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updates for 12.22.2010

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Happy Holidays!!

I made it to Thanksgiving. I made it back from Thanksgiving. Then, I made it to Winter Break. And, I will make it back...but I'm not in a hurry. I have been on break for 4 days now. The time is flying by. I'm spending it with my family in Costa Rica and just being here, doing very little, is exactly what I needed. The last days leading to break were, not calming. I had students still an entire classes worth of cookies and watched one of my favorite students, who had been talking about getting in fights all week, get escorted out of my school in hand cuffs. Needless to say, I'm constantly learning about my kids and having to reflect on how best to serve their needs. But I'm on break now, planning for what I'm going to do next summer and tomorrow I will start reflecting on my classroom and what I can do to make sure that my kids reach our big goal...all of my kids...and that I know what to do to get them there. This means reevaluating my classroom routine and management system as well as tools I give my students in and around my classroom and how I plan our lessons. We will have our ACP (district exam) the second week back from break, so once we're back, we have NO time to waste! How are things going in room 208? I'm still working my butt off. I'm still feeling like a mediocre teacher. But, I'm starting to feel like I know what to do for my kids to be successful. Although, for some it is going to take a lot of work to get them caught up this year, I'm still hopeful. And next year, we are going to go places. I'm very excited to see where we can go next year!! I'm too nice to my kids. I'm not strict enough and I don't give enough consequences. I'm not fair to my "good kids" because I'm distracted by inappropriate student behavior. My kids aren't invested enough in our classes objectives, which makes me sad, but I know that I'm the one who has to get them invested. I'm babbling...perhaps by the end of break I'll have some more clarity of thought. And hopefully I will write again! :)



I am thankful for...

...so many things. This has been a big year full of new people and experiences. I'm so thankful to be where I am (in Dallas and at my school) and what I am doing, teaching Spanish and hopefully making a positive impact on my kids.



Why I need vacation time

I'm not sure I'm capable of explaining the last days before winter break to people who aren't teachers. I'm already four days into vacation and I still feel like I could sleep for weeks... how is that possible? My kids aren't even that bad this year. It's something about the constant vigilance required in those last days. Something snaps in children's brains and they suddenly can't help but do crazy things. During indoor recess, a couple kids emptied the pencil sharpener shavings onto a piece of paper, packed them tightly, rolled them up, and then brought them to me screaming about illegal narcotics. Two boys picked up a girl by her arms and legs and ran with her down the hallway. A girl slapped a boy in his arm so hard it left a red mark. A boy grabbed a girl's shoe while she was sitting at her desk and tried to rip it off her foot. Another kid walked around throwing people's binders on the floor. Two cell phones went off in class at the same time. On multiple occasions, I had more than three students in the back of my room who had been kicked out by other teachers. I sent out kids to other rooms too, which I barely do at all this year... mostly because they got so annoying I just couldn't take them anymore. I broke up a fight after school by myself and got flipped off by a little kid as he ran away. I gave out more detentions this week than I had in the entire rest of the year so far. Basically I lived the last week either doling out consequences or waiting on edge. It was inevitable that something would go wrong as soon as my guard went down for a split second, and since the kids knew freedom was close, they didn't even care so much if they got caught. Exhausting doesn't even begin to describe it. Forgive me if I stay in bed until next summer.



Should I do TFA?

It's funny because if I were to have done my research prior to applying (and later committing to) to Teach for America, I do not know that I would have followed through.  However, hindsight being 20-20, I do have questions that you can ask yourself to determine if you "should" "do" "TFA?" All things being highly political, of course. But first, ramblings. I thought I did my research because I googled everything about the organization. And yes, I found that terrible article with something to the effect of TFA spitting out an Ethnic Studies major. And yes, I saw the countless message board postings from law school admissions hopefuls. And yes, I previewed messages from the angry parents of CM's. But I wrote those CM's off like "Psshhh. That's why you're having a hard time - because your parents are all in your business and you haven't grown up enough." Despite living all this,  and feeling how I do now, I still feel that way. Every time I call my mother to even broach the topic of "I've made a huge mistake," I can't even turn the conversation that way. Why? Because she's forever telling me to try this, or try that, or do this, or do that. So while my mother is in my business, she's there because I invited her to be, and because she believes that I can do this. Or rather, she knows that I will do it. She seems to know more than I do most of the time which I guess is why she gets to be mom. Other people's parents, however,  are quick to tell them they can come home anytime and that TFA failed them in XYZ ways. But my mother doesn't do that.  Why does she believe in me so much? Questions to Consider: Will your parents ask/suggest/cry/beg  you to come home when you are unhappy? Let's hope not. Are you strong enough to resist? it will be too tempting, so you better be. Are you as tough as nails? you must be. Are you caring, loving and sensitive? you must be. Are you forgiving? you must be. Are you a perfectionist? this actually will not help you. Are you scared of hard work? and no, hard work is not getting a 4.0 and being a student leader.  that's called being a college student. Are you flexible? can you not only bend, but move? Are you resilient? Will you work relentlessly every single day NOT ONLY for the good kids but for the  someones who tell you (loudly, while you're teaching) that you're a fat bitch and a shitty teacher?* *Careful, that's a trick question, because if you lie, you're not only hurting yourself, but the other little minds under your leadership.



741 miles and 3 Diet Cokes later...MINNESOTA!

Yes, I've made it to Christmas break...and I'm home in Minnesota!  The last few weeks have flown by - lesson planning, grading papers, and parent-teacher conferences have kept me busy.  Throw in a winter storm too - Becca absolutely loved that!  Of course, we still had school, so my normally 15 minute drive to work in the morning took over an hour...the winter weather certainly makes it feel a lot more like home.  Did I mention that I love snow? My kids are amazing and I still love my job.  Each and every day is a challenge and it can get very stressful at times, but this has been one of the most amazing, humbling experiences imaginable, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  I am also reminded each day of how very blessed I am - I'm happy and healthy, I have wonderful friends and family, my "babies" are amazing, and I have been richly blessed beyond measure. It is wonderful to be able to spend two weeks at home over the holidays!  I left Detroit at 11:30 on Friday morning and arrived at Mom & Dad's shortly before 10pm on Friday evening...yes, it's a quick trip! ;)  I can't believe how much snow they have in Chaska...it's crazy - send some of that out to Detroit...I could use a "Snow Day" when I get back!  I headed up to Fargo on Saturday to vist some friends and celebrate Paige's graduation with her.  It was great seeing everyone back in Fargo!  I'm up in Roseau now...it's so very different from Detroit!  I went to one of Kelsey's basketball games last night and I'm pretty sure tonight will include some hockey....whoo hoo!  Have I mentioned that I love hockey!?!  I can't wait to spend the next several days with my wonderful friends and family! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!  Remember, as you count your blessings this holiday season, count my "babies" among them!



Home

We made it to Christmas break. All of my children and myself, still alive, doing the things we want to do for two weeks. Before learning again. The adventure began on Friday, when all of my roommates left and I was alone for a night in my house in Dumas. Saturday Auntie flew in (to drive back to Michigan with me). I got my oil changed on the way to Little Rock, where the airport is, and on the way back my car came to a complete stop, dead battery, not even enough power for the hazards to work. We were towed 45 minutes away, to Brittany's boyfriend's uncle's backyard, where he works on cars. The next morning Brittany drove us back to the airport (bless her heart!) almost getting a ticket on the way, where we got a rental. Then the 13 hours up to Michigan, through the night. I feel stuck, lately. Paralyzed in so many ways. Everyone asks about school, about my new job, about Arkansas, and I feel like my throat is glued together. I feel like the part of my brain that can articulate stories and remember events from school and be honest and optimistic has a padlock on it. I've tried to talk about teaching, tried to talk to people from Michigan about what it is I'm feeling or experiencing... but all I can utter is: "It's challenging." or "It's an experience." I want to talk about what I'm doing. I don't know if it's because I don't have the confidence to feel like I'm doing well, or that I just don't know how to begin, or that I still don't want to admit to the world that I am living a different life than the one I had for the past five years, but talking about it is so difficult. Anyway. Kalamazoo is refreshing. So refreshing. Last night I went to a movie with three friends still in college and it felt so normal. Auntie and I went to the magazine store, Barnes & Nobel, and TJMaxx-- all were so luxurious. Driving 10 minutes to get what I want?! Eating at a different restaurant for every meal? A movie theatre that is not an hour away? Christmas feels markedly different again this year. Where is home? Kalamazoo or Novi? Is it the house or the people? The snow or the time of year? I'm getting horrifically disorganized lately. You can tell even from this post-- scatterbrained, no real driving purpose. I've stopped writing everything down, stopped journaling every day, stopped running four days a week. Falling into lazy lazy patterns, running out of excuses. I don't know I don't know. I'm happy to be here. I miss what my life was like this time in 2009, but looking forward to January, to another new year, new people, moving forward. Always moving forward.



Surprises

As a teacher, I have felt completely unprepared to deal with mid-year transfer students, especially those that have been placed in my high school Spanish classes. It’s an immersion class unlike anything I ever experienced during my education. We act like idiotas, linking actions with phrases – a method called Total Physical Response (TPR) – and telling interactive stories completely in Spanish – Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). Some students were not in my class for the first few weeks, during which I established a firm vocabulary base and the rules for my interactive stories. They’ve had to play a giant game of catch-up, and they’ve had to embrace the craziness and excitement characteristic in my classroom. Michelle came into my classroom just before the second nine-week period began. She’s an excitable student, and in a class of 17 students – my largest – she has quickly become one of my most reliable voluntarios. Using student actors in class stories has helped invest students in my class, and on most days, students will moan and groan if they are not chosen as a story’s star. I often choose Michelle because student actors must respond to my Spanish commands, and it serves as wonderful listening practice. She’s worked her hardest to learn all of the material she missed. I’m very proud of her, especially when I read her brief apologies on tests or quizzes: “I tried my hardest, Mr. Pepper!” I know you did, Michelle. But this past week, during finals period, Michelle was late to class. I noticed immediately; she’s usually one of the first to take her seat. I glanced in the hallway and saw her speeding toward my class behind her meek mother, a woman as least a head shorter than me. “Sorry, Mr, Pepper,” Michelle’s mom explained. “I had her detained.” She sped past my classroom and left the school. Michelle was red-faced, her eyes filled with tears. She fell into my arms and sobbed. I was dumbstruck. I rubbed her back and calmed her down, asking if she wanted to talk about it. She nodded yes, and I told the class to review their study guide for five minutes. Michelle explained: “I got home last night and my mom was upset. I think she had taken something.” My throat tightened. “She started yelling at me, telling me I wasn’t worth anything, I wouldn’t make anything of my life…” She faded into sobs, but quickly composed herself. “I left my house and went to my boyfriend’s place to calm down. But my mom called the police and told them I had run away from home. They came and arrested me.” She paused and looked up at me with her bloodshot eyes.  “I spent the night in jail, Mr, Pepper.” I was not trained for this. All I said was, “Michelle, I’m so sorry. But now you’re here, and you’re in my class, and you’re safe. Go for a walk, go to the bathroom and put some water on your face and cool down. We’ll wait for you to start.” She nodded and walked down the hall, shuddering from sobs and wiping her cheeks clear. The review session before our test consisted of an interactive story covering all vocabulary from the semester. Although Michelle was not in a state to be my star, she participated and reviewed with energy. I’ve surprised my students with a loco class culture. They’ve surprised me with their daily lives.



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