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updates for 01.24.2011

9 new posts today

Fresh Idea for a Fresh Beginning?

Just like that, our first semester ended, almost as soon as it had started, last Friday. And, just like that, Spring 2011 begins tomorrow. As they say, "no rest for the weary." Objectively-speaking, last semester did not go that well. I certainly had an interesting situation, given my more-than-5-week absence from school due to grand jury duty. But even before and after that commitment, I do not feel like I was on the mark. My lessons felt dull; many students' eyes glazed over; my long-term plan was haphazardly put together. I had successes, but not enough. I need to change that. As with any fresh beginning, I've revamped a lot of things. But first things first. Day one, if not done well, can be the day that students are "lost"--returned to the state of disenchantment that characterizes so many students, especially upper-level high schoolers. What will make our first day together more engaging, more unique? I toyed with the idea of going through the syllabus and briefly explaining what we'll be learning throughout the semester. But I realized that this has potential to be extremely boring. So, here's what I did. I spent a large chunk of my weekend mapping out new long-term plans. They are detailed. They make sense. They have (somewhat) logical sequencing. Each unit has corresponding essential questions, key ideas/people, literary terms, skills, standards, writing products and texts. I'll be honest--this is the most in-depth I've gone with my LTP. And I'm going to give this to them tomorrow--but not in a traditional format. Instead, I've created Wordles using the text from the syllabus (more accurately, my long-term plan, which is in Excel format). For those who don't know, Wordle is a website that allows you to create word clouds. You paste in a bunch of text, the online app conducts a word frequency analysis, and then it splashes these words on a map in random patterns with the size of the words corresponding to their frequency. It's a brilliant visual tool. Wordle certainly is not a new technological innovation (it's been around for a few years). But I think the idea of having students receive a Wordle for the class with the contents of the syllabus in it is a great way to capture students' attention and pique their curiosities. Students will be forced to actively interpret the structure and nature of the course. It's almost challenging. Can you "figure out" my Wordles? English 4 (12th grade): Wordle: English 4 Syllabus Journalism 1: Wordle: Journalism Syllabus I can see some students asking these questions:

  • Why does "analyze" appear twice right next to "analysis"?
  • Why is "sonnet" so big?
  • What does the word "brevity" mean?
  • What is "press"? (is that like  "getting pressed"?)
The beauty, too, is that I can ask some pretty interesting questions of my students as a "preview" of the semester:
  • What do you think is going to be the focus of this class?
  • What literary movements and historical eras are we going to learn about?
  • What books do you recognize?
  • What Shakespeare play are we reading?
  • What words are unfamiliar to you?
I might even suggest that students place these Wordles on the front cover of their binders (which I am going to require, strictly, this semester). We'll see how things go tomorrow. As I've learned over and over, easier said than done. profile counter

An End... and a Beginning

Tuesday was the end of a long wait. I was so happy to make it to the final interview, but "you did the best you could do" and "you can't change anything now" didn't make the days between November 30th and January 18th any less stressful. By Tuesday, I was sure I would accept Teach for America's offer if they accepted me. And on Tuesday I tried to distract myself (partly by playing--poorly--the new Donkey Kong video game) and not constantly refresh my e-mail. I was excited (understatement...) to see my acceptance via e-mail and to see that I will be teaching science in Detroit. (My husband is going to school in Michigan so I was especially glad TFA was able to accommodate my request for this city!) I'm excited for this new beginning. I know it will bring a mix of emotions, and I know I've benefited from reading about others' adventures through these blogs. For now, my adventure starts by (re)learning science to pass the teaching certification exams in April!

Where do we go from here?!

Hello world! It's currently testing season in my world of teaching high school chemistry.  A unit exam {FINALLY} coming up. i say finally because we've had so many snow days....well only 3 in the past 2 weeks but that's defnitely enough to throw everything off schedule. Also have the 2nd marking period benchmark coming up this week. And then in 2 weeks we have mid-terms.  *Whew* My kids are about to be worn out with the massive amount of review we're about to do.  Shoo, I am too.  Reviewing/reteaching is going to be a challenge to me.  I think it's because I've never done it yet.  Hopefully it goes well and my Program Director from TFA has some good advice to offer me. I have a lot of lesson planning to do before bedtime, so I'm just going to debrief on some of the recent highlights in my teaching adventure: -Recently I performed a short rap I made up for some of my classes....CRAZINESS.   It honestly wasn't that great.  But they LOVED it and were so hype.  "Miss, that was dope!"   "Miss you're my favorite teacher now!"  Lol.  Their favorite part was when I remixed a line from a Drake/Nicki Minaj song: "We learning a lotta things/they just tryna ruin it/ Shout out to the fact that I'm the youngest teacher doin it!"    :-D -It's supposed to snow AGAIN on Tuesday! If we have another frivolous snow day, I'm not ever going back!  J/k.   But I will be really irritated.  Honestly, it's bittersweet.  I like the sleeping in and getting paid to lounge around my apartment part of it.  But I dislike how behind we're getting and the idea that we're cutting into our summer break.  -_- -The science department (made up of ALL the high school science teachers in the DISTRICT) has decided to use some new computer program for grading the district assessments.  Our supervisor chose 1 person from each building to be responsible for learning how it works and doing the grading for all the science exams in that building.  And, surprisingly, she chose MOI to be in charge of it for my building.  I was really shocked.  It's not that big of a deal, but it's my first real sense of "responsibility" and accountability as a teacher.  This will definitiely help me overcome my insecurity of being the youngest teacher.  Seriously, I feel like a little kid when I'm around the other teachers.  O_o -My wish for this week: That 4th period drives me off the wall only 2 days or less this week.  :-/ Anywho, I realized I need to have a way to document my teaching experience when this is all done, so I know I promise to update my blog more often each time I post and I never do....I reallly will this time!!  lol. Here's to an awesome work week!


Reading about others' experiences with their acceptance notifications makes me happy. In fact, I would say it makes me exuberant.  There are so many parts of the TFA process that bond us together as corps members and reading about someone else's experience somehow serves as a glue between us. There's so much I can relate to in pouring over how they got the news and the events surrounding their notification of acceptance.  As for me, I was part of the second application deadline. I applied in September after obsessing about it for the summer months. I completed my interview in October and, like most, had mixed feelings about how I performed. Then came the tedious process of waiting for the results. Publically I kept it together pretty well. I think a big difference for me was that most of my friends and family weren't very familiar with Teach For America and most had a limited understanding of what getting accepted meant. Additionally, getting accepted would mean putting in my resignation for my current job and I wasn't too keen on letting that slip to my work group, ultimately enabling the word get back to my boss. Privately, however, I was a wreck. When I would get home I would spend hours looking up information about TFA. Needless to say, the waiting process was brutal at best. How can two and a half weeks drag on for SO long? Finally November 9th arrived. I had decided from the beginning that I wanted to find out via logging into the Teach For America website instead of waiting for the e-mail which often came much later. I logged in relentlessly. Finally, at around 12:30, after continuously reloading the site every five minutes, the page changed. I'll never forget looking at the screen in that moment. There was a small pop up that was blocking the content of the page (you know, one of those annoying boxes that are completely meaningless that you just click yes without reading it) but I could see the side column which had updated. To now, this said things like "View application"  and  "Update Your E-Mail" but it had changed to "Accept Our Offer" or "Decline Offer." In that fraction of a second I knew my life had changed forever. I didn't even know where I had been offered a placement, I didn't know what they wanted me to teach and I didn't know the age group. But I remember thinking, "They chose me. They want me. Out of the thousands of people who applied, I was chosen." I was overwhelmed with a since of gratitude. In the seconds that followed I clicked through to the actual content of the website and read the details of the placement. I went on to tell my friends who were at work with me that day and I began the process of making phone calls. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It was an experience that I don't ever think I'll forget. I remember exactly what everyone was wearing, I remember what we said, I remember what we had for lunch... It's like the occasion is stamped into my mind forever. Since then I have continued to feel strong emotions. I feel so happy that I'll be teaching. I am really excited to work with such an amazing organization. But most of all I feel so humbled and grateful for this opportunity. I want to carry my feelings of gratitude throughout my placement. I want to always remember that on that cold day in November, I was fortunate enough to have been chosen.

I thought you'd all be happy to know

I spent $80 on amazon.com yesterday on teaching books and an Abraham Lincoln poster!  I got: Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov (I've already read it, but it's definitely worth buying) Beyond Survival and Reluctant Disciplinarian by Gary Rubenstein (came TFA-recommended) Discipline in the Secondary Classroom:  A Positive Approach to Behavior Management by Randall S. Sprick I haven't read that one or really heard anything about it, but it was one of those suggestions from amazon.com that are always SO tempting to me.  Plus it's part of the Jossey-Bass Teacher series, and I'm a sucker for those.  And it comes with a DVD. I'm also a sucker for those. I figured I'd read them while I have the time. In other news, my classes -- all two of them -- start on Tuesday.  It's crazy that this is my last semester of college.  Transferring set me behind, so this is my fifth year and I'm thoroughly sick of Cal State Fullerton -- it's hard to believe that I'm actually graduating.  I'm hoping that once classes start, the time will pass quickly!  Maybe when classes start it'll finally sink in that I'm LEAVING! 2011 CMs: we get our pre-institute work at the end of February/beginning of March, right? I want to get started on that! I'm trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this time next year, my life will look COMPLETELY different in every way.  I'll be living in a state and region that I've never even been to before, with people that I'm only acquaintances with now, and I'll be TEACHING. I can't wait!

Grown-up Snow Days

I thought I loved snow days as a student. There was nothing better than waiting up to see "Williamson County Schools--CLOSED" on Snowbird. Wrong. Waking up at 5:15 a.m. to get ready to teach, only to check online and see "Tulsa Public Schools--CLOSED" is the GREATEST thing EVER. No joke. And even better than Thursday's snow day? Friday's snow day that came as a complete surprise right before bedtime. I am a huge fan of the snow day-- staying up late playing stupid games with amazing friends, lazy lunches on a Friday, enough time to lesson plan and do laundry and clean my room and have a social life. So, on a completely unrelated note, I want to write a book. I've had an idea floating around in my head for a few years now. I've written a few pages here and there, but I've never had the time or energy to sit down and actually hammer it out. Is it silly to want to write a book? Everyone has always told me I'm a good writer, but I hate letting anyone read anything I write. Maybe I'll write a book just for me. But that seems like a waste. Back to teaching. I just got these LeapFrog Tag Readers from my first funded DonorsChoose project. They are awesome! I am so excited about teaching my kids how to use them. I'm pumped to set up a really meaningful, engaging center for them. I've been playing with them tonight, reading and playing games in Diego's Underwater Mystery. It cracks me up to think about how far my Saturday evening activities have come in the last year. In my defense, I did go to Dave and Busters earlier this evening. And I won 200 tickets-- so don't judge. Speaking of DonorsChoose--  you have an awesome opportunity to help out my classroom. Just text  "POSSIBLE" to 77177. Waiting for Superman will send you a code that is redeemable as a $15 gift card on DonorsChoose! You can text "STOP" to the same number as soon as you get the code and they will never text you again. If you know me, you can text/email/facebook message me your code and I will use it to donate to my project in your name. You can also post your code as a comment to this post! It takes about 2 minutes and will seriously help me and my awesome  kiddos out. Thanks so much!

What's Happening in Atlanta

Here are some education stories in the news in Atlanta.  I'm posting the dialogue here, not because I agree with any of the viewpoints expressed, but rather so that folks coming out here to teach get to read some of the things happening here in education. Atlanta Public Schools were recently placed on probation.  Read about it here. This editorial on school choice followed. I'll continue posting articles about schools and education in Atlanta.  Stay tuned.

A Resourceful, Humorous Student

While administering final exams, I was patrolling the classroom, checking to see whether:

  • Reading passages were right-side-up,
  • students were alert,
  • students were not copying answers off of each other,
  • and pens were moving.
As I passed by BN, something hilarious caught my attention on the desk in front of her: BN's "Ghetto Ass Notebook" AKA "a half-inch-thick stack of lined paper haphazardly stapled together along the left margin." The best part about her "G.A.N." is her epigraph:
Dreadhead shawty, the bait be calling, thick lil joint got niggas mouth falling. Aye :)
This is an example of how students can be resourceful as well as humorous. Apparently lacking the resources to buy her own notebook, she fashioned one herself, using a rudimentary, but ultimately utilitarian, method. And I love students who can poke a little fun at themselves. Even though she may not be in the best situation outside of school, BN carries herself with supreme confidence, unlike some other students--who are very embarrassed when they reveal their financial instability. Near the end of class, she showed me her "food stamp" card (an "Electronic Benefit Transfer" card) and gave a brief explanation of how it worked (I didn't know the intricacies). profile counter

Nuts and Bolts of the TFA Application Process

After making the decision to pursue a position with Teach for America, I started the application process.  As most of you are aware, the application and selection process for Teach for America is quite thorough.  Here are my general experiences with the process. The written application is thorough, but not terribly burdensome.  You must include a resume and submit two references.  I personally believe that the references are an important piece of the application process.  Choose them thoughtfully.  As a professional, I selected a law firm partner for whom I worked.  I also serve as the chair of the board of directors of a nonprofit organization, and I selected one of my board members as my other reference.  I chose references who I hoped would emphasize my hard work, ambition, drive, and passion at work and in my community.  References must submit a pretty thorough evaluation, so be sure to choose people who will take it seriously and be thoughtful in their consideration of you.  Also, be sure you choose people who know you well enough to address all areas of inquiry and provide them with information about TFA so they can address specifically how you would be a good fit for the organization.  Finally, you must submit a written essay, answering questions propounded by TFA.  I think it is challenging to just answer the questions--I think some of us are drawn to trying to make our writing more profound or to talk about something other than what the questions request, so my advice would be to answer the questions thoroughly, but succinctly.  The question will probably not ask for your philosophy of life, but will be much more specific.  You will have the opportunity to weave information that lets the reader know who you are into your answer, while still remaining on topic. After submitting the application, some people are asked to participate in a telephone interview.  Others are invited directly to the final interview.  In the time you are awaiting the final interview, you will be required to submit additional information.  Start early.  Some of this information may take some time to obtain, especially if you have been out of school for some time.  You will have to submit official transcripts from all degree-granting institutions you attended.  You will also be required to list each and every class you took while you attended, including course number and grade.  Most of this information is on your transcript.  You will also need to submit detailed GPA information, which can be time consuming to track down, especially if GPA systems have changed at your institutions over the years.  I was in school from nine to fifteen years ago.  GPA systems have changed a number of times through the years, so I had some research and explaining to do on my application.  You will also be required to submit your preferences for geographical location and grade/subject interest.  You are also required to complete a brief online activity. The final interview is the part about which most people stress.  My final interview involved a group of ten to twelve people at a local business office.  We were in a board room for most of the day.  In the morning, we started by giving our sample teaching assignments.  TFA requires each candidate to prepare a five-minute teaching assignment on the topic of the candidate's choice.  It can be geared to any age group.  In my group, topics ranged from how to address an envelope to complex physics.  Candidates who were not teaching served as the students for the other candidates.  My sample teaching plan involved sentence structure and passive and active voice.  Most, if not all, presentations were highly interactive.  Candidates used lots of props and handouts.  I used a handout (nothing fancy--sentences on a sheet of paper) and relied on question/answer type interaction.  Biggest piece of advice--five minutes goes by very quickly.  Don't be too ambitious with your objective.  Practice your lesson in advance and be sure you can accomplish your objective in five minutes.  Time is very strictly monitored.  The atmosphere during our teaching assignments was very collegial.  Candidates were very engaged and supportive of each other. After that, there was a group exercise in which candidates are monitored as they work together to address an issue with which they are presented.  Then, there is a brief written assessment.  The day closes with individual interviews.  The interviews are exactly what you would expect.  Be prepared.  Read up on TFA.  Know why you are applying and what you hope to accomplish. I learned of my acceptance via e-mail on the day they said that decisions would be announced.  With your acceptance, you are notified of your geographical placement, as well as your subject matter and grade.  You are given some time to decide whether to accept your assignment.  I was assigned to middle grades science and social studies in Atlanta (this was later changed to middle or high school social studies or political science).  I accepted, and the journey began!

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