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Archive for December, 2011

Is rigor relative?

I survived a grueling interview process – and it’s not over. Let me provide a small amount of background before I go into a crazy rant. I applied to a few positions for the next school year in a very result-driven prestigious charter network in Chicago. I was astounded when I got two phone interviews from two different schools within the network and that night they were calling all my references. By the following day they had offered to fly me out to Chicago for a sample lesson and more interviewing.

All they provided me with for the sample lesson was a standard (Substitute whole numbers for unknown quantities to evaluate expressions. For example: If x = 23, then [4 × (69 ÷ x)] + 2x = ?). I further inquired and learned it was going to be 9th grade honors, 31 kids who had familiarity on the standard. Now this school is famous for taking neighborhood kids and turning them into test-scoring geniuses that all get into college. But they all come into ninth grade from failing schools around the area and spend most of 9th grade getting onto grade level. It is a very disciplined and structured school and the students are extremely well-behaved and quiet.

So that was weird. Asking students to focus their attention and then getting their attention – blew my friggin mind. But here’s the thing, I created a lesson for a bunch of students I didn’t know – meaning I had no idea their behavior would be a nonissue, they would be as proficient as they were, and that they had clearly covered this standard in excess and the students knew how to evaluate expressions.

So what am I so upset about? Well, in my very small practically nothing experience of interviewing and sample lessoning I felt I should be judged on my teacher presence, lesson planning ability, flexibility, and reflection after the lesson. Did I think the lesson was challenging for these students – not really. And I answered that way in my 4 person panel after the lesson. Why not? Because the students already had a clear grasp of this standard before this lesson and so the questions that were meant to be challenging and make several mistakes that we could address as a class did not. However, students were engaged in the activity because it was asking them something different (find the expression) and so the activity was slightly challenging for them. Had I known that they were able to do these so fluently I would have changed the cards to all be more like the challenge sets and provided more challenging and scaffolded do-nows and exit tickets. (I included specific concrete examples to the changes I would make as well).

In the end, one of the principals let me know she was hesitant to hire me because she was unsure I could teach to this level because all of my experience is teaching very low students. She explained my lesson was not challenging enough for these students and did not show I was capable of teaching rigor (but how was I supposed to know the level they were at? Had I actually been teaching – not reinforcing – evaluating expressions, it would not be an issue. Their prerequisite knowledge made it so it seemed kind of fluffy). BUT THAT ISN’T TRUE.

Ok, here’s the rant and/or question:

Rigor at my school means different things (or is rigor not relative??). Asking students to complete homework every night is an extremely high expectation that I placed on them. Requiring students to come on time and complete do-nows, stay on task for the ENTIRE class period is almost unheard of in my school. Giving very challenging tests and requiring NO CHEATING is rare. Giving lots of worksheets and classroom practice and then collecting it to ensure students stayed on task. Asking students to show up and pay attention, not letting them sleep even though it would be easier for me as a teacher because they won’t disrupt the class when their head is down. These are just a few of the higher expectations I’ve placed in my classroom.

Now I realize to many schools, especially this one, those are norms. But isn’t it relative? Can’t this principal or will any principal see that the fact that I can and have asked more of the students show that I am capable of placing high expectations and consistently keeping them there? Will I be punished (again, second time now!) for working in a high-need urban school that does not prepare for students for college, which is why I am applying to your school!!!

Does the fact that I have never worked in this type of learning environment mean I would not be able to? Since I had high expectations of my students, does that not translate to all students? Are the high expectations I placed on my students not high enough? Am I not experienced in rigor at all?

Or does this mean I am just not capable of teaching the type of rigor this school or many of the “successful” area schools offer and I should just resign to working in my same school next year? Because I think quite the opposite.

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Meet Substitute Molly

My last day of student teaching was Wednesday. I received a ton of love from my juniors and a lot of good riddances from my seniors. Great cards, hugs, and words of encouragement that I made some difference in these kids’ lives. My co-op and I ended up having a teary exchange and I feel grateful for such an amazing experience.

But I work at the after school program so I headed back to school (in jeans, hurray!) on Thursday and as I waited for the elevator as the students poured out of the school I got so many, “OMG MS. P!!!!” more hugs, more awesomeness and more love. I felt like a regular ol’ celebrity. It’s hilarious because I did not get this much love as their actual teacher. It’s great the selective memories they have.

So I began subbing and was lucky enough to have a roster with mostly 11th and 12th grade classes – many of my students. Kids were coming in all day visiting my classroom, asking for help on their homework, begging for me to come back, asking if they lobby to the principal will he hire me, etc. etc. It felt good. But honestly, subbing is SO BORING! It’s glorified babysitting (but why glorified, hell it’s just babysitting). I really can’t wait to find a job.

Next post: How the hell to answer those interview questions “correctly.” (This will be a request for help from you guys).

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