Ti-Fen: Hello everyone, this is Ti-Fen Pan. Welcome to compass teachers show. My job is to interview teachers around the world and tease out their teaching tactics, education research or tools they use. Hopefully this show can offer some ideas for you to experiment in your classroom. Today my guest is Nicole Plantes. Nicole had been a middle school teacher for almost eight years though now she pivoted her career as an amazing designer. Her first stop as a teacher is in New York City department of education. She instructed suspended students for at risk youth from diverse schools and social economic backgrounds. The unique experience laid out the foundation for building humanity and resilience in her teachings. After NYC, Nicole moved to bay area and taught in Corpus Christi school which is hugely different from her previous one. It’s a Catholic school and they teach students not only academic but also a spiritual growth. Now let’s learn from Nicole’s experience in Corpus Christi as a homeroom teacher.
Ti-Fen: Nicole, you were an eighth grade homeroom teacher in Corpus Christi elementary and middle school. Can you tell us what the responsibility is as a homeroom teacher?
Nicole: Yeah. Girl. It’s even different for being in eighth grade homeroom teacher because being the eighth grade homeroom teacher for a Catholic school has even more added responsibilities. I don’t think I was paid more. I was pretty sure I was not paid more for this but like eighth grade, you have graduation so that’s huge as a homeroom teacher where you’re coordinating and practicing gathering like you know either baby pictures or doing there at their portraits. There’s a lot of interruptions to the school day on because of things like that in the. So I’m beginning at the end but like what we would want to kind of go a little bit more chronologically. In the beginning of the year they do a youth day at the Catholic cathedral in Oakland yeah because they’re part of the Oakland diocese and then we would do high school visits or for Catholic high schools in on our kind of it kind of in our area. And so again a lot of these are interrupting the school week the school day. We would also do some fun things like field trips but also they did this thing with parents where it’s almost like going to the parents jobs in a way in order for them to appreciate and understand different industries and professions and so that would have been kind of late in the year especially when you know they’re becoming a little you know thanks D. and wanting to graduate already and things like that. We would as a homeroom you know we would coordinate with other grades in order to do cross planning for like for Christmas for Christmas programs for gingerbread house making things with first grade on their. They were also mostly on student council then we would have our own class council which would coordinate our eighth grade dances which we would have about we were trying to do eight sorry not eight at three a year but usually it was like two if we could but or maybe three. Because as an eighth grade homeroom teacher, I would help coordinate that and I would have to shop around that too. So not only am I doing you know the usual. Let me just say so my day Ti-Fen would begin I would get to school at 7 AM. I would not leave until 6 PM and some days when we had programs or a school dance I would just stay there and then I wouldn’t go home until 9:30 thirty PM.
Nicole: Yeah, it was a very very intense and on it is very rewarding definitely but I do you think I have burned out because of that a lot sooner than it would have all the extra responsibilities.
Ti-Fen: We know that your expertise is in English literature. How did you prepare for the subjects that you are not familiar with you?
Nicole: That’s a great question. So for me why I really like and you might have heard of this too, Ti-Fen. But why like standards why I like learning objectives. Why are like these are benchmarks that usually are either part of curriculum planning or it tied to performance indicators for grades things like that. It’s because it gives a framework for especially new teachers when they don’t know what they’re supposed to teach. Well, these are the the benchmarks these are the things that the students need to learn by the end of the year. So you know you might have heard of the term backwards planning. That’s part of backwards planning is picking out these learning objectives or standards competencies and figuring out how am I going to address those things. So that’s why it like and some people like are all about you know the standards of work. They are for against common core for many other reasons but to have none it’s very disorienting for a new teacher. For me as being a new teacher, I relied on the common core in order to tell me this is what you’re supposed to be teaching so that you make sure that the students are where they need to be.
Ti-Fen: How did you usually structured your course throughout a semester?
Nicole: I did backwards design with an over arching theme so it might have been something like you know our resilience or humanity. And then you would have this central you would have a central questions about that in order to draw out discussion and bigger understanding. And so what that would do is it would widen the the connections. So you may have several texts that you choose in order to address that theme and then to bring greater connections it can connect to that theme and then they can give you a different perspective on it. Or I can give you something that reverberates set you know makes it stronger. But what I also loved about doing it thematic style was the great opportunity in literature is to really get to those big questions about what it is to be human. How do we treat people like I think that it’s very important especially with you know young people in order to get them thinking of these philosophical kind of questions. Because not only is it going to be forming who they are their you know their personality but how they treat other people and I think that even though we put a lot of emphasis on, you know, academic skills or knowledge. That’s another part of learning is how to be a good person. How to be responsible to the earth. Things like that right and for them to really grapple with it before is there turned out to be, you know, an adult in a voting adults, right, to be a citizen. So I really loved things like not because especially in my subject matter and also teaching social studies were from eighth grade we can draw connections and and I think that that’s what really helps retain information is you can you know make those links and thematic connections
Ti-Fen: Can you give us an example of how you use the thematic style in your class?
Nicole: I taught Night by Elie Wiesel myself. I never know how to pronounce his last name but it’s about the Holocaust. Holocaust experience right. And that was part of the theme of humanity, you know, it’s a huge kind of topic but it’s also very appropriate to like, you know, like kind of how do we treat people what’s our responsibility. And I think it was that theme but it could have also been something else I always change things up a little bit every year which is good and bad because like you know doesn’t give me the feedback in order to to really hone in on something and you know and make it amazing quickly. Because I have to wait until the next year in order to try it out again. Because I didn’t, you know, I only have one class that I was teaching rather than like a lot of English or literature teachers would teach the same lesson four times a day but to different you know classes of students. So now I have the same one. It would be I only knew by a different year. So anyway for something like that I then it would I would choose like a piece of poetry to that would speak to this view of humanity as well on a non fiction pieces so a current event article of like let’s look at our humanity today. And this could also tie in with something social justice or religion so like how, you know, what’s our duty to other people especially in other countries or something like that to and so even within that theme I could cover you know the historical significance and events of the Holocaust which is social studies which is history. The narrative style and devices are you know even using metaphor and symbolism in a non fiction book by Elie Wiesel and there was also poetry to it. There are songs I played so you know even touching into music. I would show an interview with Holocaust survivors and what I’m kind of getting into also was when you’re doing this I’m planning you’re also differentiating your finding different media in order to teach the same thing in a different way perhaps I mean differentiation is in a lot of different just like in and that it’s a lot of different things for what you’re doing. So when I would plan I would also planned media rich things to kind of like open it up especially if the students you know learn in a better way with videos than they do with lecturer verses like you know books right all these different things in order for them to grapple with the theme.
Ti-Fen: So far I heard using media reach and the thematic styles in your course. Is there any other teaching methods that you use before that you found really useful your class like game based learning, board games ?
Nicole: One of my favorite things and I hope it was also a favorite thing about the students. We would do different kind of book reports. It wasn’t a written report. It was a project report and I gave them a matrix. So like a grid of all these different types of hands-on projects that they could do in order to do their book report really what like. And I can’t remember I called it. I think was independent reading. Yeah that’s what I call the independent reading project and they had to do multiple things for it and we did it every what was it going to be every quarter but we ended up just doing it for the first three quarters because by the end of the year I was overwhelmed and they were overwhelmed. So it was good enough to do it for three out of four but yeah they would have to present their book to the students so they would have to do a presentation and you know that’s engaging also and them being able to summarize you know in a succinct way work on their soft skills for presentation right. Things like that. But then also the fun thing about and I hope again it was fun for them. One of them could be where they could create a board game based off of their their book and other things like all my god there was a photo essay one where one of my students did it with her Barbies which was hilarious but like amazing. And there was another indicator always get me to approve like if they had an idea that wasn’t listed there they could just presented to me like saying “Hey Miss Plante this is what I’m thinking of doing and I can prove it.” Most likely I would approve it because really the end of it was to get them excited about reading to get them excited about being creative and to do something a little bit fun at school rather than just like essays and you know reports. And I don’t know like tests and things like that. So yeah there was one kid who read a book on Minecraft and then he wanted to create his own world in Minecraft and he was pulling into Minecraft, right.
Ti-Fen: And there was a book about Minecraft?
Nicole: Yeah and so and you know some parents I don’t know they were like oh Miss Plante that’s you know I’m worried that this book’s not rigorous enough work for my child and I always like I’m pretty much my response to them usually was I’m just trying to get them excited about reading like this is independent. This is them doing it on their own time therefore it needs to be their choice. And yeah there are times when we need to challenge them that’s a lot of the books in the literature we do in class like I’m forcing them to read you know this book about the Holocaust they might as well lighten it up with some Minecraft, right? But what I really did love especially from that kid and his parents his mom came to manage said Miss Plante he loves you because you let him read a book on Minecraft like you know what that’s fantastic like I know you will not like me another year I’m sure. But like at least we have a good relationship right now. But yeah there were a lot of different projects they could do their own like alternative ending to the book they create a children’s story based off of it. So it’s just kind of like getting into the central details they could do like a diorama thing right. I changed it up a lot like they couldn’t do the same method like the same project because like you know that name if they’re really talented on one thing they might just do that and they’re not challenging themselves in a different media. I can’t remember though there are so many and quite honestly I got the idea from some teacher resources that I found online and I just added on to it so that’s another thing for resources out there like you know people “Teachers Pay Teachers” I know that’s like big and popular there’s like the most and giving and open community are our teachers they want to help other teachers especially if it’s going to be helping students out love school. Or love learning rather you know
Ti-Fen: Right. All rights. The last question I want to ask is Nicole what advice you would give to a person who wants to be a teacher in the U. S.
Nicole: Sometimes depending on your situation may be hard to get into teaching because there are actually a lot of tests and certifications and the masters and things like that. The requires our money in order to become a teacher with not necessarily much pay off or you know I would say look into if there are some fellowships if there are on some funding things to make that happen for yourself that it’s financially it’s difficult because I think that there are a lot of resources out there to help people who want to do something that’s in service. And I think that’s what’s really important I think a lot of people go into teaching thinking kind of like what I did. We will be a teacher a lot of people like you know like and that’s their concept, right? And so I think it’s really important in order to do some like student teaching in order to really understand what is the day today. Is it for you? I think it’s very important in order to like apprentice like figure it out before you go through the whole program and decide that it’s not for you. So that’s my big advice is to see if you can volunteer your student teaching on work underneath another teacher before you even go through all of it so that you can understand: yes this is for me or no it’s not for me.
Ti-Fen: Sweet. That’s a really great and practical advice. Thank you Nicole.
Nicole: Thank you so much Ti-Fen. I really appreciate it.
Ti-Fen: Thank you for listening. We will put the things mentioned in the interview to the show notes. If you enjoy our show, welcome to share and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you.