Field Observation Essay

IntroductionThe site I have researched in this introduction may is not the location at which I will be performing my field observation. I requested to be placed at Laurel Ridge Elementary (located at 1215 Balsam Drive Decatur, GA 30033. However, I have since been informed that DeKalb County is not currently accepting observers. I chose to continue my research on this school because I hope teach in the Special Education Department there one day in the future. I actually did my observations as Sims Elementary in Rockdale County. Demographic Information: According to Census data recorded in 2000 the population of Decatur, Georgia was 18,147. The racial makeup of the city was reported to be;  white- 65%, black or African American-30.5%, American Indian or Alaskan Native- .2%, Asian- 1.6%, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander – 0.0 %, “Some Other Race”- 0.6%, Two or more races- 1.4%, Hispanic or Latino- 1.7%. The data also listed the ages to be; 15 or younger- 17.1 %, 16 to 24- 12%, 25 to 44- 37%, 45 to 64 – 20.5%, 65+ - 13.3 %.( 2) The median household income in Decatur was reported to be $47, 395.00 (3). The census data reports that of the 6146 male residents (over the age of 15) and 8938 female residents (over the age of 15), 39.8 % of males and 34,6n % of females have never been married. 45.6 % of the males and 31.4 % of the females are married with a spouse according to the same data (4).  Economic Indicators: The school’s location is .68 miles from North DeKalb Mall. The mall houses multiple retail stores, restaurants, and a movie theater. The school is also .50 miles from Publix Grocery Store. The school is 3.62 miles from a marble manufacturer and 2.48 miles from a steel fabrication plant. Many local businesses are less than a mile away from the school. Parks/Recreation AreasLaurel Ridge Elementary School is located 9.73 miles from Stone Mountain Park. Stone Mountain Park offers amenities including fishing, swimming, nature trails, and tennis. The school is also 7.79 from the popular Atlanta attraction, Piedmont Park (9). TransportationLaurel Ridge School is located minutes from Highways 285 and 78. There are also sidewalks on all of the roads surrounding the school, making it safe for walkers and bike riders. The school is also conveniently located .47 miles from a MARTA bus stop (5).  Medical Facilities Laurel Ridge is located near several hospitals and clinics including; Atlanta VA Medical Center, DeKalb Medical Center at Downtown Decatur, DeKalb Medical at North Decatur, and Georgia Regional Hospital. The school is also near several doctor’s offices in the Decatur area.  Housing:             Census data collected in 2008 reports that the median sale price of a single family home in Decatur, Georgia was valued at $155,000.00. The median rental amount was $799.00 (7). Census data from 2000 reports that 58.5% of the inhabitants owned their own home while 36.3% lived in multi-unit structures (8).  Regulated Areas:             Unfortunately, Laurel Ridge School is located in a county (DeKalb) that has very bad air quality. In a study that measured 13 different air pollutants, DeKalb County had 6 categories that were considered to be in the dirtiest/worst counties in the United States (10). Sadly, the Environmental Justice Report for DeKalb County shows that 160,000 children below the poverty level live in places where toxic chemicals, while only 100,000 children above the poverty level live near the source of toxic release. The same study shows that 300 children below the poverty level compared to 260 children above the poverty level live in areas there are risks of cancer from hazardous air pollutants (11). There are three landfills in DeKalb County which include the following; BFI-Hickory Ridge located at 3330 Moreland Avenue, WMI-Live Oak located at 1189 Henrico Road, and DeKalb County-Seminole Road located at 4203 Clevemont Road (12). Religious Institutions:             DeKalb County is home to many different religious groups. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, the inhabitants of the county are divided into the following religions; Evangelical Protestants – 122,384, Mainline Protestant – 64,819, Orthodox- 3,871, Catholic-36,223, Other- 7002, and “unclaimed” – 431,566 (13). Higher Education Institutions:             DeKalb County is home to a multitude of different higher education institutions. Laurel Ridge is minutes from everything from private colleges to funeral directing schools. Such schools include; Agnes Scott College, Georgia Perimeter College, Gupton Jones College of Funeral Service, and Luther Rice University. In addition to the colleges, several career training centers can be found in the area including; Le Cordon Bleu, Westwood College, and DeVry University.Arts:             Laurel Ridge is located near over 30 major metropolitan museums which include The High Museum of Art, The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, The Michael C. Carlos Museum, The Fernbank Museum, and many other wonderful venues (14). The school is also in close proximity to music venues including Phillips Arena, The Atlanta Civic Center, The Tabernacle, and many other smaller venues such as Eddies Attic, Smith’s Old Bar, and The Earl.  Governing Body:             Laurel Ridge Elementary is in the DeKalb County School District. The Principal of the School is Mr. Marc Gordon. The Superintendent of DeKalb County Schools is Dr. Crawford Lewis and the chairman of the board of education is Thomas E. Bowen. History:Laurel Ridge Elementary is conveniently nestled in a suburban neighborhood of DeKalb County. The school first opened its doors in 1958. Laurel Ridge offers a wide variety of curriculum from special needs to gifted classes. The school proudly boasts that it’s “greatest strength is the acceptance and support of children of all levels of ability, from all socioeconomic levels, and from all ethnic backgrounds” (1).   ObservationsTeaching as a Profession: I observed Mrs. Beatrice Kim’s first grade class on April 14-15, 2010. Based on my observations, Mrs. Kim does have a specialized body of knowledge. She has a special way of teaching in a soft-spoken tone that ultimately captures the attention of a rambunctious group of seven year olds. Mrs. Kim appears to be a patient person that takes the time to acknowledge all of the twenty-four children in her class room. I do believe that her gentle way of teaching will make a difference in the lives of the children in her classroom. Each student will develop a voice of expression in Mrs. Kim’s class that they will be able to carry with them all the way through high school. Student Diversity:            Upon arrival in the classroom, one of the first things that I noticed was that the children were separated by sex. There were twelve desks grouped together on one side of the room and twelve desks grouped together on the other side of the room, a single desk next to the teacher’s desk and a single desk at the front of the room in front of the chalk board. The class consisted of two Hispanic boys, ten African American boys, two Caucasian boys, and ten African American girls.             Every day, the students are split up into four groups. The groups rotate around the room to four different centers (one center with Mrs. Kim, one center with the paraprofessional, one center visits the computer area and one remains at the desks). I learned that Mrs. Kim has divided the children up into groups by their learning levels. The slower children are in one group, the more advanced children are in another group, etc. I observed that both Mrs. Kim and the paraprofessional (Mrs. Williams) are able to adjust their styles of teaching based on which group they have.             I was a bit concerned that the two Hispanic boys, were both considered special needs children. Both of the boys are native Spanish speakers and I wandered if they were having a difficult time understanding the curriculum. One of the boys turned around and started speaking to me in Spanish during the instruction period. I hope that he has not been prematurely labeled as special needs merely because he does not yet fully comprehend the English language.             There was one gifted child in the classroom named Alexis. I could tell that Mrs. Kim enjoyed having the little girl in her class. Mrs. Kim kept Alexis engaged by calling upon her frequently. She also paired the gifted child up with another struggling girl in an effort to help the struggling child and to challenge the gifted one. Alexis also assisted Mrs. Kim with various classroom duties.             I do not think that Mrs. Kim used culturally responsive teaching in her class room. Although she did not incorporate this style of teaching, I think that she took her time to make her points clear to students of all cultures. I feel that her passion for embracing each child will deter future drop outs. Societal Influences:            On the first day of observation, I found all but one child to be well dressed. The one girl appeared to be quiet at first. I noticed that her hair was a little bit messy and her clothes and shoes seemed to be old and tattered. I noticed that Mrs. Kim kept giving her special tasks to do, so I thought maybe she felt sorry for her. Boy was I wrong! The little girl actually ended up being the smartest child in the class (she is the child that I referenced in the paragraph above). Her socio-economic status appeared to have no affect on her ability to learn. Mrs. Kim gave her the extra tasks to keep her busy because she finished her work far before her classmates did, not because she felt sorry for her.             Overall, this seemed to be a very compatible classroom. All of the students seemed to get along with three small exceptions. The first exception was a boy named Daniel. During an interview with Mrs. Kim, she told me that he was a very bright boy but that he was very easily distracted. As the class lined up for lunch, Mrs. Kim observed Daniel touching a little girl’s leg inappropriately. She sent him to the back of the line and later told me that this has been an ongoing issue. I wandered to myself if Daniel may be the victim of sexual abuse. The second exception was a little boy named Aaron. Mrs. Kim informed me that Aaron had recently been diagnosed with mild autism. During the course of the two days, I observed radical behavior from Aaron that even included him refusing to come out from under his desk. I felt that Mrs. Kim handled Aaron’s behavior to the best of her ability by allowing him to express himself while she continued to teach the class. I think that it may be better for Aaron to be in a special class because his constant interruptions hindered the concentration of the rest of the students in the class. The third exception was with a little girl named Chelsea. Apparently, several of the students teased Chelsea about being a foster child during lunch. After lunch, Mrs. Kim pulled Chelsea aside because she was crying. She told Chelsea to tell the other students that it was none of their business if she was or was not a foster child. The advice that Mrs. Kim gave Chelsea was simple but it made her stop crying. I think Mrs. Kim’s support and one-on-one attention, in and outside of the classroom, will help all of the struggling students in the future.   Historical Influence:Based on my observations, it is very easy to see that Sims Elementary is integrated racially. However, it is impossible to tell over the course of two days if the school is integrated economically. I could not tell if there were any national trends in the classroom. I observed the week before standardized testing was to commence. Mrs. Kim told me that she was required to remove all of the posters and learning materials from the walls in preparation for the test.             I was very impressed with the high level of technology in the classroom. The room is equipped with an Interactive Board. The Interactive Board combines all of the features of the traditional dry erase board with a computer and overhead projector. Each student has their own remote (called a pod) that they aim at the board to answer questions. All of the students have newer looking books that they are allowed to take home. Each student also has his or her own agenda that they are responsible for filling in and taking home for their parents to review and sign.             The only form of tracking that I observed during my visit was the CRCT test. The students are required to take the CRCT tests each year to track and monitor their level of comprehension. There does not seem to be a division of students based on how they are tracked. All of the students are put in the same classroom with daily to weekly visits to special needs classes or gifted schools. I have conflicting views about putting all of the students together. On one hand, I think that keeping the students together helps teach tolerance for all learning abilities. On the other hand, I think it may have a negative impact on both special education and regular education students. The teacher has to be mindful of the speed at which he or she teaches so that he or she does not loose the interest of the regular education students by teaching too slow while making sure he or she does not teach too fast for the special needs children to comprehend. A child that does not receive enough attention or challenge may be susceptible to dropping out in the future. Education Philosophy:            After observing Mrs. Kim, I would assume that her teaching philosophy would be to instill a feeling of self-worth in each student that they will be able to carry with them to personal, educational, and professional settings. Although the principle recently changed the curriculum to be more based around structure and ever-changing classes, the school’s website boasts that one of its objectives is character development with an emphasis on self respect. Mrs. Kim’s philosophy seems to be in line with that of Sims Elementary. I think that if more schools and teachers took the time to teach self-worth, many students would realize the value of education and be less likely to drop out. Organization of Schools:            I formed a favorable opinion of Sims Elementary within a few moments of entering the school. I could tell that it was a high tech school with a great deal of parental involvement. I was greeted at the front door of the school by a very friendly woman. I told her that I was there to observe Mrs. Kim’s class. She escorted me to the office where I used a self serve computer to log in as a visitor and to print a photo name badge. The woman introduced herself to me as a parent volunteer and walked me all the way to the class room. As I walked through the halls I noticed that the mission statement was posted on the wall. It says that the school’s mission is to Seek knowledge, Inspire the highest potential, Master skills, and Succeed in becoming a contributing member of society (S.I.M.S. is easy to remember because it is the name of the school). I did not observe anything that stated the school system’s mission. The school seems to very well organized with medium sized classrooms. The class I observed had twenty four students in it with one teacher and one part-time paraprofessional. If the school continues with the same standards that I observed, I think it will make a difference in the drop out rates. For example, the teacher currently has just enough time to split the class up into four groups to provide more personal instruction. If the school takes on bigger class sizes in the future, the teacher will not have enough time to see each student on a one-on-one basis. An effective school should have the following characteristics: located in a good environment, have experienced faculty members, promotes its students to participate in different activities, motivates students to do volunteer work, participates in the community improvement. I wish I would have had more time to observe at this school. With such a short observation time, I only saw that Sims Elementary met two of the characteristics, it was in a good location and it had experienced faculty members.  Government and Finance:            The Rockdale County School district currently spends $ 7,954 per pupil (16). This amount is relatively low compared to the state average of $9,089 per pupil (17). It is also lower than the national spending average of $8,701 per student (18). I was surprised to see that Rockdale County’s spending per student was so much lower than the state and national average. I assumed that because the school was so technologically advanced, the average would be higher than that of state and local. After seeing this, I am more inclined to believe that the amount of spending per student does not matter as much as how the funds are being spent. I think students that were from a more technologically advanced school would be less likely to drop out.             I do not believe that school governance has a huge impact on the drop out rate. Ultimately, it is the teachers and not the administrators that have the most impact on the students’ lives. Students should be positive and respectful in their interactions with all of the staff, not just the principal.            In the elementary school, it seemed as though the main line of authority was the teachers. However, I did observe the Assistant Principle walking around the playground and lunchroom. I guess his presence acted as a back-up for the teacher’s authority. I think the teacher’s clear authority contributed to the students’ success. Since the students know they have to build a good relationship with their teachers, they are less likely to misbehave in the classroom.             Sadly, teachers’ salaries do have an impact on whether a student will ultimately drop out. Unfortunately, with the lack of funding teachers are having to take on more responsibility with less pay. Teachers are only human and they can become discouraged. If the discouragement continues, it will ultimately be reflected in their teaching. They will not be as alert to students that need help. The students that fall through the cracks will be much more likely to drop out. Conclusion:            The most glaring conclusion that I found from my observation is that all members of a school must work together to instill a love of learning in each student. I noticed this from the involvement of the parent volunteers to the caring smiles and ear of the teacher to the watchful eye of the assistant principle. If all of the grown ups in a child’s life (both in school and out of school) make it their job to protect innocence and guide the path to the future, every child will have the confidence and patience to stay in school. They will learn to view education as an empowerment, not as a state mandated punishment.Personal Reflection:            As I observed and answered questions I learned that I am too quick to judge someone based on their socio-economic status. Like when I assumed that the little girl in the classroom was being asked to help the teacher out of pity, but instead she ended up being the smartest child in the class.             I realized that one reason I really liked Mrs. Kim was because she reminded me of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Willoughby. Now that I look back, I was probably a messy-hair, poorly dressed little girl with raggedy shoes on. But, Mrs. Willoughby took the time to make me feel special. She encouraged me to be an individual and never made me feel different (although I look back at my first grade pictures and can clearly see that I was). I learned to read that year and I realized that with my new-found love of learning I would be unstoppable. After first grade I was placed in gifted classes and never looked back. As I have gotten older I have realized that knowledge was my only chance at prospering in life.             When I become a teacher, I hope that I will be able to help my students understand that a love of learning will be their lifeboat in a sea of troubles.          References