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Practicum Teaching Reflections

Jessica J. Brauer
Doane University | Initial Certification Program | First & Final Reflections
Alyssa Martin, Cooperating Teacher | 8th Grade English & Publications | Park Middle School | Lincoln, NE

22 August, 2016

What a first week! I cannot believe how much I feel like Ive learned just from one week in the
class. I am SO very excited for this experience, although I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Most of the first week was beginning of the year housekeeping. I was completely amazed at how
my cooperating teacher, Alyssa Martin, was able to keep her students engaged during all of this
boring start of the year material. The first day was about school policies using a script provided
by the school. Alyssa took the printout the school provided and created a power point from it that
she shared with any other teachers who requested a copy. She used the power point and then
engaged the students during the discussion regularly. For the most part, students stayed engaged
and awake. The second day, Alyssa went through her individual classroom guidelines. One of the
things Ive always gone back-and-forth about when considering my own classroom is how to give
my students ownership of their behavior. I think Alyssa has a great method! She has four general
rules in her classroom. The students are given a graphic organizer that has the four guidelines
listed on the left and then has space to the right of each one for the student to write examples and
non-examples of them. The students get time to brainstorm individually, then discuss with their
partner, and then the guidelines are shared with the class. This gives the students some ownership
in identifying what the rules will look like in their class, while still having continuity between class
periods. On day three, Alyssa goes a bit more into depth about herself, and then about her specific
classroom policies regarding homework, etc.

I love Alyssas plan regarding homework. She models exactly what we have been reading with
regards to homework. First -- she is up front about everything and how it will be assessed. She
told the students shes never going to decide after-the-fact that an assignment will be summative.
She will always tell them ahead of time if it is going to be so. The daily work they students do is all
formative and does not have a significant impact on their overall grade. She also does a lot of in-
class work/homework that will simply be practice, and isnt counted for a grade at all. She told
the class that most of the homework they will be assigned will be work they start in class and dont
have time to finish. And whenever homework is assigned, it is typically not due for several days.
This is to allow students plenty of opportunities to come in and ask questions about it if they have
any. This is all especially important and awesome for the students because the school implemented
a new homework policy this year. Students who dont turn in homework are assigned mandatory

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Homework Zone after school immediately. So, by allowing several days between giving the
assignment and having it due, it should allow students enough time to get it done and not be
assigned to Homework Zone.

Another of my favorite qualities in my cooperating teacher is her honesty and transparency. From
day one, she has been completely upfront with her students about exactly why she is doing or
asking for just about everything she does or asks for. She explains the relevancy to them, and she
has made it clear that she is here to help the students succeed and NOT to bring them down in any
way. For example, as the students were working on class guidelines, she walked around and marked
some of the examples she liked on students papers and asked if she could ask them to share them
with the class (giving them ownership of their good ideas). Before she started calling on people, she
explained I dont call on you to set you up for failure. I will never call on you to give a wrong
answer in front of the class. If I ever call on you, its because I like your ideas! It was amazing how
much the students relaxed after they heard this! Additionally, Alyssa gives her students copies of all
the rubrics she is using to grade. When going through one of them today, she told the students, If
you ever have a question about why I graded something the way I did, check the rubric first, and
THEN come talk to me. Again, this gives the students ownership of their work.

Today, students began creating their notebooks. This is another idea I will likely steal, depending
on what my personal curriculum looks like. She gives each student a composition notebook they
will leave in the classroom. The front facing pages are where the students will write their daily
warm-ups (anticipatory set). The backs of the pages (the students flip the notebook upside down
and backwards) are where the students keep their notes. Most of these notes are actually pieces of
paper that they tape into their books. Notes pages are numbered and labeled in a table of contents
because they will contain information and materials that will be regularly used in class.

There have been a few interesting disciplinary observations Ive made. In first period, we have a
student identified as ED. As the students were working on their classroom guidelines on day two,
this student was in his own world doing his own thing. He didnt seem engaged at all in doing what
he was supposed it. This was unfortunate for his partner because although she seemed eager and
like she wanted to share with him, he ignored her and didnt participate. When I talked with Alyssa
about this after, and asked about how to redirect the situations, she explained that one of his
triggers was being singled out. So she chose to focus on simply having him on the same side of the
page as the class on that first day. She said he would be one that wed need to approach in new
ways and likely pick our battles for. In the discussion, we decided the way to approach him to
engage him in the discussion without negatively singling him out would be to insert ourselves into
the pair. Wed ask his partner what some of her ideas were and then ask him if he had anything to
add. Interestingly, he was very eager to share on day 3 without intervention at all. Based on my
observation, I think that once Alyssa had made it clear that shed never purposefully single someone

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out with a bad answer or anything, he felt more comfortable speaking up and participating. We
never needed to try the intervention wed discussed, although well keep it in the back pocket just in
case. This was all very simple, but incredibly eye-opening to me. I would never have considered
approaching the situation this way previously. As terrible as it feels now, I would have likely gone a
more negative route, which would have likely resulted in additional behaviors.

Something else weve discussed a lot in classes so far is relationship building. I feel like Alyssa also
excels at this. She made it clear to the students that she genuinely cared about them as humans
and wanted to learn all about them from day one, and it started with their names. She asked each
student to say his or her own name on the first day so she could hear the proper pronunciation.
She wrote it phonetically for herself, and then insisted the students correct her if she did it wrong.
Its a relatively simple thing, but it showed the students that she actually cared. She also made a
point to have students share about themselves every day during the first week (utilizing the prompts
from their warm-ups). We started week 2 of school today, and Alyssa already knows all 100 some
odd students of hers by name without help. The kids see it.

I love all of the things Ive learned and observed so far, and I know there is already SO much Ill be
bringing to my own classroom, but seeing everything Alyssa has established has also made me feel a
bit overwhelmed. I know it will all even out and Ill feel better the closer I get to taking over the
class, but just knowing its coming is still a little scary! That all said, Im very excited to continue
learning and observing.

22 November, 2016

I remember my first meeting with my cooperating teacher last summer, shortly after receiving my
placement. I took pages and pages of notes as she described how the semester was planned out,
and some of the strategies and ideas she liked to use. I had heard of none of the strategies she
discussed, and Im 100% certain that I looked wide-eyed and terrified. I left that meeting
questioning whether I was actually ready for this. Nonetheless, I arrived at the beginning of the
year ready to dive in and figure it out.

One of my biggest fears going into teaching has always been around classroom management. I have
a tendency to be the softie, and I was very worried I wouldnt be able to figure out a system that
would work for me. Therefore, the initial few weeks of primarily observation were a perfect time for
me to get some ideas as my cooperating teacher went over her classroom guidelines with her
students. I very much appreciated how she had a system that allowed the students some input into
their expectations (but not full control). That said, I have learned over the course of the semester
that while students will retain the big picture idea of these expectations, they do lose many of the
details. So, it is most important to keep the guidelines simple and to-the point. The technique I

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have found over the course of the semester to be the most effective in classroom management has
nothing to do with those expectations. Instead, it has to do with lesson and time management. In
our classroom, the students walk into the classroom with a warm-up on the board for them to get
started on, and once the bell rings, we begin the lesson. Transition times are VERY quick and to the
point: Please close your notebooks and set them to the side. Then get out your essay packets and
open to the conclusion page. Then we move immediately forward. The class continues this way for
the entirety of the period. Students have something to occupy them from bell to bell, and Ive
observed that having little down time, makes it very difficult for anyone to really act out in any
way. This is still something I need to work on, and I know I will especially need to become more
comfortable utilizing the schools system. I am still one to give multiple second chances, and my
cooperating teacher has told me that I am in general much nicer to the kids when they misbehave
than she would be (and her students typically love her in general).

Considering my initial nerves, I was surprised to discover how easily I slipped right from
observation into teaching parts of the lessons, and then into teaching all of the lessons. It was
easiest and quickest in Publications class. This was a new class my cooperating teacher had this
year, so she didnt have any set classroom routines for it, really. Because of my experience with
photography, my cooperating teacher let me take over almost from the beginning, since we began
with teaching photography techniques. However, this has also been one of the more difficult classes
to manage in terms of behaviors because of the VERY independent nature of the course. The
biggest problem has been getting the students to get assignments turned in on time. Its caused me
to realize that I probably need to teach some time-management skills to them because its such an
independent class.

Taking over the other classes has been much more gradual, but comfortable. I have come to really
enjoy teaching the regular English class, but I find the diff class to be more challenging. It is such a
night and day experience between the two classes and the different challenges Ive discovered.
With regular English, its been mostly about keeping everyone awake and involved -- and keeping
potential behaviors at bay. With diff, its a lot more about working with egos, entitlement, and
perfectionism. I feel as though Ive begun to find a comfortable system and routine with my regular
English class. A top comment from my supervisor was that the classes were very well-behaved, and
I think that is because I have had an easier time with building the relationships with that class. I
have had a more difficult time building the relationships with the diff class because Ive been in
control of the class for a shorter amount of time. I was grateful for the resources we were given
about how to approach lessons for each type of student, struggling and gifted, and have tried to
incorporate those ideas and strategies with the classes as the semester has carried on.

I discussed often during class a particular troublesome student. While he still has far to go, weve
seen more success from hm in the last few weeks. Getting him to be on task at the beginning of the

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semester was near impossible, but in the last few weeks, just one redirection will get him to the task
at hand. He has completed assignments during class ahead of the deadline. Previously, he would
feign not knowing about it and then rush through it on the day it was due. He is also less inclined
to make irrelevant comments and actually participates in class discussion. I have had some years of
experience as a paraeducator working with a large variety of students with special needs, and Ive
never encountered a student quite like this young man. I do hope that he continues to progress as
the year moves forward and into his high school career.

Over the course of this semester, I have confirmed that one of my biggest personal challenges is
time management. There are so many things to stay on top of as a teacher, from grading, to
reflections, to planning, to meetings, and more. It has been difficult, but Ive managed to stay at
least just barely ahead of where I need to be. As I move forward into student teaching, I know this
is something that I will need to keep a very steady hand on, and I have some ideas of supports
already in place and ready to go.

Overall, my experience has been nothing short of fantastic. I have observed and written a notebook
full of instructional and management strategies that I plan to use as I step forward into student
teaching, and in my own classroom. My cooperating teacher has given me excellent feedback, and
was always willing to answer even the strangest of questions I had for her. I have been grateful for
this learning experience, and though definitely nervous, I feel ready to take on the next step!