Clinical Experience Blog: My time in the Mclean county Juvenile detention center By Kaitlyn Remian

Methodology and technology

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Going in to my clinical experience at the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center, I did not expect there to be many resources available to the teacher in the classroom because of the small amount of funding given to such institutions. What I saw in the classroom mostly confirmed my expectations. The classroom did have a few computers (maybe 5) on hand for the students to use, but not enough for a "class set" when the Detention Center was a full capacity. These computers were also rarely incorporated into the daily lessons. In fact, only one student actually utilized the desktop computers available during my time observing in the classroom, and she simply used it to retype a page that she had already written. Rather than relying on technology in the electronic sense of the word, the teacher in the Detention Center's classroom relied on magazines, textbooks, paper and pencils, and the white board to give her lesson.

Also, given the setting, I expected there to be a pretty set routine for the school day. Indeed, each school day started with the students completing some sort of writing activity where they wrote a paragraph on a writing prompt such as "What I would do if I won the lottery..." and then sat quietly completing either a word search or dot-to-dot puzzle. After all of the students finish the writing prompt, the teacher would hand out a worksheet called "Today in History" where the class would explore different events that happened on that date. The class would then transition into a reading worksheet where the teacher would read an article from a Scholastic magazine aloud while the students filled in the corresponding answers. For the remainder of the time, students would work in their own folders with work from their high schools to complete during their stay in the Detention Center.

Based on the relative level of comfort that the students seemed to feel in the classroom, I can tell that having a routine can help students understand their role in the classroom. The large amount of predictability in the daily lessons often led the students to feel bored in class, which many of them often shared with me during free time. Therefore, in my classroom, I will make my expectations clear for participation as well as give students a general overview of what to expect from my class, but I will provide some variability in lessons to maintain student interest. I will also work to include different pieces of technology such as overhead projectors or computers/iPads to provide students with the different thinking skills and visual interest that accompany these modes of teaching.

It surprised me that the teacher had access to relatively up-to-date magazines that she could use to create different lessons. The access to these magazines probably helped students become interested in the lesson because they provided a variety of images about the topics, and many of the articles were relevant to events and technologies that are currently taking place. I was also surprised at the large amount of calculators and textbooks that the teacher had on hand. It was enough that the entire class could use one if they needed to, which I honestly did not expect because of the lack of state funding to the facility.

Because I only observed the Detention Center for my observation hours, I have no other experiences to base my notes off of. I will compare the experience of the students in the Detention Center to my own experiences in high school. I had much less of a set routine in the majority of my classes. Instead, each day, the activities would be relatively different, tying together based on theme rather than the actual activities themselves being exactly the same. I also had a lot more experience interacting with a variety of technologies ranging from books to whiteboards to iPads and PowerPoints. Each of these methods caused me to adjust my thinking in a slightly different way and caused me to become more engaged in the material. Therefore, I think it would have been more beneficial to the students to be introduced to a variety of technologies in the classroom rather than just magazine articles and textbooks. It would have been more interesting to them.

My biggest takeaway about Methodology and Technology based off of my experiences in the Juvenile Detention Center is that while routines are necessary to help students feel more comfortable in the classroom, it is also necessary to used a variety of methods to display the information. Using different technologies and approaches in the classroom engages different parts of students' brains and helps them find new ways to consider and absorb the information given in class. I lost track of how many times the students at the Detention Center told me school was boring and that they were not learning anything while they were there. I want to make it so that my students rarely have that complaint.

Professionalism

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Going into my observation hours, I expected there to be a sort of emotional and physical distancing between the teacher and staff and the residents of the Detention Center when in class. I expected much of the lessons in the school day to be taught by the teacher with little student involvement. Rather than adopting this more "traditional" method of teaching, the teacher at the Detention Center acted more as a sort of guide, giving instructions and then sending the students to their folders to do independent work. If a student had a question, the teacher would kneel by their desk and walk them through the process of finding the answer, but for the most part, the teacher used a very hands off approach in facilitating student learning.

Additionally, I had expected the mode of dress to be much more on the side of business casual than what I saw in this classroom. Because of the dress code requirement in the Detention Center, the teacher as well as the rest of staff chose outfits ranging from jeans and a t-shirt and cardigan to sweats. This had the effect of creating a much more laid back atmosphere in the classroom where students could feel more relaxed when interacting with the adults that they came into contact with. This had almost too much of an impact because many of the students interacted with the staff in a way that I would interact with my family or friends, certainly not how I would act around a teacher.

Before my clinical observations, when I thought of the word "professionalism," I thought much more about teacher-student interactions and less about the way a teacher dressed. Now, I realize that how a teacher dresses sends a message about how they want to be seen in the classroom. Especially when I begin as a young teacher, it will be important to dress professionally to separate myself from the student population who will only be a few years younger than me. Jeans and a t-shirt simply will not cut it. That being said, it is also important not to stand out when dressing for class. If the rest of the teachers wear pants and sweaters, it may not be the best idea to wear a dress and heels every day.

It really surprised me how the staff joked around with the students throughout the day, whether it was hiding pencils or moving chairs out from under them. As previously stated, these interactions did not seem wholly professional given the location in which I was observing. I feel that the relaxed dress code played a big role in the way the students viewed the staff and how the staff viewed their jobs, thus making it a less serious atmosphere.

When comparing my observations to my own experiences in high school, I felt that my high school teachers made a much bigger deal about having an emotional separation from the students. They shared very little about their personal lives and wore either dress jeans and a blouse or something much more business casual than what I saw in the Detention Center. As a result, students were friendly with the staff, but did not view them as friends or equals per say. There was an element of respect of the teachers that I felt was lacking in the Detention Center classroom.

Based on what I observed in the classroom, my biggest takeaway was the impact that how I will choose to dress every day will have a large impact on the classroom atmosphere and how the students will perceive me. It will be important not to dress too similarly to the students in order to make myself stand out as someone who is older and should be respected. Likewise, I can be friendly and warm with my students without sharing too much of my personal life and views so as to create that professional barrier in my classroom. Making this distinction will help my students feel more comfortable with me and in my classroom, which will ultimately help when I am teaching every day.

Understanding Learners

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I did not expect the teacher to fully understand the backgrounds of the students and their prior school experience when I began my observations. However, it quickly became clear that the teacher met with the students' high school teachers or was at least in contact with them to stay up to date on what the students had already covered in their classes and what they needed to work on while they were in the Detention Center. While this was not a totally fool-proof way of learning about her students' backgrounds—many students complained about the work being pointless or too easy—the conversations allowed the teacher to adjust her daily plan in a way that anticipated potential problems that could arise during the students' time in the Center.

Based on my observations, I quickly began to realize that in order to know what your students need to be successful, you need to actually know your students. This can come from asking them questions about their past experiences, what they are proud of and confident about, and what skills they feel like they may need some extra help on. It could help to ask teachers who had the students in the past what they noticed about students in the classroom and what they found to be the best techniques to help guide their students during their time in my classroom. I can also attend community events to learn about the student outside of the classroom to adjust my lessons to their interests and experiences.

It surprised me that the lessons were based mainly on the individual students rather than on the class as a whole. I had expected the majority of the time to be geared to whole class lessons that allowed all of the students to learn the same material and progress together like in a normal classroom. Instead, each student worked on his or her own school work so that she could stay on her own track to be successful in high school. This seemed like a lot of paperwork to keep track of, but I suppose it makes sense considering each student was coming to the class with completely different educational experiences and needs. The only way to ensure each students' success in this case was to teach each student separately.

Of all of the components, this component was probably the most important in this classroom. Never in my time in school have I seen a teacher so tuned in to what each individual student was working on and needed to complete in order to be successful in the classroom environment. This issue was probably so highly emphasized both because of state mandates for how the system worked and because the students would only be in the class for a short time before returning to high school. It was crucial to be aware of the student's current experiences to try and make sure that he or she did not fall too far behind while they had to stay in the Detention Center. While it was incredibly impressive to see a teacher so in tune with each student, I recognize that this is probably not possible in a classroom larger than maybe ten students. It would simply be too much information for any one person to absorb and implement in some cohesive way. It also would not work as well outside of individual work.

Based on my observations, I believe that it will be important for me to be aware of past classes that the students have taken as well as what they have already studied as a way to guide my own instruction to build on their current knowledge base. In this way, I will not have to bore them by repeating topics that they are already comfortable with nor will I overwhelm them by assuming that they learned about a certain unit such as figurative language in their classes last year. It will be important to stay in touch with the previous teachers to gain insight on what my students have learned and how they learned best. Additionally, this is a section where student input is crucial because no one knows how their brains work as well as the students will. If I follow this method, I will be able to adjust my teaching to my classes, which will help my students feel valued in the classroom and will ultimately help them be more successful as I speak to them at their level.

Management of the Physical Environment

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I suspected that the classroom would follow the traditional row format where all of the desks face the front of the classroom because it would be easier to keep an eye on all of the students' activities that way. I was correct in my assumption that the students would be expected to face the front of the classroom and stay in their assigned desks while in class. One thing that was different from my expectations was that there were different tables for students who were receiving math help from a volunteer tutor that were on the sides of the classroom. This way they were not distracted from the other lesson that was going on. I did not expect there to be many other decorations or materials in the classroom aside from the desks. I was quite surprised when I entered the classroom, and the walls were covered with a variety of inspirational messages such as the definition for "perseverance" as well as the books that the class had read during the year. There were also two different bookshelves featuring a variety of novels that the students could read on their own and television that was used during chapel services on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The decorations on the wall especially changed my perception of the physical environment of the classroom. They made the classroom itself seem much more encouraging and inviting. After all, the current students weren't alone in the classroom, but were joined by the thoughts of the past students on the walls. In my own classroom, I would like to find some sort of meaningful decorations to add to the walls. After all, many studies show that different colors can stimulate thinking and brain activity, and they also give the eyes a break from the trend of black and while in the current school building.

It surprised me that there was an excess of books and posters in the room. I imagine that many of the books were likely donated to the center for the use of the students, which makes their presence less surprising. The rest of the Detention Center lacks any sort of decoration, and is very solemn in appearance. I am sure that the teacher wanted her classroom to be more inviting to the students, so she put up decorations. It was just very unexpected, coming from the cafeteria and the break room, which are quite bare in appearance with only white walls and green carpeting.

The way the classroom was set up was very similar to many classrooms that I have been in in the past. The desks faced the front of the classroom in rows that allowed the teacher to easily access each student's desk. Where the Detention Center's classroom excelled was in its used of wall space to motivate and engage students. There were thought bubbles on the wall that students were able to use to write down difficult questions that they were thinking. Additionally, almost all of the decorations were clearly students made, which showed that their presence in the classroom mattered and that they would leave a lasting effect on the class even after they went home. I think this use of the walls far exceeded my classrooms of the past that mainly used works of art or premade motivational posters to sparsely decorate the classroom. This method was much more impersonal that what I saw during observations.

My key take-away from visiting the Detention Center's classroom is that it is important to engage the students when decorating the classroom. By using a combination of student work and other decorations that involve active student participation, I will be showing them that their presence in my classroom matters. It will also help build the sense of community between all of my classes and show that I value the effort that students put in to my various assignments. Finally, it will be a visual way to show that they make as much of a mark on me and my classes that I potentially make on their thinking and goals.

Diversity and Demographics

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I expected the classroom in the Detention Center to be highly diverse and was not disappointed. During my time observing, some of the students came to the Detention Center, and some students left. Even with this high amount of turnover, there was a fairly even distribution between Caucasian, African American, and Mexican students, many of whom came from low income households from all around the county. It is hard to imagine a population much more diverse than what I experienced in my observations, especially because the class size was so small—at most, 10 students. 

Viewing the high amount of diversity in a single classroom, I now understand why it is crucial to consider students' backgrounds when creating lessons and planning instruction. If diversity is not considered when creating lessons, it may be incredibly difficult for students to relate to the content. To adjust to diversity in my classroom, I will do my best to include readings from authors that have a variety of backgrounds, not just the ones from the traditional background. I will also have to do some research on the makeup of my community in order to better understand where my students are coming from. Finally, I will get involved in the community outside of the school, so I can get a better overall view of my students' lives outside of the school building.

It surprised me that none of the students really seemed to have come from the same local area outside of the Detention Center. I guess I though McLean County was smaller than it actually was. I thought that some of the students would have known each other already. The only connection they had was being in the Detention Center, though.

This component was not wholly addressed in the classroom because the students were not allowed to speak about where they came from or why they were in the Detention Center because of confidentiality. Interestingly enough, it was addressed similarly to how it was addressed in my high school in that it was acknowledged but not really discussed. Students were aware of differences of backgrounds, but the focus on diversity stopped there. This is not entirely beneficial when it comes to discussing diversity because it does nothing to build understanding and respect among those who have different experiences.

To address my observations in my own classroom, I will invite my students to apply class readings to their own backgrounds and speak openly about how their own experiences affect their understandings of our lessons. Differences will not only be acknowledged but analyzed to see how they change the way we see the world. This way, the students will begin to respect themselves and others as individuals, which was ultimately lacking in the Detention Center. They will begin to gain confidence that their thoughts and backgrounds matter and should be celebrated rather than covered. Students will be able to express their views in the writing prompts in my classroom, which helps them find their voice and develop it so that it stands alone from their classmates.

Credits:

Created with images by Victor Björklund - "Classroom" • kris.layon - "Whiteboard" • jarmoluk - "apple education school" • Hans - "glasses read learn" • Pexels - "advertisement advertising background" • karamel - "nuts blue turquoise"

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