Student Voices

CCTE is pleased to share highlights from the blog of Michael Augello, senior English and Adolescent Education major at SUNY Geneseo.  Michael is blogging throughout his student teaching experience in Kumasi, Ghana this semester.  Michael’s complete blog can be found at Geneseo to Ghana:  Lots of Teaching and Lots of Learning.  CCTE will post regular excerpts from Michael about student teaching in Ghana.   THANK YOU MICHAEL!

Week Three Photojournal

“An Uphill Battle”

I’m teaching metaphor a little bit this week, so I think it is appropriate for me to be metaphorical here and now. We climbed and climbed when we were at the Tano Sacred Grove this past weekend, and although we did not stand up on the highest rock and stay there for hours, I felt like the world paused for a little and allowed me to think. I think too much probably, but I like to reflect and I feel like it is healthy. One thing I came up with while we were climbing was that education is always going to be an uphill battle that is not easy, and will never be easy.

On Saturday, I did not know what I was getting into. It was hot, and I was sweating. I felt sweat in my eyes, down the small of my back, and running down my nose as I climbed. I grabbed whatever I could grip, and stepped on anything that resembled a foothold. After we reached the top of the first formation, I got a taste of success. Not only had I made it up this far, but also I received a reward – the beauty of the landscape in front of me. This felt good, and after, I was ready to continue and keep going. Although I felt good, it only got harder. The formations seemed a bit steeper and the formations a bit higher. Again, I felt the doubts and struggled a lot at times, but when I hit that top rock, I felt like the greatest climber in the world, and when I saw vast African landscape I wanted more. When I was there, I thought, and I thought about education and where I was and what I was doing.

When I started with education, people told me I was crazy. There aren’t any jobs, education is going down the tubes, kids are getting worse, standardized testing is ruining everything, APPR, etc. I heard it all, and it was becoming a little intimidating. I started, and it still felt a bit crazy. However, once I started in classrooms and volunteering with certain education groups, everything clicked. I reached the top of the first rock. I saw everything out in front of me, how beautiful it was, and how much more there is. From then, I didn’t want to stop. Now that I’ve actually been into a classroom, created lessons, dealt with students that are real and unique and breathing, and are not just figments of my imagination and subjects for mock lessons, I know that it is a struggle and times and it is difficult. Nothing is ever perfect, despite the perfect planning. There aren’t always well-defined grips or footholds. The surface is slick sometimes, and some extra effort may be needed to just stay on course – not even to reach the top. It takes work and frustration and a lot of effort, but there is always a payoff. It could be an essay, an answer in class, a nod of understanding, a high five, a laugh. This is the beautiful landscape that I look forward to as a teacher.

Education is a lot bigger than me. I know that I will end up in one school, with only a fraction of the students in the world. I have seen the landscape and I know that it is worth all of the work and the struggle. I cannot speak for every teacher in the world, but I know that I am with nine other teachers that have seen the landscape and understand. I am confident that there are more like us and I can’t wait for 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 years from now to see how we have made a difference.

Monday, November 25, 2013

“Technology”

For the second student teaching placement at Geneseo, all teacher candidates are required to

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My 8G class listens in on my unique example
of poetry.

complete a technology lesson – one based around technology or that allows students to use technology throughout. For the candidates in Ghana, this term was used very loosely. Above, you can see part of my “technology lesson.” Students are huddled around my computer, straining to hear the rap song I created and was showing them as an example of a lyric poem. I did not have any speakers to enhance the sound, and even huddled around it as close as the students are, not everyone was able to hear. Luckily for them, after I had them listen, I performed the rap myself, and received a standing ovation. This picture is truly indicative of the lack of technology present in these classrooms, and how necessary it is for students growing up in the technological age (even in Ghana)to have access to working with technology as often as possible.

What saddens me the most is that this is not just apparent to me, and all of the visiting teachers, but it is also apparent to the students. They know that technology exists in classrooms elsewhere, and they know they do not have the access to it. When I read speeches students wrote about what they felt their school needs, almost all of them said Internet access, and many more said more access to computers in general. When I pulled out my laptop this day in class, students’ eyes widened, and they were so anxious to see what I would do with it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do with it other than walk around with pictures and examples and try to play the song. Even though I was disappointed in the way that lesson panned out (the technology aspect at least), the students still loved it.
Another difficulty I ran into while teaching that could possibly be aided by technology in the classroom came while the students were writing the aforementioned speeches. The teacher asked them to bring their notebooks home and write the speeches in the notebooks instead of typing on a computer, which I completely take for granted. When the students arrived to class the next day, they were asked to copy the speeches they wrote over into another notebook so that it was all neatly written. I was amazed that that seemed like a fairly normal act to the students. The copying took them nearly forty-five minutes and took away from learning time in the classroom.
I wish I could walk in and fix these issues, but I do not have the money or the power. Instead, I had to give in to their ways. I write all my notes on the board, and even wrote a full test on the board for students to take. It is now a lot easier for me to understand the stress of learning the ways to use technology properly as an educator in the United States; it is not just something that could be helpful for the kids, it is something that they need.

“The Right Classroom Environment”

I believe that one of the most important, if not the most important quality I bring to the classroom is one that I have not been taught by the Geneseo School of Education and one that I have not read in any textbooks. I have not taught for very long, but I believe it is plain to see that in order to be a successful teacher, I must have an positive attitude in the classroom and provide an environment where students feel comfortable learning.
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The students love my positive attitude and fresh Ghanaian
fashion sense.
When I arrived in the classroom, I noticed that a lot of the students in the classroom seemed intimidated by the teacher and did not want to participate or answer questions in front of the class (I would probably be the same too, if there was a possibility of being caned if I answered the question wrong). Because students were not participating, sharing, and asking questions, they were not learning to their fullest potential. I knew from the start that one of my goals would have to be getting the students to feel comfortable enough with me that they would become eager to participate and ask questions.
Much to my surprise, helping students understand that I want them getting involved, being creative, and taking risks was not as easy as I expected it to be. I gave them the “think outside the box” box, did my best to learn some of their native Twi language, discussed football (their football), wore my new Ghana style shirt, and even had to literally sing and dance at times. Finally, the students have become very comfortable with me in front of the classroom, and I am grateful and proud that I was able to do so. The only issue? Now the students have to transition back to their teacher and her ways of teaching, which are VERY different from mine. All I can hope is that from my few weeks in the classroom, and about a week and a half of direct instruction, the students will be able to take some of the things I have taught them and implement them through the rest of this year and throughout their schooling.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

 I mentioned in a previous blog post that I wanted to experiment with positive reinforcement, and how I began to use the “Think Outside the Box” box. It worked. It worked SO well. I was amazed at how much response a silly paper box drew from these 13 and 14 year olds. Whenever I saw a student modeling the creative thinking I wanted them to use, they got the box and a round of applause from their classmates. I had students come up to me before class, after class, at the canteen (cafeteria/market/foodstand place) and tell me that they wanted to get the box. I told them that they have to earn it, and they did not disappoint. Students who were not as engaged and do not usually participate were raising their hands out of their seats. My only regret is that I did not have more time to implement this, and even more strategies like this. Here are some pictures of my silly students who thought outside the box:
I was very impressed with Richard. He’s very quiet and has a lot of trouble with English.
When he shared his example of imagery, the class gave him the box and clapped before I could even say anything.
Dariad told me he neeeeeeded the box, and he came through with a great interpretation of a poem.
Joshua!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Beginning of my Unit and 8th Graders Being 8th Graders

 The “key assignment” for this part of my student teaching placement is the completion of a unit plan. In the United States, I would have this planned out weeks ahead of time with my cooperating teacher, and it would be organized to the point of sickness. At HF-L, my unit lasted a little bit over two weeks. I had time on my side, and a lot of time to bring forth my ideas.
Ghana is not this way. My unit will consist of three 80 minute blocks over the span of a week. I found out last week that I will be teaching poetry, and that I can do what I want for the unit as long as I follow along with a book and teach what my teacher tells me to teach. In other words, I am not teaching what I would like to, as far as terms, elements, and what I feel is important; but I do get to teach what I must teach in my own ways. This makes me excited. This happened as a result:
Kwame thought “Outside the Box” and was
….rewarded?

While reading poetry, and while thinking about how to teach poetry, one must always “think outside the box.” In order to help kids grasp the idea of “thinking outside the box” (they had no idea what this meant), I reached into my bag of tricks, did some origami, and made a box out of paper. At the time, the Jets were down 20 in the second quarter, and I thought paper folding would calm me down. It didn’t. ANYWAY, whenever I felt a student was thinking outside the box, I gave them the box and had the students cheer for them. This way, other students would see how he was thinking and have it serve as a model. Kwame turned the box into a hat, and I am totally cool with that. It showed me that he felt comfortable with me and was on the same page as me. Let’s face it, I would have done the exact same thing. In my first lesson I think I began to unlock some creativity and I had some fun. I allowed the kids to be kids in a supportive learning environment.

Another “fun” thing that happened today that screamed puberty was when I asked students to practice rhyming words. This was harder than I thought because with their accent, students pronounce a lot of words differently than I do. For instance, they thought that “cut” rhymed with “cat,” and the way that they pronounced the word, it did. One boy did not have any problem rhyming words. When I asked him to tell me some rhymes, he told me: “cart, fart, shart.”
I told him he was totally correct, and was laughing too hard to say anything else.

Sunday November 10, 2013

“Unique Students”

While my friend Emmy and I were working on some lesson plans in the school library, she showed me a quotation that she really likes. It reads, “Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable.” I believe that students must be treated exactly the way this quote describes. Students may be smarter than others, students may act out more than others, or students may not care as much as others, but none are better or worse than any other. After I read this quote, it floated around in my brain for a few days, and finally, on Thursday, when I was teaching my first lesson, I saw the quote come to fruition.

There is a boy who sits in the back of one of my classes named Joseph. When I went around and introduced myself to each student and asked their names, the teacher warned me in front of the class that Joseph is stubborn and does not listen. She said that I must keep an eye on him because he will not be good. I thought this was a fairly harsh introduction, especially because I did not know the student at all. He was immediately labeled as a “bad kid.” While I knew I could not jump to conclusions, I could not help seeing the boy and thinking “bad kid.” Throughout the week, I saw my teacher cane him for offenses that she allowed other students to get away with. After she did that, she would often ridicule him about how he is a bad kid, and how small his ears are. She always treated him like a bad kid. Looking back to the quote, she saw him as “inferior” to other students and treated him as so.

I knew that Joseph could not be as bad as she frames him to be. Whenever I walk around campus and I see Joseph, he always shakes my hand, or gives me a respectful salute. I sometimes use his native language of Twi to ask him how he is doing, and he smiles and tells me he is fine. I was and am still finding out that Joseph is not a bad kid, but just is different from others. He needs to be shown that people care, and I have been showing him that I do, despite how my teacher treats him.

Joseph proved himself to me on Thursday when I taught my first lesson. Sometimes, when the teacher does not want to hear from Joseph or other students, she tells them they are on “probation” and cannot talk. I made it a point to tell him and those other students that while I was teaching, they could raise their hands and participate as much as they want. When the lesson began, and I began asking for volunteers to answer questions and read, Joseph’s hand shot up in the air every single time. Not only was I impressed at how often he was participating, but I was also impressed at his answers and his reading ability, something that my teacher may not have seen because she does not give him the opportunity. It even got to the point in the lesson where I had to ask someone other than Joseph to answer a question. I was so proud of him that class, and I think he will continue to respond to me throughout the rest of the time I am in his classroom.

Joseph is not perfect– he does not sit in the front row of the class, and he is sometimes goofy in class, but that certainly does not make him a “bad kid.” I am slowly learning that while some students are similar, I will have as many different personalities as I have students, and I must treat them as not superior or inferior to one another, but as unique, incomparable human beings.

“Teacher Room”

 
My view of the “Teacher Room”

This picture was shot from the back of the “Teacher Room.” Every Wednesday at first break (from 9:20-9:50), we are invited to eat breakfast with the other teachers. The school provides fresh bread with jam or margarine, hardboiled eggs, and tea. As the picture shows, the room gets filled with teachers. From the looks of it, not one teacher misses this meal. Also take notice of the foreground of the picture, and the many exercise books stacked on the two teachers’ desks. Not only does this room serve as a giant, loud cafeteria, but as a workspace for every teacher at the school. This provides a very interesting dynamic that I think is beneficial for the overall success of the school.

In my short experience with being the teacher in a high school and not the student, I have found teacher’s lounges and faculty rooms to be cliquey and separated, just as high school can be. At the KNUST Basic School, the “Teacher Room” serves as a combination of teacher’s cafeteria, main office, individual teachers’ offices, faculty room, and teacher’s lounge. While this may seem like an overwhelming combination, I believe a room like this is beneficial to the chemistry between teachers (within content area and outside) and can help to build an important camaraderie among the staff.

While I’m sure there is plenty of hanging out and fooling around among the teachers as there is in every school (I can’t understand a lot of what they say to each other), I have taken notice of a few instances that show the benefits of this gigantic, multi-purpose room. During the breakfast, while everyone was present and kind of quiet because they were eating, what seemed like the principal made a few important announcements. Instead of having teachers stay after school and go somewhere for faculty meetings, the “meeting” was held briefly and was convenient for all teachers present. When the meeting was over, all of the teachers laughed and joked together, and they walked around and caught up with each other.

The room is nice because I know that my teacher will usually be in there if we are not in class, and I can go there with any questions I have. I am not sure if it is a coincidence or if content area teachers sit together, but when she had a question about what was being taught that year, she only had to turn to her left and ask the English teacher next to her. When the teacher to her left could not answer her question, she turned around and asked the English teacher that was sitting behind her. It was as easy as this, and all of the teachers, including myself, were on the same page regarding curriculum. In an American school, there would have been an email exchange, a walk downstairs or a phone call. I think this system is more convenient. Yes, and email is quick and easy, but I feel like the human-to-human interaction can help in certain situations.

As I have mentioned too many times, the schools here are different. Maybe this set up only works in this school because it is all they have, and what they are forced to endure. I know there are some teachers who prefer to stick to themselves and mind their own business who may be reading this and disagreeing with me, but as a pretty social being, I think I would enjoy this set up; specifically the quick, convenient responses and fun, close environment.

 

Monday, November 4, 2013

HF-L and the KNUST Basic School are…Different.

This was my classroom at Honeoye Falls-Lima High School.
This is my classroom at the KNUST Basic School

Today was another Monday that I missed seeing my students from HF-L. Instead of hopping in my white Ford Explorer Sport, heading down 390, and following some country roads while the sun rose, I walked down a dirt road, hailed a taxi cab, rode through the pot hole filled streets of a busy college campus, and arrived at the Basic School. I know that no matter where I had my second placement I would miss my students, so there is no surprise there; however, I am having trouble connecting with these students as I did with my HFL 11th graders and adjusting to the new environment.

Before I even get into the differences in the students, the discrepancies between the amount of technology present in the classroom needs addressing. While I am in my Ghana classroom, I am breaking everything down to the bare bones of teaching. Students copy notes from the board, and there isn’t a projector, smartboard, or even a computer in sight. Being creative is taking a lot more thought, and I am struggling a bit. My HF-L kids will remember at least one of my lessons that revolved around using SmartSoftware and the scentio remotes to survey the class – it was awesome (if I do say so). I can’t even think about any of that while I am in this country.

Unlike traditional American high schools, teachers change classes, and students do not. I have three 8th grade classes: 8E, 8F, and 8G, and all three spend the entire day (except for their two half hour breaks) in their respective rooms. Because of this, I have no time to talk to students prior to class, and no students stay after class to talk with me. I believe that is where I forged some of the best relationships with students at HF-L. As if it wasn’t hard enough that I don’t have this time to spend with students, the three classes I have only meet three times a week, and each class has a minimum of 45 students! I thought my 28 student fourth set class was difficult, but this is on another level.

While in my first placement, I was amazed to hear some analysis and thought that some of my students had. My favorite parts of some lessons was sitting back and listening to them spout brilliantly insightful responses and well thought out claims. Sometimes I would just sit back and listen and forget I had to teach. In this classroom, the students do not have as much freedom. When students are called on to answer a question, they stand up, recite their answer, and sit down. The questions are usually very black and white, and don’t require much critical thinking. The teacher focuses a lot on proper grammar and punctuation, which can take away from other content sometimes and actually becomes the content in some cases. I want to work on unlocking some of this creativity, but I must do so slowly and carefully, so they are not too shocked at how different my lessons are from my cooperating teacher’s lessons.

To all my HF-L kids: I hope you are continuing to have a great year, and I hope you know that I am thinking of you all every day! I can’t stress enough how much you have all impacted me as a teacher and as a human being. Hopefully Mrs. Borrelli is sharing this with you, and I hope you all keep up with this! If you have any pressing questions for me, you can go through Mrs. Borrelli, or ask her for my email.. I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, October 28, 2013

KNUST and A Taste of Our School

I am now settled in to the place that we will all be staying for the duration of our trip. It is a guest house called KCCR, on the KNUST campus. This house/set of apartments is usually reserved for visiting professors, but we were lucky enough to be granted these accommodations.

The campus is not as much of a campus as a small, busy city. We toured around the campus today on foot, and got to see many of the academic buildings, some fields, some markets we will be shopping at (many, many street vendors), and most importantly, our school. The KNUST basic school, which ranges from primary grades to junior high, is roughly a 30 minute walk from our living arrangement. From what I’ve gathered, and from the amount I have sweated today, I believe we will be taking cabs to school on most days, and walking back on the way home….

We only toured through the school today and will be actually meeting our cooperating teachers and our students in the morning. While we walked through the school, the most adorable, welcoming faces popped their heads out of the classroom to wave and smile. Even the junior high school kids managed to smile at the sight of us, despite their too cool, junior high ways (that is, if puberty works the same in all countries). This small taste of our school and the students we will be working with was such a tease to our entire group, which makes it obvious that we all share a passion for teaching…

Tomorrow is our first day of classes, and naturally, I have some butterflies. I’ve heard that if you don’t get nervous about something, it doesn’t mean much to you. It is refreshing to be with 9 other candidates who feel the same way I do…