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updates for 01.04.2011

5 new posts today

A Warm Smile

Over the winter holiday, I got to spend a lot of time at home.  During this time, the beginnings of something marvelous began to unfold.  This year, I've been sharing the story of a particular student and their family that's experienced some traumas and difficulties that I don't think I will ever be able to comprehend.  Although my family has a minimal understanding of the experiences of this family, they have frequently asked me if there's anything that they can do to help, which I am completely grateful for. That brings me to my little sister.  My little sister is one of the most determined people I have ever met.  Sometimes, that determination often comes out as stubbornness. (Sidenote: Let's keep in mind that I can recognize this as stubbornness because I can be about as stubborn as they come.  It certainly takes one to know one!)  Well, the thing that my little sister has always and will always be particularly stubborn about is her closet and her belongings.  After sharing a room with her growing up and for a portion of our teens, I can tell you from experience that you don't mess around with the order of her stuff.  She wants to keep things in her particular way and that's that. And that my friends, is what leads me into my little heart warming story.  Before I returned to the Delta, my little sister, who was intrigued about the family aforementioned willingly went through her sacred closet space (and probably some from the attic too -- with the help of my step mom) and sorted through her old winter weather gear, picking out old coats that she thought she could part with.  These coats were brought back to the Delta in hopes that they would fit the student that my family has seemingly become so invested in. Today, I pulled that student out into the hall and nonchalantly told them that my little sister was cleaning out her closet and had a few coats that didn't fit her anymore that seemed to be the student's size.  I asked the student if they would be interested in trying them on and the child's eyes widened as their head quickly nodded up and down. So, while my students were in their special class today, I pulled the student out into the hall and laid out the coats on the floor.  The student, who had been wearing a "coat," which was a thin, worn out sweatshirt that was probably twice the size of their body, quickly shed the cloth.   Since the weather had gotten cold, the child had never taken their sweatshirt off.  It was almost like a second skin.  Seeing the child brush off the worn fabric was like observing like a butterfly eager to break from a cocoon. It was an unbelievable moment for me, which I don't really think I can express on a written word level...  One by one, we tried on the coats.  Each one fit like a glove, and each fitting came with a barrage of compliments, smiles, and warm-fuzzy feelings.  After trying on all of the coats I told the student that they could keep them all and  I would pack them up for them to take home with them.  I then asked if the student wanted to wear any of the coats out to recess that day and even before my sentence was out, their head was eagerly nodding, "Yes, yes." The quiet child did not speak their thanks, but their smile said it all. Tonight, I will sleep easier, knowing that one child will be staying warmer thanks to my stubborn little sister who willingly spent time cleaning out her closet.  So thank you, little sister, for reminding me of the importance of my being here.  No matter the impact, large or small, an impact is an impact. Thank you for reminding me why I decided to Teach for America.

The Great Return

I am thinking about how today was what some call "the second first day of school," the first day back after Christmas, and how I will only have one more "second first day of school" before my teaching commitment is over. I don't know if that makes me feel guilty or like a wimp or both. I'm remembering my roommate from Institute, how she told me about a mutual friend a few months into teaching, maybe October. In a hushed voice, "She's not doing very well. I mean, she counts down her days by putting big X's on her calendar. She started taking anti-depressants." Now I look up at the calendar hanging next to my door, with X's over the days from this month. But doesn't everyone do that? My break was an absolute break. Selfishly, I spent the entire (ENTIRE) two weeks focusing exclusively on myself. I may have spent four hours reading How to Teach Adolescent Writers and I may have spent one hour at Starbucks inputting grades and three hours at the Common Cup in Chicago talking to my PD and attempting some excuse for a lesson plan. Maybe. But I don't feel I did anything productive. Today wasn't easy. It wasn't hard, it wasn't grueling, it wasn't easy. I hate feeling that the large majority of my shortcomings as a teacher are personal. That's probably the hardest part of the job. If only I was more organized. If only I called more parents. If only I assigned class jobs when I said I would. If only I followed through. If only I was firm and fair. Laura reminds me it's just a severe case of tunnel vision. She reminds me to look at the periphery, how many blessings constantly surround us. Roommates. Community. Paychecks. Friends. On the 11 hour drive back down here I stopped on a highway about two hours outside of Dumas. I cut my engine and lights and rolled down my window and just stuck my head out. Rural Arkansas is incredible. After the perpetual gray of Michigan's winter night skies-- never totally dark because of the clouds and reflecting snow --it was overwhelming to see so many stars. To be back in this winter blackness. I've never loved Michigan winters, but when I was there I would catch myself standing outside at night, noticing the gray. It's so different. Here winter is black. Not something I was prepared for. One of my students brought me a necklace from Mexico today. It's engraved with my last name and a picture of Hello Kitty. Two students asked if I would grade essays they wrote over the break. What! One boy handed one in and it's all about the college he wants to go to and why. I am amazed, floored, at the potential in every human life. It's too much to take. I wish I knew how to tap into it, how to motivate these students and push them to the right corners of libraries and knowledge. I wish I knew, wish I knew.

Group Work

12/8/10 I am enamored with group work. I doubt the honeymoon phase will last long because I can already tell that the noise volume has escalated drastically, but in the first few days I have been amazed. Activities are so conducive to group work, the kids have a more positive vibe because of it, and I'm free to do other things, like back in the days when we read our book! Today, I introduced our project. Now, yesterday we spent most of the class with the kids exploring different envelopes that held clues to our project. They enjoyed it. Today, sans projector (oh yea, my projector is broken.....again) I told them we would be writing stories/cards for people in nursing homes. They weren't sold until I held the list with each of their names......next to the name of a specific person. Now, I might have fibbed a bit that those people are waiting and know that they're going to get these cards. Sure. But, you should've seen their faces. The responsibility factor, as I'm hoping, will transform this project from "Uhhh, work" to "Let's do this!" Today, as they brainstormed potential topics, I quickly did 30-second mini-conferences with my kids about their writing. If they scored a 1 or 2 on their essays, they have to rewrite them to push them to a 3 (I'm done with the days of, you can choose rewrite this for extra points and only receiving one or two rewritten). It was frustrating, but I had to go that quickly to hit everyone. We'll see if it was effective at all on Friday. Then, we spent the last part of class going over theater etiquette because we're going to see a play tomorrow! I put on a British accent (going to see Oliver Twist), which the kids thought was hilarious, and I thoroughly enjoyed acting out what NOT to do. They did too, and hopefully it sticks tmrw and I won't have any of "those kids." Last snapshots from my day: --2 interactions with the new principal. One was when I had to send a student outside of class. The student got to talk to the principal. Cool. Not the student I would've wanted him to question about my class. 2nd interaction  - 3rd period lining up for lunch. I know they saw him, so I figured they would be silent. No such luck, and we had to re-transition. My face turned red from embarassment, but I don't think he could see, but one of my students 'Miss, why is your face sooo red?".......thanks. --behavior issues student transformation! recap: This student, yesterday, spends the whole class trying to argue, plead, cajole to go to the restroom. She threatens to call her mom to tell one me. At the end of class, as I had said the whole time, I told her she could go. "No miss, why would I go now?" I was angry. This is one ex. from many. I had her write down exactly what happened in class. After school, called mom to set up a conference. Today, she was an angel. Found out she's hoping for a good phone call home b/c phone was taken away. I'll be holding out on that phone call for a while. --Just an enjoyable day overall. :) and excited am creating an action plan for my kiddos who failed. no apathy de moi!

here we go again!

12/7/10 Results are in. Ladies & Gentlemen, I present to you.......average results again.....BUT ...with a definite, tiny, use your glasses improvement!!! Drumroll please: Writing Benchmark- We met the commended goal...one percent over, actually :)  Still had 10 kids fail, which is 10 too many, but even they, for the most part, showed improvements. I also graded their essays, and I had too many 2s instead of 3s or 4s, but there's still time, and that will be my focus for the next 7 weeks. Reading - less excitement here.  17 failed, and didn't meet our commended goal. But again, still pressing forward. Ok, on to the best part - Yesterday, the students graded their own tests in class. I remembered this being a really exciting time from the last round as students get excited about meeting and passing goals, scoring commended, etc. Well, this time just warmed my heart SO MUCH MORE. As I walked around the room, my students were leaving their desks to rush over and wave their score in front of me. Others simply shouted across the room - MISS I GOT COMMENDED. Or MISS I BEAT MY SCORE. A few of my overachievers refused to high-five me because "Miss, this isn't good enough. I can't high five this." .....they were saying this about scoring a 91 because they missed 2 questions. :) love it But, the best ones were actually the grades in the 70s and 80s. 3rd period has one student who *barely* failed last year. He's an excellent student, and he almost broke my heart the first couple weeks of school by asking the question "Miss, what if I use all the strategies and still fail? That's what happened last year." He scored an 83, and he was ecstatic!!! I was too :) Then, the best one, was one of my girls who is really low in reading and writing. She has been attending after-school tutoring with me and is motivated with an exceptionally positive attitude. She scored a 78, which she said is the first time she has passed a reading test. She wanted to call her mom on the spot. This morning, she walked up to me and tried to hug me without thinking because she was so happy. I had to stop her, because I don't hug students, but her smile was still bright when we high-fived! I am happy to say that my 4 girls who have been regularly attending tutoring all passed their test (one girl with a 69, but I'm counting it).....and we're talking just barely, with a 70, 73, 78, and 83. But they were all ecstatic and I was too! Now, if I could just find the perfect mixture for the students who are low and aren't as motivated....hmmmmm. Lastly, today during conference we had a meeting to discuss our high-risk students. It was a great way to get them back to the front of my mind. It also helped to hear other teachers with similar concerns and know that some of it is out of our locus of control.......some kids home lives are just wretched. We created actions plans though, and I was reinvigorated to really reach out and try to push my kids so we can meet our goal of 100% passing. There are 4 kids in particular I really have to invest if this is at all going to be possible. Here's to praying for the impossible and staying motivated to turn it into reality! I am in charge of what happens in my classroom.

December Reflections

12/5/10 I have been really lax about writing lately. While on one hand this is good because it means I am processing things better inside my head, on the other hand I know I'm missing out on remembering funny and frustrating things that happen in my classroom. This weekend was a whirlwind of emotions, to say the least. I was expecting to really have nothing to do, and then I got more than I bargained for. I must give a virtual hug via blog to a couple that has basically adopted me down here. They listen to me whine, I plan with the fellow teacher, and we all hang out. They're really wonderful and they're keeping me grounded right now. I have off and on considered pursuing law at some point and working with a human rights organization. But, I don't want to do that if it's going to be another set of years where I feel like I'm not actually seeing any change and more people are slipping through my fingers than not. It's interesting, I suppose, that in participating in such a noble cause, I am perhaps bursting my idealistic bubble and quite frankly changing my attitude about how I want to spend my life. Now, ask me again at the end of the year, or after my 2nd year, and we'll see. Because I know the desert of loneliness and waves of being overwhelmed are supposed to calm down. And I know that  I need to give it more time so I can actually see progress. And know that something is working. But sometimes it just feels so ineffective! Now, in a twist of tones......I am super stoked for these next two weeks. My partner in planning and I are doing a mini-unit on writing. However, we're expanding author's purpose. I have to make some calls tomorrow, but I'm hoping to have the kids writing for a nursing home. We're switching to group work tomorrow (I'm terrified, but it's time to take that plunge), and we have some awesome activities planned. With the activities, I should be able to also get in some much-needed individual conferencing. I'm excited......I hope my kids will be too!!

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