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updates for 01.20.2011

9 new posts today

Why San Antonio should be “Highly Preferred” on your Teach For America application

I will probably be adding to this list periodically, but I wanted to put the first draft up in case there are any fourth-deadline applicants or yet-to-confirm third-deadline peeps out there. - We are a BRAND NEW region. As part of the San Antonio corps, you will be instrumental in shaping what TFA looks like in our city for years to come. -  Our staff KICKS MAJOR REAR END, as I’ve heard from every SA CM I talk to and many TFA contacts from other regions. They were picked for San Antonio because the job of building a corps requires a huge amount of creativity and bad-ass-ery. They definitely have plenty of both. - We'll have the most welcoming 2nd-year CMs ever. 1st and 2nd deadline 2011 matriculants can attest to this—You should have SEEN the facebook group exploding with OMG HELLO WELCOME CALL ME IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS. We have the right to be over-excited about our new corps, because this is the first time ever that San Antonio TFA will have a full corps of 1st and 2nd year teachers to support and learn from each other. 2011-2012 is going to be BOMB. - Speaking of 2011-2012: with our new corps, TFA teachers will be teaching over 20% of the students in the district. WHOA. In our SECOND year as a region. - San Antonio’s Mexican Food. Um, enough said. - We’re the closest corps to Austin, TX, Live Music Capital of the World—the “Portland of Texas.” - San Antonio is RIPE for big changes in education. The district is shifting, roles are shifting, curriculum is shifting—big things are about to happen. - The board of San Antonio Independent School District voted TFA in unanimously. (Found out tonight that the superintendent text-messages our ED!) - Did I mention that we have the best staff in the history of TFA? - Our regional office is a) right downtown and incredibly accessible b) colorful and inspiring, and c) open to corps members as a workspace (with laminator, copier, wireless internet, office supplies, etc) 24/7. - San Antonio people are the nicest, friendliest, most generous people you will ever meet.  Exhibit A: it’s normal here, not creepy, for people to pull over if you’re standing at the bus stop and offer you a ride. Or if you’re walking and you look tired. Exhibit B: When SA people heard, upon first meeting me, that I’d just moved from across the country, they offered me furniture, gave me their phone numbers, and told me to “just call if you need anything, anything at all.” People say hello and good morning and smile at you when you pass them, and have real conversations with you when you’re waiting in line. - Our kids need you. Change is on the horizon, but as they stand now, things in the district run about as smoothly  as … cottage cheese. Add ineffective systems to a super-sketchy curriculum and a lot of crippled bureaucracy, and you get a bunch of babies who need good teachers, bad.

"I Won't Learn From You"

I won’t Learn From You and Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment by Herbert Kohl was recommended to me by TFA. Like the other books they recommended, I requested it from the Library. I got it in today and began reading it as part of the strategy to study for the certification exam. I thought it would be a way to realax after a stressful day (but that’s another post).  It rocked my world.  I have been reading it since about 9pm and it is going on 11:20pm. Given I was watching Eureka on Netflicks at the same time, but I digress.  Kohl starts off by defining some terms: not-earning, hopemongering, and creative maladjustment. And from the get-go you know you will be in for a ride, as long as your mind is open to the possibility.  “Not-learning is the conscious decision not to learn something you could learn. It consists, for example, of refusing to learn how to cheat on your taxes, cook crack cocaine, or yield to community pressure to become racist or sexist-choosing not to learn something that you find morally offensive or personally noxious.” (Kohl, XIII)  “Hopemongering is the affirmation of hope and the dream of a just and equitable future despite all the contrary evidence provided by experience.” (ibid)  “Creative Maladjustment is the art of not becoming what other people want you to be and learning, in difficult times, to affirm yourself while at the same time remaining caring and compassionate.” (ibid)  Kohl warns teachers to not confuse not-learning with a failure to learn. And I already know that I will encounter not-learners who have been labeled failures. Kohl goes on to point out that not-learning is a strategy to provide a safety to yourself when confronted by the dominant class/ethnic/race structures of your community/culture that you might not fit into. Such as Latinos who are forced to learn that the “first” settlers to TX came from New England. As one child pointed out in that class, “What are we animals?” (Kohl, 26) The original teacher then walked out and left Kohl there to speak to the students, by owning up that the book was racist, Kohl was able to engage these students who were labeled “problem children” or “apathetic” in a discussion that was relevant to their lives.  I am on the path to not-learning/unlearning some of things that I was thought. Like “man” is not a correct substitute for all humans. And that “white” is not normal.  And that a student who “can’t” read might be choosing not to read if all they are presented with is things that support a racist ideology.  While I haven’t finished reading this book, I hope to at least implement these first strategies into my teach. I hope that I can convince students that not-learn is an effective strategy, but that I will not push an ideology that I do not agree with.  That I am different than the other “gringa” teachers that they have had that do not care. I will try to reach them. I will try to teach to them on their level. I will try to show them that the would world is not agains them, that there are people who care and who try to fight back, right their besides them.  Through that I hope to inspire them. I hope to show them that learning can be fun and helpful and most importantly  relevant  to their lives.  What will your journey be?


It seems the plague has hit Room 3. My kiddos are down for the count, and I'm just holding my breath, spraying a ton of Lysol and washing my hands every 2.4 seconds. I was down from 22 to 14 students by the end of today. I lost one to diarrhea, one to fever, one to lice and one to the ER after he ran headfirst into a door frame and split his eyebrow open about 2 inches wide. Needless to say, it's been a rough week on the health front. In other news, I've been in re- mode. Reorganizing. Reordering. Restructuring. Reviewing. You name it, I've re-ed it. I'm doing things now that I should've been doing in August before school started. Except I didn't know how to be a teacher or how to organize a classroom in August. Experience is truly an amazing teacher. It also feels good to finally be figuring out some parts of this complicated job. I always have so much to say, and then I sit down to type it out and nothing comes to me. I miss my old life. I miss my friends and being in a sorority and spending lazy Saturdays on the couch all day with my roommates. I miss College Mentors for Kids. I  miss seeing my family more often than once every six months. I miss being able to walk to see any one of my closest friends. I miss staying up late to watch Criminal Minds or SVU. I miss being a student. But I know it's not something I could comfortably fall back into. It feels good to have moved into a new phase of life. I enjoy being financially independent (for the most part, anyway). I like the fact that I wake up every morning (albeit at an ungodly hour) and go to a job where I directly influence real lives. I know now that I can never have a job that doesn't directly impact lives. I can't imagine sitting at a desk all day, working with numbers or meaningless information. My kids may drive me crazy every day, but they also tell me they love me. Or, if it's one particular student, they say, "Ms. Wheeler, I love you with all of my heart.... Now please move my clip back up to green?" Some days I actual dread going to school. Some days I hate my job. But then I spend all day with those crazy little guys who call me teacher, and somehow they pull me back in. This was random and scattered, but what in my life isn't that way lately? End of story-- teaching is hard. So hard. And I'm seriously holding my breath for a snow day tomorrow.

Context, Sometimes, Can Make All the Difference

Here is a potential set of assessment items for 9.LD-V.8. ("Determine the meanings of multiple-meaning words by using context."), a DCPS ELA standard, that shows just how important context can be: "I just bought a case yesterday!"

(1) If this statement were uttered by a college student, what sort of "case" would he most likely be referring to? (2) If this statement were uttered by a cell-phone techie, what sort of "case" would he most likely be referring to? (3) If this statement were uttered by a sartorialist, what sort of "case" would he most likely be referring to? (4) If this statement were uttered by a DCPS teacher, what sort of "case" would he most likely be referring to?

(a) A case of suits (a suitcase?).

(b) A case of beer (most likely Natural Light).

(c) A case for an iPod (most likely Marware)

(d) A case of paper (most likely of the Staples or Costco variety, depending on what sales were on at the time of purchase).

The order of correct answers is (b), (c), (a), and (d). Did you score a perfect 100%? The lesson is clear: in certain situations, context can make all the difference. ***** I thought of this because our grad school cohort is just beginning a course in educational assessment. As a result, I've been thinking broadly about tests and assessments (and all the other stuff that makes my students miserable). What can I say--I'm just in that frame of mind (I'm also in the middle of giving final exams for fall semester). Anyways, while walking to grad school with another teacher from my school, I pointed out that "I [had] just bought a case yesterday!" Now wide-eyed, she shrieked with glee, congratulating me for the good fortune that had come my way (I had now been endowed with a case--wow!). Because she already knew the context, there was absolutely no ambiguity; I was referring to answer choice (d). This is how teachers in paper-starved DCPS schools think. (Can these assessment items be added to the DC CAS? Given the rigor of other questions I've seen, I think these might just be worthy of being "advanced" questions. I'm kidding--maybe?) profile counter

My 2nd year is almost starting

In 3 more weeks (or maybe 2) school will start again and I will begin the new year as a slightly more seasoned teacher. While the 1st year went by relatively smoothly, it was a great experience and now I have a lot of new techniques and strategies under my belt. I just returned from AP institute, and I never been happier. I felt like a college kid at career fair! Free textbooks, a bag, flash drive, more textbooks, labs, good lord. Then again, it did cost $700....

Student Achievement

I cried today for the second time about something related to teaching. The first time I cried was back in October, on the day of the first fight in my classroom. Nothing had made me feel like more of a failure than my classroom environment getting so chaotically uncontrollable to the point where there was a fight, and tears started streaming as I articulated this feeling to the science teacher who has so greatly helped me survive these tough months. In November, when a parent observed my class while I *tried* to give a test (but the kids did EVERYTHING imaginable except take a test), it took all of my strength to not cry in class. I will not let myself cry in front of my students, I told myself. Today, I cried out of happiness. Last week my kids took a benchmark standardized exam that is an indicator of how they will perform on the MSA (the high-stakes standardized test coming up in March). A similar test was given in the fall: my kids scored an overall average of basic, but a lot of the material was from the last half of 7th grade (so it was not a good indicator of what I had taught the kids). This time, all of the material on the test was from 8th grade. The test was not released to me or any teachers beforehand, but I quickly scanned through the questions on the day I administered it. I was pleased to see that I had taught (almost) everything on the test. The level of rigor, however, surprised me. This was a difficult test. Really difficult. When I got home from school today, I logged on to the website that analyzes standardized test data and nervously saw that scores were available. The .pdf loaded-- listing all of my students by name and separating their performance by learning goal-- and I blurred my eyes for a moment before looking at the results. It was kind of like seeing my SAT scores, or college acceptance/rejection letters: really nervous but really excited. I found the bolded phrase "Group Average:" followed the most amazing word: Proficient. They did it. I scanned down the column of individual averages and saw the beautiful stream: proficient, proficient, advanced, proficient, proficient, proficient, advanced, advanced, proficient. Seventy-four percent of my students were proficient or advanced, a rate much higher than I (or the school) realistically expected. I continued to scroll down through the names and found Taron: proficient. I rarely cry out of happiness or sadness, but I could not hold back the tears at this point.

Hello world!

Well Hello! I'm Liz, and I was just recently accepted to the Baltimore corps for 2011 as an Early Childhood (PreK-3) teacher.  I'm super excited and juuuust a little bit in shock, so the natural reaction would be to start a blog.  No? OK, well maybe I'm just bored. I can't promise that this will be updated often, but I figure it couldn't hurt to at least sign up for an account.  I'm sure I'll have more to report as I actually, you know, start teaching... but for now, I'm content to just say hello!

The Journey to TFA

When I left my law firm, I did not immediately search for a new career. I don't want to get into a tremendous amount of detail about why I chose to pursue a career in education, but I will say that I wanted to pursue work that would allow me the opportunity to change individual lives around me.  I spent a significant amount of time thinking about my own personal highest and best use.  How could I use my specialized education and knowledge, as well as my strong desire for excellence, to provide the most benefit to people around me?  Where was I needed? Over the course of a few months, I began to research opportunities in education.  Upon reflection, it seemed to me that educational inequity is a foundational problem that leads to a number of other societal issues.  It appeared to me that with educational equality, other problems in our society (e.g., poverty, disease, unemployment, etc.) could be avoided. Although I had desire to go into education, I had not decided on the path I would take to get there.  I spent time researching several options, like working with an education-related non-profit and even going back to school to obtain a degree in education. One day, I attended a local job fair.  I had seen that a local school system would be participating, and I wanted to speak with someone about teaching.  When I spoke with a representative of the school system, we discussed my legal background and my interest in pursuing a career in education.  Thankfully, she was very honest and frank with me.  She said that without a demonstrated background or interest in teaching on my resume, I would likely be perceived as a burned out lawyer looking for an "easier" profession.  (Yes, lawyers seeking any type of career transition get that one a lot.  If you are a lawyer looking to transition, you will fight that stereotype everywhere you go.)  It seemed harsh, but I greatly appreciated her honesty.  If I would be fighting that perception, I needed to know it!  We talked about different ways that I could effectively begin the transition to education, like going back to school or becoming a part of Teach for America.  And that is when my path started becoming clearer to me. I started researching Teach for America pretty heavily after that.  I was very impressed with the information that I found.  I read Teach for America's website, I read editorials in a number of newspapers, and I read all of the blog posts I could get my hands on.  I read the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I understand some people love TFA, and some people have criticisms of TFA.  I understand that some people have had incredibly positive experiences teaching, and that others have had, well... less than positive experiences. But at the end of the day, I believed (and still believe) in the work that TFA is doing to eliminate the achievement gap in our schools, and I wanted to be a part of it.  Teaching with Teach for America fit perfectly within the parameters of the mission statement I had previously identified for myself and the career goals that I had set to find challenging and meaningful work that would change lives.  I decided I would apply.  And the rest is history!

they call me names, they say i'm brown

my students were enraptured by the martin luther king, jr. read-aloud book i read to them today. a lot of them had learned about him before, whether in their first-grade class or in the reading center, and shared their understandings with the class whenever i prompted them with questions (and sometimes just when they wanted to voice what they'd learned). A talked about how martin luther king, jr. made it possible for black people and white people to be together -- how he saved us. as i surveyed my students, who are attending a public school that is segregated in the strictest definition of the word, i thought about how they would react if i asked them to look around the room and tell me how many white people they saw sitting next to them. (considering there is only one half-white student in each of my classes, i imagine they would have figured it out pretty quickly.) martin luther king, jr., changed the discussion in many ways, but even he did not change the systemic realities, which i thought it might be important for them to see. however, i didn't want to depress them, and decided that much more good would come from pumping them up about how reading and writing will enable them to change the world. in any case, M started crying AFTER the read-aloud and discussion. turns out her cousins tease her all the time because she has dark skin. "they call me names, they say i'm brown," she sobbed. M, i told her. you are beautiful. you are perfect. yes, your skin is brown, and that is AMAZING! so don't listen to them. okay? i'm thankful in a way that her first salient experience with racism seems to have occurred within her own family, because it's probably less brutal that way. but i know that my little M is growing up in a country that would really rather she look different, and speak a different language while she's at it. unfortunately, even with that knowledge, it's easy for me to feel disillusioned about my own impact, just like it is for almost every first-year teacher. however, i have to keep working with the knowledge that what my students are learning in 2nd grade literacy WILL empower them to change their own lives and the world around them, no matter what the odds stacked against them are. i might not know how half the time, but i have to. no pressure.

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