Back to School No. 2
Kellen Russell

Oct. 28, 2011

After eight weeks of student teaching at local Ann Arbor elementary schools, Michigan student-athletes Kellen Russell and Craig Forys moved to the high school level last Monday (Oct. 24). Now two months into the semester, Kellen and Craig wrap up their elementary school experience, touch on the things they learned and give their first impressions of the high school setting.

Kellen Russell

I just finished teaching at my elementary school last week. While that experience was never easy, I do feel like I started to get it down a little bit. The first couple of lessons were definitely different than what I was ever taught in class, but by the end, I started to figure out how to fill those gaps and how to deal with the different personalities of the kids.

Kids are so easily distracted. You have to keep them engaged at all times, especially if there was ever anything else going on in the room. As soon as someone would walk in the room that they didn't know, it became the biggest thing ever. They'd ask me if it my wife or my brother or my dad. No matter who it was, they'd immediately assume you were somehow related to that person. If you don't keep them on task, they'd start fooling around with each other or the little kids would start crying.

As you grow more comfortable with them, it makes it easier to plan out your lessons. You're never going to have a perfect lesson. There's always going to be someone that doesn't like it or goes against it. You need to know, before the class even starts, which kids might give you a little trouble.

I think more than anything, I learned a lot of patience. That's good for wrestling, because you learn how to really break something down. With elementary school kids, if you don't tell them to step with their left foot, they are going to step with their right. I also learned a lot of good scheduling and time management. There were days that I had morning practice, school all day, then afternoon practice. Plus I'm taking an evening class one night a week. So, I learned to really schedule out my days, knowing when I'd be able to rest, when I need to do homework, etc.

I just started at Pioneer High School on Monday. Right now, I'm observing five different classes -- two are lifetime sports and activities, one is an adapted class with special education kids, one is lifetime fitness and one is team sports. I have three straight classes to start the day, lunch and then I have two more classes. It's a shorter day, but it's the same amount of teaching time. It's definitely different, but it's been good so far.

Craig Forys

Craig Forys

Every day was a learning experience at the elementary school. You could probably teach for 30 years and still not have it all figured out. You just never know what a kid is going to come up and say to you, and every day I'd be shocked by something new. It's a mental struggle to keep them engaged. You need to make adjustment on the fly, and you do that by seeing what their interest level is in that moment and how focused they are. Sometimes you just had to settle them down and refocus them. But that's always a big battle, and you win some and you lose some.

There were definitely times when I felt like I had totally lost control. One day in particular, in my last week, I had three classes of first graders in a row. I don't what was going on that afternoon, but the first graders were just going nuts. We were doing a basketball dribbling activity, and towards the end of it, there was a collision and one of the girls started crying. I had her to sit down and take some deep breaths, and she was fine. At the same time, I was trying to get the student to start putting their balls away. Instead, everyone was just throwing balls all over the place and kept coming over to see what was wrong with the girl. I was just trying to get control of the mayhem, and at one point I remember just looking around and thinking "I don't know what to do." Eventually, after a minute or so, I got them settled down and then took a second to think about what just happened. You reel them in after the fact, but in the moment, it can be a little scary.

My cooperating teacher really wanted me to feel the pressure when the heat got on. She was there most of the time but could be in her office or in the hallway. She tried to not make her face visible all the time, so they knew I was in charge. She let me feel the heat a lot of times, and that's really what it's all about.

Now I'm at Fr. Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor. It is a whole different ballgame in basically every way. It's almost like starting from scratch. There are so many different challenges, and some things are easier and some are harder. At first glance, it seems that your instructions don't have to be as precise down to every step. They'll figure it out, but then it's harder to get them to do actually it. I think that's what the biggest struggle will be.

In the elementary school, you can shoot a basket into a big hoop and you're the hero. You can do things that they can't, and they really respect that and respect your authority. At the high school level, it seems like if I give them a little too much leeway, they might try to take advantage of it. But the kids seem pretty well behaved, and I'm looking forward to working with them.

Part 1 of the Feature (Sept. 23)