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Shaundalyn Elliott's Diary
The First 180 Days

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Shaundalyn Elliott, a recent college graduate, always dreamed of being a corporate lawyer. Her deep feelings of responsibility to the minority students in her hometown led her instead to a teaching position at her alma mater, an urban middle school in Montgomery, Alabama. Each week during this school year -- Shaundalyn's first year in the classroom -- she will share with Education World readers her thoughts and feelings about her first 180 days!

Shaundalyn's Diary: Earning Respect!

Week 13

Last Sunday, I spent most of the afternoon getting ready for this week's lessons on mythology. As it turned out, the time I spent was well worth the effort! From the moment I arrived on campus Monday morning to the last bell on Friday afternoon, my mythology lessons were the talk of the school, as teachers constantly dipped in and out of my room to admire my latest teaching device -- Athena, goddess of wisdom and learning. It seems that my method of teaching mythology caused quite a stir!

I know some of my students are visual learners who need to see a model to understand. Because I am an avid doll collector, I decided that instead of taking my students to Mt. Olympus, I'd bring Athena to life in our classroom. So I dressed one of my larger dolls in a toga of white sheet scraps and a headpiece of ivy from one of my mother's centerpieces and created a visual representation of Athena.

The doll provided students with the opportunity to see Greece through the eyes of a particular goddess. I chose Athena as the goddess to study because of her association with wisdom. I also told the students that if they felt an itch on their legs or arms while they sat in their seats it was because Athena had dropped hungry knowledge bugs in our room and those bugs were eager to supply all their academic needs.

SURPRISE!

During fifth period on Monday, just as I was about to introduce Athena to the class, Mrs. Kostick, my principal, walked through the door. She was there to do an unannounced observation of my class! The day's lesson was a round-robin reading and follow-up discussion of the myth "Demeter and Persephone" -- and the students were great! For every question I asked, at least three students were eager to respond.

At the end of the observation, I was confident that everything had gone very well. And it had! Just before Mrs. Kostick left the room, she commented on how impressed she was with the lesson, my classroom, and the students. In fact, she was so impressed that she walked over to the chair of our English department to tell her how well everything had gone!

In our system, the Alabama Professional Education Personnel Evaluation Program, principals measure teacher performance in eight main categories:

  • preparation (prepares lessons and readies resources);
  • orientation (orients students to the lesson);
  • direction (gives clear directions);
  • presentation (develops the lesson, provides practice/summarization, and demonstrates knowledge);
  • assessment (monitors student performance, provides feedback, and uses assessment results);
  • management (manages class time and student behavior);
  • climate maintenance (involves students, communicates high expectations, expresses positive affect, maintains environment);
  • communication (speaks clearly/correctly, writes clearly, correctly and coherently).

Those eight categories and their subheads result in a total of 17 areas that are scored on a scale ranging from 1 to 4. A 1 indicates that a teacher's performance is unsatisfactory, a 2 indicates that the teacher needs improvement, a 3 indicates that the teacher demonstrates strength in that area, and a 4 indicates that the teacher demonstrates excellence.

MAKING PROGRESS

On Wednesday, I received a copy of my scores -- and I was beside myself with excitement. I received 4's in three of the 17 areas and 3's in the remaining 14 areas! At the bottom of the score sheet, Mrs. Kostick had written: "As a first-year teacher, Ms. Elliott already displays skills of a seasoned, experienced teacher. She is an asset to the staff!"

Although I was very pleased, I knew that I could not take sole credit for this success. I also had to compliment and congratulate my students for their marvelous behavior and cooperation. They were all surprised by the compliment because they hadn't planned for things to go as well as they had! In fact, a small problem had arisen during the observation when I had openly reprimanded a student for chewing gum -- a direct violation of both school and classroom rules! I was afraid the minor discipline problem might alter Mrs. Kostick's perception of me, but "manages student behavior" was one of the areas in which I received an excellent score!

Two months ago, if someone had told me that things would improve as much as they have in so short a time, I probably wouldn't have believed the person. Today, however, I am pleased to say that I believe I have won the respect of the students (even some I don't teach!) as well as the faculty, staff, and administrators. Although I'm much more relaxed and content than I was, I still realize that the hard part is not necessarily getting respect, it's keeping it -- and that is just what I plan to do!

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Shaundalyn Elliot
Education World®
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11/30/2000