Opportunities as a First Year Teacher

(Editor's note: Although this page is now a few years old, I love it too much to delete it. I'm still so very grateful for all the opportunities that I had!)
I have been very lucky in my first year as a teacher and wanted to use this space to enumerate some of the many activities that have enriched my life.

First and by far the most critical experience has been my time with the students. Being able to talk, learn and play with these wonderful kids has been the best part of my year, without question. Getting to eat dinner with them or have a serious (or silly) conversation is just about the most enjoyable thing I can think of right now.

Below are a few of the opportunities I have been lucky enough to stumble in to.

Fall 2011

Design a student-centered, student-run Performance Arts class with eight self-selected high schoolers. We have managed to create a tightly-knit, creative, out-going performance group with some of the most introverted students in the school.

Receive teacher training from Literacy Through Photography, a Houston-based program that provides cameras and a curriculum to use pictures to enrich student writing.
Brazos Bend State Park

Camp with 23 seventh graders in Brazos Bend State Park. We pet baby alligators, looked through the telescopes for amazing views of planets, the Moon and far away galaxies, and learned how to build tents. Miraculously, all of the students had fun, too. (Might I reiterate that they are seventh graders that had fun and admitted that they had fun.)

Join Twitter! Single best professional development tool I can imagine (other than speaking with the students, that is). I quickly linked in with the #langchat community and gain a critical professional support network.

Visit Houston's First Unitarian Universalist Church and then the Delano Street Buddhist Temple with Spanish III students working on a documentary regarding the diversity of religion in Houston. We had some rousing conversations on religion during that project, and in Spanish no less!

Learn how to drive a 14 passenger school bus. It has been a rather unpleasant experience, especially during rush hour in downtown Houston.

Winter 2011-2012
Our High School Performance Arts class created, wrote and brought to life our very own Christmas performance, presented to the entire school. Based off of professional performances of "A Christmas Carol," a unit on stand-up, and teenage creativity, we cobbled together a performance that was applauded by middle schoolers and parents alike.

Start blogging with students. Learn that students don't like blogging and only go on the site when I force them to (i.e."Write a paragraph on the blog about..."). Informative learning experience for me.

Take ten students and three faculty to see Toxic Avenger at the Alley Theater thanks to our relationship with their youth program. 13 seats at a very high quality musical...for free.

Listen to Will Richardson speak the Houston A+ community about the role of technology in the modern learning process, which I blogged about here. Not only was I interested by the content of his lecture, but also by the people in attendance, the majority of whomwere not teachers but instead administrators or representatives of local educational organizations. Although I'm glad that the policy makers were hearing his words, I couldn't help but ask why there weren't teachers there too.

Attend the school's super fancy Annual Gala with members of the senior class to promote the school to our donors. I was lucky enough to be assigned to stand next to the Teacher Wish Lists and make sure that certain...ahem... special items (aka mine) were paid for by generous attendees. Unfortunately, none of the donors were tempted by our Spanish textbooks, but maybe we can entice them in next year.

Begin a pen-pal partnership with students in Madrid, Spain for our Spanish II class. We focused on expressing ourselves, our communities and our dreams as creatively as possible, ranging from photographs to cartoons to YouTube videos. You can get to our letter exchange here.

Spring 2012

Carry a score board on the green during the Shell Houston Open, a PGA tournament televised nationally. The Houston Golf Association donates huge quantities of money and supplies to the school so we pay them back by being volunteers at the golf tournament. Usually the students carry the score boards, but a student got sick and so off I went! The kids  have a great time because a. they take pride in their work and b. they get to meet professional golfers and potentially be on TV!
Houston Holocaust Museum

Visit the Houston Holocaust Museum with students. It was a very powerful museum and I was so proud of the way with which they treated the event with respect and solemnity.

Attend a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson on creativity in education, with many other Houston-area education nerds. He is a hoot. That being said, these sorts of discussions always leave me wanting to have concrete examples of how I can bring this sort of openness into many classroom. Alas, easier said than done.

Skype with student photographers in Moscow, Russia. Students on both ends of the nine hour difference explained their families, interests, movie tastes and even played instruments for each other. The students felt very frustrated that they couldn't communicate with their counterparts directly (having instead to go through translators). We used this as a way to put our Spanish language studies in perspective and also explore intercultural similarities and differences.

Chatting with Russia (the view from our end)
Chatting with Russia (the view from their end)

Elaborate fruit display at a 15

Explore a photography gallery with Spanish II class in downtown Houston. We were lucky enough to have a Spanish-speaking tour guide as well.

Dance and people watch at several students' quincineras. It is amazing to see the detail and planning that goes into these girls' 15th birthday celebrations. Plus, I love getting to dance with the kids. Who says teachers can't bachata?!

Learn about reading disabilities and specifically dyslexia thanks to the Neuhaus Education Center, an internationally respected institution that provides professional development to educators and resources to parents.

Put student work in a professional gallery through the FotoFence exhibition, sponsored by Literacy Through Photography and then have my students present their photography facebook page to the entire assembly

Find out that one of the students that skyped with Russia was chosen by the organization as a winner in their photography contest  and that she won a five night stay on Moscow (sans airfare, but still!) for her gorgeous shot of the beach and seagulls.
Photograph property of Victoria German. Please do not reuse without express permission from the artist. 
And then, we went to Russia! See the press release by FotoFest here. It was a fantastic experience and we were so happy to get to know the people that we had met over Skype just a few months before. Nothing is quite as magical as the real thing.

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