From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Student Teachers

Monday, April 29, 2013

Student Teaching - Farewell

by Victoria Johnston - Mitchell Elementary

Six days. That is the amount of time I have left here in the city. As the days come and go I become increasingly more nostalgic and wish the time would not pass so quickly. This past week was less busy than most of the semester allowing me to breathe a little more than I had been.

On Wednesday we had a farewell dinner for Chicago Semester since all other students except student teachers finished on Friday. We ate dinner at The Parthenon in Greek Town and I consumed saganaki for the first time. If you, like me, are not familiar with saganaki it is a fried cheese that is flambéed immediately before serving and everyone in the room yells, “Opa!” when the flames ignite. Cheese in almost any form is one of my favorite things to eat and I therefore enjoyed the dish greatly. Apparently every semester our group is known to be considerably boisterous with their “Opa” and we hopefully continued that reputation. Saying goodbye to everyone was surreal, it does not seem like April is coming to a close. I am glad, though, that my roommate chose to stick around until Thursday otherwise this coming week might be slightly lonely.

Maple Bacon Doughnut
As usual I sampled more food places this weekend. I have frequented RA all semester and did so on Friday. It is a sushi place a block away from our apartments, but I had the opportunity to try a place called Starfruit that night as well. It is a place that sells frozen Kefir. This is similar to frozen yogurt, but a little more tart. It was delicious with mangoes and strawberries on top and made it my fourth day eating frozen yogurt this week (yes I have a problem). I went with a friend on this Friday night adventure, but our final destination for the night was slightly questionable in its outward appearance so we changed plans last minute and ended the night with a midnight doughnut at Glazed and Infused. Their assortment of doughnuts was unique. The two doughnuts we tried were the maple bacon and snack doughnut. Maple bacon is a maple doughnut with bacon on the top and the snack doughnut was a cake doughnut with frosting sprinkled with mini M&M’s, pretzels, and potato chips; it was oddly delicious.

This weekend has been full of food adventures and I do not have enough space to tell them all, but I will transition with this one. Saturday morning was a lovely day and so my roommate and I got frappuccinos from the coffee cart down the street. Now that weather is nicer all the restaurants are opening their windows and patio seating revealing that people actually live in Chicago.

My classroom

As I look forward, this is my final week student teaching. The thought of leaving my class makes me want to cry and when I depart from Mitchell Elementary Friday afternoon I probably will. I have been incredibly blessed by the school, my cooperating teacher, and students. While having 36 fifth graders has been a huge challenge, I would not trade this class for any other. On Thursday I observed two teachers at another school and did not see my students until the end of the school day. When they saw me I was showered with excitement and hugs that reinforced the reason I love teaching; it is all about the students.

I have now been teaching long enough to see progress in my students’ learning and this is exciting because I can know, by the grace of God, I did something right this semester. It brings a smile to my face every time a student says, “Miss Johnston don’t leave, I’m going to miss you.” Little do they know how much I will miss them too.
This semester has been one of the most challenging, stressful, and amazing semesters I have experienced. I do not regret my decision to move to Chicago for a second. Spring of 2013 taught me more than I can express in a blog post about teaching, myself, and trusting in God. Therefore, I will conclude with the words of A.A. Milne, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #13

by Victoria Johnston - Mitchell Elementary School

Hash House A Go Go

The final two weeks of the semester are approaching and my activities have dwindled with it. This past week was a whirlwind of finishing my massive unit plan and portfolio so I can graduate and put a capstone on student teaching. I finally finished both and did not lose as much sleep as anticipated. One experience to share from this weekend was my brunch destination. Our apartment building is right next to a restaurant called The Hash House and I have been intending to go there all semester yet waited till Saturday to actually go. Almost every meal is served with some form of potatoes (hence Hash House) and portions are massive. A person at the table next to mine had a pancake and it was possibly the size of my torso. I got one of their “hashes” with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and eggs on the side. It was all mixed with diced potatoes of course. One meal has turned into three.

This past week one of my fellow Chicago Semester friends won the happy hour at a restaurant with a dueling piano show. She was able to invite up to 100 people and we all received free appetizers and discounts on food. We were able to request songs for the band to play and their musical abilities were stellar. They could play almost any song we asked and, because I like to think we were guests of honor, we had front row seats. Since I play the piano it was even more exciting to see that kind of talent and enjoy the music.

The more I realize I only have two weeks left, the sadder I become. I plan on telling my students tomorrow that my last day is May 3rd and I only have two weeks left as their teacher. For instruction this week I am only teaching three subjects and handing back reading, writing, and social studies to my cooperating teacher. It will be odd to see this side of the semester and observe him teach my kids, since at the beginning I had no idea what I was doing and who the 36 ten and eleven year-olds in that class were. At least I can help with small group instruction, otherwise I would begin to feel as though time actually slows down.

One of my favorite lessons this week was my response to intervention group. I have third through fifth grade students who are at the highest reading level of the elementary students. We are studying the book The Watsons Go to Birmingham which is full of humor and adventure. Friday, I taught my students about idioms, what they are and how they are used. For their activity they had to pick idioms and draw them using their literal meaning for one picture and the actual meaning for another picture. One example they found amusing was to “hit the hay” because it is not actually going to go smack hay. I am looking forward to seeing the other idioms they picked and how they choose to illustrate them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #12

by Victoria Johnston - Mitchell Elementary

Still Alice - Lookingglass Theatre
Since the semester is coming to a close, this Thursday was our last arts event. As a group we attended the play Still Alice that is about a well-known psychologist that develops Alzheimer’s. Throughout the play, viewers see her slowly lose her memory and ability to recall basic things like who her children are. It was a moving play to watch, but I could not imagine how the difficulty would have increased if I personally knew a family member with the disease. The play was well produced and the set slowly whittled away until the end nothing was left on stage; this progression seemed to symbolize Alice’s slowly deteriorating memory. I will miss these weekly arts events, but I plan on taking advantage of my last three weeks to visit more museums, and hopefully the Brookfield Zoo. 

Museum of Science & Industry
One of my new favorite things to do since moving to Chicago is visit museums. There are a plethora throughout the city and not enough time to visit them all, but having multiple options is exciting. This weekend I visited the Museum of Science and Industry with my roommate and another Chicago Semester member. This museum has exhibits from weather simulators, to miniature cities, to an old submarine that visitors can tour. It was a vast museum and if I have the opportunity to return I would pick a section to focus on and explore its many options. I think my favorite portion was the weather simulators because they would generate lightning every half an hour as well as had a tank for mini tsunamis. If it had not cost extra money my friends and I would have gone through the Body World Animal exhibit, but we did see the neck of a giraffe from a distance. This museum is housed in an old building from the 1893 World’s Fair that was held in Chicago. I am currently reading the book Devil in the White City and was rather excited to see a building often referenced in the book as well as the area where the fair was held. 

The Devil in the White City

For the past few weeks my class has been working on creating their own dances for their weekly dance class. It has been neat to see their confidence and creativity expound through that project, especially since they were a little timid at the beginning of the process.

My last week of full time teaching is rapidly approaching. Today marks the first day of my last week. I was thinking it would be a relief to have a little extra time to focus on graduation requirements by giving back responsibility, but then my next thought was, “No, these are my kids I can’t give the responsibility back to my cooperating teacher.”  Friday commemorated the end of the third quarter for my students and so all afternoon was spent finalizing grades, passing back papers, and meeting with other teachers to plan our student lead, parent conferences on Wednesday.

School House Rock
My final excitement that I will share for this week happened while I was planning for tomorrow’s lessons. I do a mini writing lesson every morning and the focus for this week is conjunctions and interjections. In the middle of planning I had an “aha!” moment and remembered a short video called “Conjunction Junction”. If you regularly watched cartoons on Saturday morning in the 90's you probably remember this three minute cartoon. While it may be corny, I am excited about using it as a teaching tool. My kids (and roommate) may think I am kooky, but I guess that just comes as part of the job description.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #11

by Victoria Johnston - Mitchell Elementary

Each time I look at the calendar it feels like another week has passed in that short moment. It is already April and my time in Chicago is too rapidly drawing to a close. With the short amount of time I have left I am trying to take advantage of being in the city. Attending every arts event has been part of my goal and this week we attended a play called Proof by David Auburn at the Court Theater in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The play is set in Hyde Park and tells the story of a woman named Catherine whose father was a mathematical genius plagued by mental illness. Catherine cared for her father during much of his mental illness, but after his death she struggles to prove to her sister and one of her father’s protégés that she is the author of a mathematical proof. Throughout the entire play the audience is continually wondering if Catherine will follow in her father’s footsteps of mental illness and who wrote the proof. I greatly enjoyed the play because it drew in the audience by keeping our emotions involved. This coming week is our last arts event which is also a play. I am looking forward to having another opportunity to see a live theater performance.

Yogurtland 5K Run
This week most of my adventures were close to home. There is a self-serve frozen yogurt shop on the corner less than a block from my apartment and it was celebrating the grand opening at another location. For the grand opening they held a 5K race around the neighborhood. My roommate and I, along with a couple other Chicago Semester students, participated in the 5K. This decision for me was rather last minute, but we were all rewarded with free yogurt and toppings, which canceled all physical activity considering I ate close to a pint’s worth of yogurt and fruit. The weather is finally warming up (and you know from my other posts how exciting this is for me) making yesterday a great day to run outdoors.

Chicago's Chinatown
Last night for dinner my fellow student teachers and I ventured to Chinatown for dinner together. We went to a place called House of Fortune that we all visited together our first week in Chicago. All food was split family style of course and me, being the sophisticated person that I am, got rice in my tea and eventually tea in my rice.

Since April is quickly passing, the end of third quarter is also approaching. I have been teaching full time for over a month now and understand the frantic rush of grading to have everything done to send report cards home. Keeping track of 36 students and their work is quite the challenge so I am working towards finding who has missing work and asking students to turn in work if they want to improve grades. 

This past week I had my students complete an authentic assessment in science. They were given a scenario as biologists in the desert and had to research animals to create a food web. It was exciting to see everyone engaged and contributing to the group when given a specific job. Overall they did well and I realized my students are learning despite my typical new teacher fear that maybe they are not.

I am still loving being in my classroom and get excited when I find new resources for instruction.  This weekend Pinterest pointed me to a website with hip hop songs to teach language arts, math concepts, and other subjects. Speaking of lesson plans, there are a few calling my name at the moment, but I will enjoy listening to raps about literary terms.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #10

By Victoria Johnston – Mitchell Elementary

Until this weekend it seemed as though Chicago was in a perpetual winter. Temperatures did not rise above forty degrees for the longest time, but the last few days have been quite enjoyable, I find myself looking for reasons to go outside. The past couple weeks have been full of adventure. I was unable to make this week’s arts event, but last week we had the chance to go to the Old Town School of Folk Music and see the band, Zamin. I was surprised by the genre of music presented by Zamin, but greatly enjoyed their unique fusion of Indian vocal techniques with Indie/alternative rock. The cellist attended Julliard on a full ride and the vocalist was from the Middle East. The Old Town School offers music events weekly and showcases genres from around the world. It has been exciting experiencing the music of various cultures.
Spring Break with Grandpa
This week is spring break for Chicago Public Schools and I have had the chance to relax and explore the city a little more. For my first weekend off I took a Megabus to Michigan to see family. In all the excitement I forgot about my bag I had checked below the bus. I did not realize this until we were driving away and so my family and I chased the bus from Ann Arbor to Detroit while I was on hold with the bus company to try and retrieve the soon to be lost baggage. Everything worked out, but my poor grandpa got his adventure for the month sitting in the front seat of my cousin’s car as we raced down the highway. 
Harold Washington Library
Once I returned to Chicago I tried a donut shop called Firecakes. It was small and cozy, but the donut was delicious as was the latte. I have also found myself at the Harold Washington Library on the eighth floor a few times to use their pianos. The library has a plethora of music and playing the piano again is a great way to unwind.

While I have had a break from school, last week was a good week. Friday before Spring Break I took my students to the Lincoln Park Zoo. It was great to bring them outside of the classroom to solidify their learning of ecosystems as well as give them choice in what they wanted to learn. I personally enjoy the zoo as well so I had fun exploring with my students and talking with a small group. One student in my group affectionately renamed me Miss J instead of saying my entire last name.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Since I am student teaching at Mitchell Elementary I am learning more about Common Core Standards, Backward Design, and Inquiry Based Learning. Mitchell is an early adopter for the Common Core and therefore much of my instruction is focused on meeting those standards rather than strictly teaching from one curriculum. Because they are early adopters, the teachers attend seminars once a quarter to gain instruction on improving teaching practices and incorporating the standards. I have been able to attend two of these meetings with my cooperating teacher and one was the week before break. Student teaching has been an overwhelming wealth of information and experience, but learning about the Common Core Standards has been invaluable. I feel as though I don't have to rely solely on a textbook and I am working toward always having the key piece I want my students to know in mind instead of stressing because my lesson did not work as planned.