Finally Writing Again…

So I can’t believe that I’m already  in week 3 of our school year! Overall, it has been a pretty smooth start. I feel like I have a great group of students and I’m really excited to see them grow and transform this year.

The first unit for writing workshop is on personal narratives. I like to model with some of my own personal narrative writing.  One of the strategies I give them to generate a topic is to think of a “turning point” in their life and write about it. Well, I don’t know why I’ve never wrote about this before, but a big turning point for me was the first time I ever went ice skating. This happened in second grade. Since then, the ice and I have been inseparable.  It felt quite nice to be writing again!  So here’s my slice of life entry for today…

I struggled to tighten the worn out laces against the hard leather that my foot was securely tucked into. I could barely wiggle my eight-year-old toes inside the old rental skates. I tried to get up and balance all of my weight on the thin silver metal blades. I felt like I was on stilts. I put on my cozy wool mittens that my grandmother had knitted me and started to walk towards the ice. As I saw people young and old zooming by on ice skates, I felt my heart beating harder and harder. I had one more step until my blade would reach the ice. I carefully put one foot on the ice and the other foot just followed. I grabbed tightly to the railing with both hands clutching on.

My friend Han was already on the ice, urging me to hurry up and get on. His mom followed us onto the ice, encouraging me to walk slowly and keep balanced. I felt like a robot, slowly putting one skate in front of the other as I marched forward. I didn’t dare to let go of the wall, which was keeping me safe and secure.  I was doing well. I was already three quarters around the ice and hadn’t become a casualty of the ice like the other people around me. I kept my system of putting one foot ahead of the other.

My friend Han raced ahead of me, he had already been ice-skating a few times before with his mom. He smiled mischievously every time he zoomed passed me.  His mom continued to check up on me. I could barely look at her, as I focused on my feet and the wall that was next to me.

Thirty minutes later, I had finally made it around the rink five times, only falling once. I felt so proud of myself.  I wasn’t doing so badly for my first time ice-skating.  I rested on the hard blue bench outside the skating rink sipping the piping hot chocolate that burned my tongue, but I didn’t care. My body was still in one piece. I watched for the first time ever, the Zamboni car cleaning the ice like magic.

“Why don’t we try to skate away from the wall this time?” Han’s mother gently suggested.

I didn’t respond, and just looked at her blankly.  There was no way I could do that. I didn’t want to go home with a broken arm or leg. The ice was way too hard, and I wasn’t ready for that. This was my first time on the ice and I needed the wall.

“Ok, maybe after a few more times around the rink then you can give it a try?” She responded.

“Yeah, stop being such a chicken Jee Young. It’s not fun when you’re holding against the wall,” replied Han.

I wondered why I was still friends with him. Friends were suppose to encourage you and not tease you. The rink guards went back onto the newly surfaced ice, they put the orange cones in the middle of the rink, creating an oval for the good skaters. I saw the skaters rush onto the ice and just stared. It was so warm inside, but did I really want to get back on the cold ice?

I saw a girl who didn’t look much older than me wearing thick skin colored tights, a black spandex skating dress  get onto the ice. She immediately went to the middle of the rink and started doing crossovers backwards. As she quickly sped across the ice and did a spin in the middle, I felt a twinge of jealousy.

I slowly made my way towards the gate of the skating rink, once the crowd of people had disappeared onto the ice already. I grabbed tightly to the side of the wall and continued my journey forward. All of a sudden, Han’s mom, grabbed one of my hands. I tried to stop, but her momentum kept me going forward and I lost all control. My feet started to move automatically as she quickly skated across the ice and I held on tightly. 

The incredible speed, the wind in my face, and the smooth ice gliding underneath, I felt like I was flying. We raced around the rink and my feet somehow just followed my body. I held tightly to Han’s mom.  I didn’t want this moment to stop. I felt free. 

Watching Yuna Kim @ her ice show last spring!

For more slice of life entries, go to Two Writing Teachers every Tuesday.

Why I’m Still Teaching…

It was the first day of school. I arrived to school late and my students were already lined up at my door and waiting for me. I went inside the classroom and my first activity for my students was NOT set up. I tried to figure out what to do with them. I thought up some random mental math question which I wrote on the board for my students to solve.  It was just a disaster. Not a good way to start the year.

Luckily, this was only a nightmare, and not a reality. Yes, it’s that time of year and I still get those first day of school nightmares. I would hope that by year nine, I wouldn’t be so nervous about the first day of school!

I still have time to finish preparing everything for the first day of school. School starts on Tuesday and I’m pretty close to being ready for the first week. In the midst of the busyness of preparing things for the first week of school, I need to take some time to stop and reflect. I need to remember why I started this profession and why I continue it.

Reasons why I’m still teaching…

  • I can make a positive impact of the lives of my students through the course of one school year.
  • Even though at times this can be an incredibly challenging job that consumes so much of my energy, focus and time, it is so rewarding when a student says, “you are the one who made me love reading/writing/math, etc…”  That makes it all worth it.
  • Every year is so unique and memorable.  I learn new things from my group of students each year and I become a better teacher because of the experiences I go through.
  • I love that as a profession, I am always learning new things and improving my craft as a teacher. It really does bother me when people say that teaching is such an “easy” job. If you are a good teacher, it shouldn’t be so easy. There’s always new research going on and different things that you can improve on in your craft. I have yet to meet anyone that has perfected teaching. I think that there is always room for improvement and that you can always find ways to challenge yourself.
If you are a teacher, why are you still teaching? 🙂 

Part 2: Breakthrough With the Teachers

During the first day, I led a session on unit planning. We didn’t really know much about the Nepali curriculum and how the teachers at Gloria School approached lesson planning before we got there. So as I went through my session on unit planning, we discussed the importance of backwards design, coming up with essential questions and creating learning activities and assessments for a unit. It was difficult to read the teachers at first, because only a few of them would answer questions or ask questions.

We found out that the idea of unit planning was a new idea for the teachers. They followed a set curriculum, and had textbooks to teach the materials. One of the problems they did mention was a lack of resources to supplement their textbooks. We had them make a poster answering questions about how unit planning and what we were teaching them would work for Gloria school. As each group shared their poster, it felt like a breakthrough.  One of the groups poster stated:

Things to ponder:

 1. Backward design as it is beneficial for long term, goal oriented

2. It’s more systematic.

3. Provide them fishing rod.

4. Equipping children for future beyond the test.

I loved that they wrote for number three, “provide them fishing rod”.  Melody gave a great analogy during one of the earlier sessions saying that as educators, we don’t want to just teach to the test, but we need to give them the tools, that would help them catch the fish. You know that analogy that instead of giving a man a fish every day to eat, teach him how to fish, and he will be able to eat for a lifetime… Well, it was great to see the teachers thinking deeper about their teaching, that it should not all about just teaching to a test.

One of the workshops that I led was on using the writing workshop method in the classroom. I was really excited to share about this because I felt that it fit with the idea of  providing students with the fishing rod. I shared with my group of teachers that teaching students to be a great writer is such a valuable tool  to give them. This tool will not only help them in school, but in their future jobs. I also shared that their students seem to have these incredible stories and voices that need to be heard and shared through their writing.

I first asked the teachers in my group if they considered themselves to be a writer. They each shook they’re head and said “no”. One of them said, I used to be a writer, but not anymore. I gave them the opportunity to start writing a personal narrative. We didn’t have much time, but as I conferred with them and read their writing, I was really moved and impressed. One of the teachers wrote about her last moment with her grandmother and another about visiting Korea for the first time last year.  As we ended our workshop, I told them that they were all writers, and that they needed to let their students know that they are all writers, and build that confidence in them. I even asked two of the students to share their writing with all the teachers during our final celebration on Friday. I was moved by both of their writing pieces.

Discussing Unit Plans

Conferring with a teacher on her personal narrative

The last moment of breakthrough was during our final project presentations. More on that in part 3! 🙂

Part 1: Teaching Teachers in Nepal

I had an amazing opportunity to go to Kathmandu, Nepal a few weeks ago to work with the teachers at Gloria School. I went with two other co-workers, and a Korean team of 34 adults from the Salt & Light Church in Seoul. While we worked with the teachers from Monday to Friday from 9am-4:30pm and the Korean team held a fun camp for the students of the school.

There were 18 teachers in total, who taught from Kindergarten to 10th grade. The school went up to 10th grade, then the students go to college for 2 years, and then university in Nepal. Missionary Grace who started the school about 10 years ago, said one of her prayer requests was to get training for the teachers. She has a hard time finding qualified, English speaking, Christian teachers for the school. Therefore, she ended up hiring many young teachers who don’t have proper teacher training. There are a few teachers that are in college, and teaching in order to make money. They are going to college not to be a teacher, but to pursue other careers as of now.

Before the week started, we were not sure what to expect. Were they going to be excited to work with us for the week? Or was it something they were being forced to do? I’ve had plenty of professional development experiences, where I’ve just looked at the clock and counted down until it was time to go. I didn’t want our team to bore them nor waste their time.

Throughout the week we focused on an essential question: “What makes a good teacher?” Then, we thought about what were the components of being a good teacher and what good teaching looks like in the classroom. We focused our main sessions on:

  • Unit planning (Using understanding by design’s backward planning model)
  • Assessment (Formative & summative assessment)
  • Strategies for working with English Language Learners
We also had them work in groups to create their own unit of study, then teach one of the lessons from the unit with actual students.  Throughout the entire training, we did our best to model various teaching strategies and classroom management techniques. We kept a chart of the different teaching strategies we used throughout the week. We thought that it would be crucial for the teachers to reflect on how we, as teachers, taught them during the week. We wanted them to think about how to use these strategies in their own classroom.  

Binders & Name Tags for the Week

Organizing Responses to "What makes a good teacher?"

Our Strategies Good Teachers Use Chart

Our Question Corner Chart

Sharing Unit Plans

Group Work

Use Whiteboards to Assess our Teachers

Observing the 5th Grade Lesson

Beautiful Nepal!

* Photos above were taken from Melody and myself. 
Sneak peak on what’s next…
Part 2: Breakthrough with the teachers