Author: Garrett Sheets

Suicides and Universities

Sadly it seems that excessive stress, depression, and other mental health issues are becoming as much a part of the college experience as dorms and parties. Grades provide students with an easy way to compare their academic progress to their peers’, and social media makes it almost impossible not to look at other people’s lives and wonder what you are doing wrong. Luckily as teachers we have the opportunity to influence our students in a positive direction.

The week I observed a teacher tell students if they did not feel they were ready for a test that they didn’t have to take it, that they could take it later. Since I also know that the teacher allows the students to redo any assignment I think that allowing the students to postpone their tests was a bad policy. As teachers I believe that we need to allow students to fail, so long as we give them a way to fix their mistakes. In the article one of the criticisms of college students was that a relatively minor failure frequently feels like a life changing problem.  If students are allowed to fail in a supportive environment they will develop the skills to cope with minor setbacks and eventually rebound. Students who know that mistakes are part of the learning process will be better prepared for future difficulties, and hopefully, us future teachers, can have a hand in reducing the amount of suicides among students of all ages.

Classroom Observations

The classes I observed are at one school, but involve students from two different schools. This makes starting the class very different. The first group of students, who are from the school I observe, arrive on time, right at the beginning of the period. The other students have to walk from the a nearby school, and usually get there about five minutes into the period. This is handled in two ways, either the first set of students are free to chat among themselves for five minutes, or they would start on a small activity. Once all the students arrive, attendance is taken and the students are given time to ask a few questions about the previous day’s homework. By following a similar procedure each day the students know what to expect, and the disruption of having half the class come in late was avoided.

Lessons usually consist of a short lecture followed by a worksheet or lab. During lectures the teacher calls on students in order to keep their attention and gauge their understanding. If a student is struggling with a problem the teacher takes over and works through the problem with the entire class on the board. During labs and worksheets the teacher wanders throughout the classroom, stopping by to look at students worksheets and answer questions. Moving through the classroom seems effective as the students were rarely of task, however as the periods I have observed have been mostly AP classes, the students want to be there and show less off track behavior as a result.

As I observe a science classroom transitions, especially ones that involve finding lab materials, can be quite a disruption. The three most common transitions I notice are getting lab materials, getting laptops out, and transitioning between the lecture and the worksheet. Lab materials, surprisingly, seem to cause the least disruption. Everything need for the day is located in a 5-gallon bucket at the back of the classroom. After a brief overview of the lab is given one person from each group would go to the back of the classroom and get the bucket. While this meant a little extra prep work for the teacher it ended up being a lot faster than having students get several different items from several different places in the classroom, and more importantly meant there was less cleanup at the end of the lab. Computers are difficult because there is a very limited amount of room in front of the computer cart. This is handled by having one person stand in front of the computer cart and pass computers to everyone else. Finally, the most disruptive transition is between lecture and worksheets. The teacher gives everyone all their labs and homework at the very beginning of the semester in a bound book format, as this supposedly cuts down on the number of papers students lose, but makes it a lot harder when a student inevitably looses his or her entire booklet. I think the books also make transitions a little bit harder because the students usually have to ask a couple times what page they should be on. I think this transition would benefit from the page number being written on the board or on the last slide of the lecture.

Closing is the least consistent part of the class, but usually involves the students starting to put computers or lab materials, if used, away 3ish minutes before the bell. The teacher then usually reminds students of what homework is due the next day and then the students are allowed to remain in their seats talking quietly until the bell. I have never seen the students work right up till the bell.

Of all the strategies that I have observed the one I’m most likely to apply to my future classroom is starting of the day with questions about the homework/previous lesson. This lets students know I’m interested in how they are doing and tells me if there is anything I might need to go over in depth again. Additionally, as science and math usually build upon previous lessons and ideas, having students ask questions at the beginning of the lesson serves as a good way to sneak in a brief review of the previous class without sounding like I’m repeating myself or forgot where we stopped the previous class period.

Implementing a Safe and Engaging Learning Environment

I found two pieces of advice from What I Wish My Professors Had Told Me  (Collins, 2016) and one from  Let Caring Shine Through  (Bondy and Hambacher, 2016) particularly useful and applicable to my experiences teaching, both formal and informal.

The first piece of advice from Collins was to put students over content. With all the testing and work put into lesson plans it can be easy to believe that understanding the content is the end goal, when in reality the end goal should be improving your students lives. Focusing on the students as people rather than as sponges to soak up the knowledge will provide a better platform upon which to build relationships, relationships that are important to creating a classroom that feels safe and welcoming.

Collins also reminds us that we cannot be quitters, there will be hard days, classes we do not enjoy, students that are disruptive and make us want to bash our heads against the closest wall, but that we need to persevere and we need to remember the good days. If we are not focused on the task at hand, but rather thinking about how much nicer an office job would be or what we could do with that extra money, our students will suffer. As teachers, making sure we have a positive attitude about work will make it easier to engage students. It will make it seem like less of a burden to remind little Johnny that he needs to turn in his last assignment for the fifth time, and it will make it less of a burden to help him redo when he says he lost it. It will make it easier for us to engage our students.

Finally, Bondy and Hambacher remind us to teach with urgency. Don’t give students the time or permission to fail. By keeping our expectations clear and high, and maintaining good interpersonal relationships, students will want to succeed, thus becoming more engaged.

In order to create a safe and engaging environment for my students I plan to implement the advice I have mentioned above. My biggest goal however, is to simply be approachable. When I was a student I always felt the most comfortable and safe with teachers I knew would take time out of their day, whether during class, lunch, or immediately after school to answer a question about the lesson or provide help with a homework question. In the most general terms I plan to create a safe and engaging classroom environment by being as welcome as possible to every student who walks through my classroom doors.


You can find an interesting article about the effectiveness of greeting students at the door here.

The Personalization of Education

This week, while I was doing my classroom observation, my teacher walked up to me and asked me if I had ever heard of this new thing the school district was pushing called personalized learning and what I thought of it. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and asked if personalized learning is like an IEP for every student. Apparently it is and isn’t. According to the FNSBSD website:

Personalized learning is structuring schools, classrooms and instruction to  better respond to the individual needs of students, instead of expecting them  to fit the current mold  or adapt to structures that may not be successful for them. We have teachers using  elements of personalized learning in their classrooms right now.

Personalized learning shifts from the  one-size-fits-all factory model of education to better prepare students for the jobs and needs of  their  future. We will directly connect students to learning that meets the demands of their  future work environment.

This makes me believe that the format personalized learning will take will be left to the teacher. I was also able to find a PowerPoint presentation with some vague examples of what a day in a class participating in personalized learning would look like. Mondays would be spent in pre-assessments and whole group instruction so that background knowledge, new content, and expectations could be communicated. Tuesday through Thursday would be a rotation between small group instruction, digital content (think online class work) and independent or small group work. Friday would involve post-assessment and something called student choice, which I believe is an opportunity for student to revisit one of the stations used Tuesday through Thursday.

I’ll admit I like this plan, the pre- and post-assessments will help to gauge student learning, while the middle days will, hypothetically, engage students. What concerns me is how this will play out realistically. How are we, as future teachers, supposed to both engage a small group of students and monitor the rest of the class to make sure they are somewhat on task? Additionally, if the small groups are split based on experience level or skill, will we end up with three or four different “classes”, in which students of one period only end up working with the same five students over and over? It is my experience that in general, especially in subjects such as math and science, the students who do well one week will be the same students who are doing well the next week, and that students that have problems understanding past material will have trouble building upon that week foundation. I like the idea of a personalized classroom and students being able to learn and explore at their own pace, but I do not think it is the sole way to teach, I believe that rather than a 20%-80% split between more traditional methods and individualized methods   that a 50%-50% split between the two methods would be more appropriate. At least until students and teachers become used to individualized education.


FNSBSD PowerPoint  (PDF)

Research and the Promise of Personalized Learning

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Implemented on the 15th of August 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an Obama era policy. With some restrictions DACA applies to youth under the age of 16 who were brought by their parents from another country and were living in the United States illegally on the 15th of June 2012. Once the approximately 1.7 million people who may qualify are “DACAmented” they are authorized to work in the United States and their deportation is deferred.


A little under 4% of the US population is undocumented (Pope, 2016). Thus, DACA is a big deal to a lot of people. The deportation deferment is valid for only two years, and then must be renewed, and the average DACA recipient has been in the United States for 15.5 years (Pope, 2016). It seems to me in general those who become DACAmented are very average students, they are not violent criminals or terrorize young children for fun, and they have the same stresses in life as you or me, except with the addition of being an illegal immigrant, a choice there parents made for them. As to getting rid of DACA, I wouldn’t choose to, but that is not how a republic works. Each of us should have voted for the presidential, senatorial, and congressional candidate that we believed would represent our interests the best. While I hope the judicial and legislative branches can someday work together and come up with a solution to this issue, I hope there is lots of good argument until that happens, so that opinions can be heard and the best options chosen.



Pope-  The Effects of DACAmentation

Singer and Svajlenka- Immigration Facts: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Garrett’s Introduction

Greetings all,

My name is Garrett Sheets, and this is my fifth year at UAF. For the past three years I’ve been working my way towards a BS in Physics, a minor in chemistry, and a somewhat accidental minor in history. Eventually I would like to teach high school science, though I wouldn’t mind putting that accidental minor to use and getting certified to teach history as well. I look forward to being able to encourage students to explore their interests in the same ways I was encouraged to explore mine, and hopefully impact at least one student’s life in a positive way.

While I haven’t had any formal experience teaching I worked as a camp councilor at the local Boy Scout Camp for several years and have experience from that time teaching both boys aged 11-13 and adult leaders, although rarely in a classroom setting. I was also lucky enough to have a past job guiding out of state troops down the Yukon river from Eagle to Circle in canoes, and this past summer I worked for the Bureau of Land Management as a park ranger in Chicken, Ak.

I look forward to learning more about all of you and classroom management throughout the semester. Best of luck to everyone!