids who are happy to get a D- because it means they won't have to take the class over again or get yelled at.


Follow up to this remark...

Have you found a way to motivate a student who has parents who will accept nothing less than an A? Alternately, have you found ways to help students cope with that or ways to make the parents back off a little? I'm not talking about the parents that blame you, but the ones who will habitually punish their kid for earning a B or a B+.


To be honest, you usually don't have to motivate these kids. The parents do a lot of it for you. If anything, sometimes you have to try to get them to relax a little. These are the ones who will come to you for help if they don't get the grade they want. This was something I dealt with when I had Honors.

Honors kids have a hard time being creative, often, because they've been taught to give the teacher what they want. I had some fun exercises that my regular students loved (I would use Party Playoff and Mad Scientist University, projected in a powerpoint, for writing prompts) that my Honors kids HATED.


Kind of Cos-ish so feel free to sidestep this one: do you have any experience teaching students who were once home schooled? If so, have you noticed a difference in the quality of education they've received vs. traditional schooling?


Rantoul isn't generally the school homeschooled students go to if they go public---especially with some of the other schools around us.

A lot of people are starting to homeschool for non-religious reasons but I haven't dealt with enough students from there to be able to say much about them.
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