From K-pop to Common Core: A Conversation with Christina

Everyone remembers their first year. I remember the lunch periods trying to figure out what you are going to teach next period, staying late after everyone has left the building including the custodians, the unruly kids testing your patience, and feeling like quitting is the only option.  Well despite the challenges, there is so much that you learn about yourself, teaching, and students that makes it all worth it. I had the privilege of interviewing a first year NYC teacher last summer while in NY.

I met Christina a few years ago at my church in Korea. After her time in Korea as a Fulbright scholar, teaching English, she went to graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College. Now she is teaching at a charter school in NYC. I was intrigued by her experience because she teaches Korean language and culture to high school students in Harlem. Her school requires students to learn Korean as their foreign language. We sat down and caught up over delicious frozen s’mores and coffee as she honestly shared about her experiences as a first year teacher. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed!

What made you decide to take this teaching job?  I actually studied Internal Education Development in grad school. I always thought I would go into administration. When I was offered this position, a part of me thought, ‘okay, this is not curriculum or policy development, but gaining field experience would eventually lead me to where I would like to be in education.’ 

After the first year was done, I was really glad and humbled I went into teaching first. Now to come to think of it, I don’t know how I thought I would have gone into policy work and administration without having stepped inside a classroom and really interact with students on a day to day basis for better or worse.

What was the toughest part about being a first year teacher? I was used to being responsible for my own learning curve. To have the tables turned and being responsible for someone else’s future was tough.

What was the most memorable moment of your first year teaching? A lot of my students question why they have to learn Korean. They think that Korean is not relevant to their lives, which quite frankly is very true. However, our Korean department and school as a whole stress that learning additional languages builds character towards understanding people from various walks of life (which of course begins with language and culture). Learning a completely non-Western related language, additionally, builds grit and a tenacity towards learning as a skill set–not just something to be evaluated upon. Yet, our students will still frequently push back out of frustration. For example, I had one student acting out in class, saying, “I don’t need to know this. Why are we forced to learn something I cannot use outside of school?” We had a pretty long conversation about the matter that included everything from globalization to living in NYC, but to put it short three months later, I randomly got an e-mail from the student saying that in hindsight, struggling with the subject and expressing his frustration with me allowed him to think twice about people and how their backgrounds can shape their interactions with others.  

What words of advice would you give to another first year teacher? Take a deep breath and approach everything with a sense of humor.

What are some essential things you carry in your teacher bag? A tumbler, wet wipes, cough drops, a pen and laptop.

What is your typical work day at school like?  I used to wake up at 4:30am so I can catch the LIRR train–I did this for a year and half and it nearly zapped the life out of me. Now that I moved into Harlem, it’s a bit easier to get to work by 7:00 am. From 7:30-8:00 I have homeroom and the kids eat breakfast. I teach four classes then a class for tutoring, then a period for lunch. Then, we have enrichment period after school. At the end of the day, tidying the classroom, grading, and printing materials for the next day, I roughly leave school around5:30 to 6:00 pm

As a Korean language teacher, how do you integrate history and culture? In the tenth grade, students prepare for the Korean LOTE (Languages Other than English–language version of NY standardized high school exams), so I try to incorporate culture and history during days after finals and midterms. As a result, grammar and reading comprehension is often emphasized more than history and culture, which is a bit unfortunate. I do try to squeeze culture and history in when I explain different honorific forms of speech and writing patterns. Also, during free writing periods, I occasionally turn on K-pop songs. 2ne1 and Big Bang are usually popular with the students. 

I know Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary, came to speak at your school’s commencement. How does your school interact with the Korean community? The local Korean newspaper supports us by raising awareness for us and highlighting our students’ achievements in Korean. Also the Korean government supports all schools in the U.S. that officially integrate Korean language programs within their curriculum. We also annually have Korean cultural performances/festival and get support from Korean associations and groups. Most recently, our school network also created a outreach extension to the Korean American community in which I believe we have a board member, who advocates for our Korean language program and connects us with various Korean related programs for our school. Honestly, I don’t know the full extent, but our school definitely proactive about integrating Korean culture in not only the high school, but also the Harlem community at large.

What are your hopes for NYC public education in the next 10 years? If I were a student, I would want more time for lessons on empathy and awareness in general. Right now everything is based on the the common core and standardized testing.  I think that students are forgetting that there’s a purpose behind this value and achievement we place on education. 

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Developing Story Arcs with Sarah Weeks

One of the key and most practical take aways I had this summer from the Teachers College Writing Institute was during my session with author, Sarah Weeks. I attended her class on writing children’s books. She shared with us the importance of a balanced story arc in children’s stories. We examined how the best children’s books out there had really strong story arcs. She had story arcs written out for various well known children’s books. We looked at the story arc of the action in the story, which showed what was happening in the beginning, middle and end. Then, she had us also examine the emotional story that the character went through.

The next step was to start creating our own story arcs for the picture books we would write that week. She shared with us how some teachers, actually had a piece of string that they used to represent the arc. Another method was to use post-its. One color post-it would represent the action of the story, and another color post-it would represent the emotional story arc of my main character. I really loved using the post-its verses just writing it down in my notebook, because I could move around the post-its, add more details, and I could clearly distinguish between the two different arcs. After many hours, I finally had a story arc for my children’s book (still a work in progress).

Last week, I found myself whipping out the story arc I created this past summer, during one of my mini-lessons for our fantasy unit. My students were collecting ideas for their fantasy stories and we had just gone over the story arc of The Paper Bag Princess. I modeled for them creating a story arc of the action and then the emotions of the princess. Then, I showed them the story arc that I created for my children’s book as another model.

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Then, I had them create their own story arcs. I gave them post-it notes, bigger sized white paper, and let them go. I encouraged them to be creative and manipulate the size of the post-its as they needed. I had a few students add another arc, of the setting, with another post-it color. Another student included small drawings on her post-its along with the description. I even had some students layering the post-its on top of each other as they added more details. As the students worked on their story arcs, I kept emphasizing the importance of how having a strong story arc would help them write a better story. Plus, it would make the drafting process a lot easier.  And this was a lesson I definitely learned after spending many hours writing and revising my own story arc this past summer.

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The Hour of Code

Apparently the new language to teach in schools is not Chinese, but it’s coding. In England, students will be required to learn coding in primary and secondary schools  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10410036/Teaching-our-children-to-code-a-quiet-revolution.html). They will be the first country to mandate this for their students. It seems like they are taking the steps needed to get the students prepared for a future where knowing how to code will be a valuable skill to have.

Well, even if your school or state is not quite ready to embrace coding as another language taught in school, there is a great opportunity to expose your students to coding. Our technology coach has our students participating in the Hour of Code 2013 this week! Students will get an opportunity to participate for an hour on computer science this week. It’s not too late to get signed up. Go to the website: Teach the Hour of Code for further instructions and lesson plans. My students will be participating on Thursday!

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A New Kind of Library

A good friend of ours in California, Mona, just introduced us to the little free library. And I absolutely love the idea! People are creating their own mini-library outside of their homes for people in their neighborhoods. It’s an honor system, where you keep the books inside and people are free to take a book and bring it back. Neighbors can also add books to the library as well. Also, you put a notebook inside, where people can leave comments on what they thought of the book. It can be a mix of adult and children’s books. I would totally start one if I didn’t live in an apartment building.  This video gives a brief explanation on this idea:

Story featuring Adison Schanie by Beargrass Media about the Little Free Library.

This movement is growing which you can see from this map. Not only are there free little libraries in the US, but all over the world! As of now, I don’t see any in Singapore, maybe it has to do with lack of front yards, but I’m hoping someone will start one soon.

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Have you seen any of these little free libraries in your city? Do you plan on trying to start one in front of your home? Let us know! 🙂

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Simple Silhouette Collages

After a long summer of rest and rejuvenation, I’ve been so busy being back in the classroom that I haven’t been able to blog.  There has been so much going on already in year 2 in Singapore that I want to share with you!  This year, I tried a new beginning of the school year project. My mentor teacher from last year, Linda, does this great silhouette activity with her students. I knew that this year, I wanted to try it with my kids!

In order to have the students create their silhouettes, I used the steps I found on this blog post: how to make silhouettes of your kids .

I took a photo of their side profile against a solid background. Then, I printed out their photo in black and white. I took their photo and enlarged it on the copy machine to a bigger sheet of white paper. Once I got the settings on the copy machine right, I copied all the printed out silhouettes with the same settings.

Then, I had the students cut out their profiles and glue it onto thicker black construction paper. They cut out their profiles again.

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Now on the black side of the paper, I had them glue on photos and words from magazines that described them. I also had some print outs of photos I took of them and their families from our open house. I had them put those photos on.  After their silhouette collage was done, I hung them up in the back of my classroom!

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What are some of your favorite back to school activities?

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What are you reading?

It’s finally summer time for teachers, which means a lot of free time and hopefully time to rest and travel. One thing that I’m always telling my students is the importance of reading over the summer. So we create summer reading lists, book recommendations, and borrow a lot of books from our school library before the school year ends.

As a teacher I love having the time to catch up on my reading over the summer. I love going to Barnes & Noble and seeing the best sellers and books that are popular in the States.  This summer I’ve gotten some great recommendations that have helped me find some great reads!

Pie by Sarah Weeks

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I just happen to know the author Sarah Weeks, who also wrote So B. It.  I was in her workshop on writing children’s picture books at the Reading & Writing Project Summer Institute this June. I will definitely be posting on that experience soon! This was a fun read, and I will definitely be recommending the book to my new 5th graders, especially if they like a good mystery and baking.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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I hadn’t heard of this series until my cousin mentioned it to me recently. I just started reading it and am having a harder time getting into it than The Hunger Games. The similar dystopian story line makes me appreciate the characters and storyline of The Hunger Games even more. It seems like this book is going to be turned into a movie as well, with Shailene Woodley as Tris. So if you want to be on the “in” when the movie comes out in March 2014, start reading!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Another recommended book by a friend, I couldn’t put it down and read it in a few days. It’s a recent NY Times best seller and originally written for young adults. Yes, it’s a story about a 16-year-old girl with cancer, but it surprises you, makes you laugh out loud in a few places with it’s honesty and wit, and of course touches you deeply with tears. This book looks like it’s going to made into a movie in 2015 with Shailene Woodley (from Divergent) playing Hazel!

The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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I absolutely love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. Not only is she a graduate of my alma mater (Barnard), but she writes fictional short stories that I can easily identify and relate to as a Korean American, even though they are stories of Indian Americans.

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

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I had the opportunity of hearing Tony Wagner give a keynote at the Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute. He was a dynamic speaker and he shared about his book. In the book he shared stories about the lives of people that have really become successful innovators. He interviewed them, their parents, and mentors. He shared how they all had these 3 key things: purpose, passion & play.

I enjoyed watching the links he had of short video clips of the people he wrote about. This book definitely had me thinking more deeply about how to help my students become innovators and the massive need to change in our education system if we really want to prepare them to be successful.

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

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I mean with a title like that, how could you not buy it? What teacher doesn’t want their school to be exceptional? Paul Bambrick- Santoyo, who is a leader for Uncommon Schools, has written a few different books on education. I’ve always been really impressed with their charter schools. I had a chance to visit North Star Academy in Newark many years ago. I was able to sit down with Paul and hear about the amazing work this charter school was doing. Now, they have many schools across the nation in their network and I knew that the advice and ideas Paul had, whether it be on classroom management or professional development would be radical and effective.

What are some books that you are reading this summer? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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Growing Green: A Story of Inspiration

I just stumbled upon  this TED story last night and thought everyone needs a bit of inspiration on a Monday morning. I love watching these TED talks that inspire and give me hope as an educator.

After watching this TED talk about this teacher in the South Bronx doing amazing things and truly making an impact, it reminded me of the dream that I have to start my own school one day. Dreams to start a school where students can nurture and grow their creativity. Dreams to start a school where students can follow their passions. Dreams to start a school where students can become agents of change.

What are your dreams and hopes as an educator?

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Giving Students Choice in their Writing

In writing workshop, I’ve been teaching an independent writing unit, where my students wrote a piece in the genre of their choice. My students enjoyed having this choice, since there were quite a few genres that we didn’t get to cover throughout the year such as historical fiction, mystery, and action/adventure. At the same time, many students chose to write stories or articles in genres that we did study this year. Even though the students had independence in choosing their genre, they went through a structured writing process together.

One interesting aspect about this unit was seeing how they naturally formed writing groups and partnerships. There were groups that wanted to write in a specific genre or write about the same topic. I had a few students wanting to write in partnerships. I did tell them that they could work together, but they had to be responsible to each write their own chapter or section. I saw students bouncing ideas, possible plots and characters with each other. I saw some groups form, and then disband once they realized their group would not work.

I gave my students choice in how they wanted to publish their writing piece as well. I had many students using ibooks author program to create booklets. My students really enjoyed making ibooks for our fantasy stories in the last unit. Then, they were able to put their ibook into flipsnack in order to post it on their blog! Here is a picture of a student’s ibook put online via flipsnack book. On the blog, you can actually flip through the pages of the book.

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One great book I recommend that you read is Independent Writing by Colleen Cruz. This is a great resource on how to teach students to be independent with their writing and she gives good outlines on how to teach an independent writing unit.

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Even though we had a limited amount of time for this unit (about 3 weeks), my students were able to produce solid pieces from varying genres. More importantly, they were really engaged and excited to work on their writing.

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Tips for the End of the School Year

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was checking into the York hotel and going to orientation with my fellow incoming teachers here in Singapore. The past nine months have have gone by so quickly here and my flights home to NY for the summer are already booked! Some of you might be saying, it’s only April, slow down.

Since I end school the first week of June, the countdown has definitely started. Here are a few tips and ideas I’ve had swirling around my head these past few weeks as I’ve been pondering the end of my first year here in Singapore. I will admit that the last two months of school are usually pretty crazy. Here are a few things I’m going to try to do in order to make it to the end successfully!

1. Plan out the end of the year. Like the UBD model, do some backwards design and make sure you have enough time to cover what you need before the end of the year! Make sure to factor in all of the end of the year field trips and assemblies.

2. Start early on report cards and projects that need to get done in the last weeks of school. The last two months of school are always super hectic, with last minute things popping up. So get a head start on those things you know you have to get done at the end, so you are a little bit less stressed, if that’s possible! 🙂

3. Delegate the work. One of the projects I like to do is creating a short video clip of my students from the year that I can show my students at the end of the school year. Creating these videos can get pretty time consuming, so I try to start it EARLY! This year, I’m going to try to get some of my students to help me on this big project and try to delegate some of the work.

4. Make time for friends. I know this sounds obvious, but for international school teachers, the end of the school year can be pretty emotional as there are always teachers leaving the school and country. Make sure to carve out time to spend with those close friends that are leaving and giving them their proper farewell. I know I was pretty emotional when I had to leave Korea after four years. I’m glad I got to spend a lot of time with my friends that my time so memorable in my last weeks.

5. Overplan for the last few weeks. Even if your grades and report cards are due a week or two before the school year ends, keep your students working! I’ve always found it a lot easier to manage when students have projects they are doing in the last week of school instead of a lot of free time (obviously). The end of the year is a great time for them to reflect on their learning from the year and be able to show their learning whether through presentations or projects.

6. Start planning for next year. This is a great time to start reflecting on what you want to do next year. I know for me, there are a lot of changes and tweaks I want to make. If there are a few projects that I can get started on now or at least write down, to remind myself when I get back after the summer, I know it will be helpful.

Here’s a fun comic I found on Chris Pierce’s blog, called teachable moments, that I just discovered. Thanks Chris for letting us use your comic!

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What are some tips you have for the end of the school year?

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Looking at the Social Lives of Kids

A few days ago, we had a well known psychologist and speaker come speak to our fifth grade students, Dr. Michael Thompson, who has written numerous books on children including Raising Cain and The Pressured Child. He led an assembly with our entire 5th grade students. He immediately started off by stating that he would’t be speaking for the entire hour, but that he would get the students to speak.

He asked them various questions about what makes someone a friend, popularity and how they feel about their parents asking about their social lives. It was an interactive assembly  and the students were engaged and trying very hard to get chosen to share. That’s not an easy task for any speaker when you have over 200 fifth grade students at the end of the school day as your audience. It was interesting to hear students’ thought on what makes a friend and what makes someone popular. The students had a difficult time actually describing clearly what makes someone popular as they went around in circles with their responses.

Dr. Thompson also shared about how often teachers ask him, what can they do about those 1 or 2 students in their class that don’t have any friends at all.  He also challenged those students that were “popular” to use it for leadership in a positive way. It would have been nice to hear him give some more practical tips and suggestions to teachers, but this was a session for the students! He did a few other talks as well with other grade levels, teachers and parents about various topics. I definitely recommend checking out his webpage or books if you are interested in learning more.

Here is video clip I found from a session he did at a school on the pressured child.

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