updates for 01.26.2011
I have to give a shout-out now to Girls on the Run. It's a non-profit organization that works to develop self-esteem and healthy relationships in young girls through training to run a 5k. It's a fabulous concept, and you will fall in love with the founder if you watch her TED talk here. My school started in the spring with Girls on the Run for 4th and 5th grade girls, and this season we're also implementing their program for 6th-8th graders (Girls on Track). I'm coaching, and I'm ridiculously excited about it. I had to go to a training just to start to understand all the logistics, but they also handed me the entire season's worth of workshop materials (they do more than just run) and a SCRIPTED curriculum (hello, no extra planning time). It's a pretty big project to start it up, but I think it's going to be worth it. We gave out applications yesterday afterschool and told the girls they would be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis. (There's a limit of 15 girls so that the right community can be formed with enough adult attention.) I had girls outside my classroom this morning before the school was even supposed to be open, and I was putting people on the wait-list by 10am. Turns out the girls are excited too. Cross your fingers this goes well, but it seems promising to me. I'm all about self-esteem, I'm all about running, and I'm definitely all about already-planned lessons!
Today wasn’t a particularly great or terrible day. In fact, I’ll probably forget all about it in the near future. But, there was one quick decision I had to make early this morning that I’ll need much more than today and the near future to grapple with. This decision is the first major ethical decision I’ve tangoed with in quite a long time. I have one student who is doing his second go-around in kindergarten and just looking at him your first reaction would probably be, “Well that’s one big boy.” The kid is built and I bet if he were given the opportunity he could totally take me down. Thankfully, that day hasn’t come. Instead, today he started ripping apart my classroom. He started by throwing pencils at the whole class, then nearly threw his whiteboard at everyone, then tore down my bathroom chart and then, thanks to a parent volunteer who was present, he was able to take a break before my room was really destroyed. Well, my school just enacted a policy that if students choose to make a bad decision that threatens the safety of anyone, then they have to call home, and if they choose to commit an unsafe offense again, they will be sent home for the rest of the day. It was barely 9:00 am and this boy was already at strike 1 and quickly swinging for strike 2. Normally, since I have 28 or 29 kids in the class and I want to keep morale high and learning to a maximum, I’d say “Good riddance.” But this boy is not normal. He comes from a very low income, recently broken home, with parental and child abuse present. Recent scratches on this boy’s face, inflicted by his mother, led our school team to call Child Protective Services this very morning. When faced with the choice of sending him to a potentially unsafe home or keeping him in my classroom where he was hindering the safety of the other students and myself… what was I to do? I chose to send him to the office with the academic dean and noted to her that we were calling CPS this morning for him and so I don’t want to send him home, but I also cannot have him in class. I believe it played out with him getting sent home anyway. I’m not sure if he was put back into his later class and again made bad decisions or if he was just sent straight home. Either way, I feel terrible, even though I think I did what was right. I know I’ll be thinking a lot about how to handle his situation in the coming days or weeks, especially because I’m fairly certain it will happen again. I can only hope that I’m smart enough to make the best decision for this child.
1/20/11 This week has been crazy! Between training for the PPR next Saturday, another TFA meeting on Wed that took 4 hours of my life, and parent conferences/meetings with students, it has just FLOWN by. Even with this though, I have faithfully - cooked two new recipes this week (w/tilapia and tonight with salmon), worked out 3 times, and read at least 4 of the past 5 nights. Awhoop! But this doesn't leave much time for blogging, and honestly the workouts are leaving me completely exhausted. I'm normally tired after teaching, but now at night I fall fast asleep, which I also like. Anyways, since a new policy this semester (from the top) states I must get grades in on THURSDAY instead of SUNDAY, I don't have much time. (p.s. I hope to have a couple of extra grades, to cushion, and then continue with my normal weekend grading schedule? only a little manipulative). Anywho, I present the top 5. Top 5: 5) As I was writing this, I was also cooking my salmon dinner. I had poured this yummy sauce over it, and then put it in the oven. Apparently the sauce that dripped off the salmon and just lay on the dish = problem. It was supposed to cook for 15 min. 8 min in, it starts to smell funny, but I check and no issue. 11 min in, I sniff a funny sniff, and to my horror, there is smoke coming from the oven! I quickly remove it, which only the outer edges of the salmon are burned, but the sauce around it is probably going to be the end of that pan. ai. 4) Writing with the Stars This stemmed from a mixture of sources, so I cannot claim credit except for pulling it all together. I got actual TAKS essays from previous years, which had been given superstar names, such as Miley Cryus, etc. My students were the judges in "Writing with the Stars," and they got to evaluate essays. They LOVED it! I had 100% engagement in every class. And no joke, some of them actually believed they were reading an essay by...say Snoop Dogg. My response to their questions was, "Well, Snoop was a 7th grader once too, you know" whoooooa. Awesomeness. 4) Went to my kid's basketball game. They are SO cute! I just realized how proud I am of them and much I think 7th graders rock. They're still innocent, but they're also funny and reaching that level of intelligence. so so proud of them. even if they're too cool to talk to a TEACHER at the game. 3) Got to see my team leader in action again with some testy parents and students. She is just phenomenal. I began a debrief with a student today about a bullying report, and it was getting NOWHERE. Lead teach steps in,and within minutes she has the actual story. She also took the lead on a 7th grade couple who was sneaking into another teacher's room to kiss during transitions. Love 7th graders b/c 3 of them told me about it during 4th period yesterday. They were mad at this girl, so of course they spilled all. Both students denied it at first, but finally admitted it. My heart was torn by the girl....I mean, I know she needed to receive a consequence... but she was so upset, and begged us not to call her parents, or at least to wait until Friday when her dad left. She said she couldn'thave a boyfriend and that her parents would make her leave our school. Poor thing. This week we're writing essays about a time you regretted doing something.....bet I know what hers with be about.... 2) Critical student improvement The student who scored a 4 on the last benchmark has REALLY turned herself around. She is getting her work in, and I had the privilege of her bursting into my room yesterday morning to proudly show me her two pages. Now, it still wouldn't be passing, but if she keeps pushing herself like this, we'll get it there. I have hope. 1) Toilet Paper Trauma Yes. Every person's worst nightmare. Toilet paper on your shoe, or worse, hanging from your pants. 20 minutes into my lesson, one of my suckup students says, Miss come here, i need to tell you something. Me: get back to work (oh, how the proud fall) Him: No miss, REALLY I walk up to him, he leans down to whisper, (I'm super annoyed b/c I know it's going to be something stupid), as I barely make out "You have something stuck behind your...umm, jacket." My hand flies to my rear, thinking, maybe a piece of paper? only to discover, to my horror, actual. toilet. paper. Mortified, I got rid of it and tried to make light of the moment....."Oh, I know what to write for a time i was embarassed now..." Two of my big gossip/troublemakers were in that class, so I fully expected it to be all over the school the next day. To my relief, no other students have mentioned it yet. Who knows though, I may be known throughout the social networks as "Miss Potty," but I doubt it b/c my kids never get beyond "Miss."
1/10/11 We had a Socratic Seminar in classes today. I was really nervous, but it actually turned out really well! The discussion wasn't super riveting, but the students behaved really well, and I think it laid a solid foundation for future Socractic Seminars. My sister came down last night, so she was able to watch my 1st two classes. I was excited to have her there :) and b/c I achieved A LOT of my to-do list on Sunday in anticipation of her visit. At the end of 1st period, I introduced her, and the kids were all amazed. They wanted to know about the animals she had swum with (she's a marine biology major), were amazed by the penguins response, and if I was nice to her as a sister. A few snapshots: --the SPED student who has been truly blossoming is being withdrawn from school....with the complaint that he has way to much homework...specifically homework over the breaks. Since I'm the only teacher who gives homework over the breaks, I know who that comment is aimed at. I feel horrible, but at the same time, the middle school where they want to send him "because they don't give homework there" isn't going to take care of him like he needs. I'm going to talk with the counselor tomorrow, but I'm worried. --we began the sped ed testing process for a top concern student. I realized why teachers/admins are so hesitant to begin the process.....it is HUGELY time consuming, tedious, and whatnot. Don't take this as complaining.....I truly believe this child needs it. But geez, it just added an extra hour of 1-1 research-based tutoring to mine and the math teachers schedule. I have a better understanding of the intensity of the process to reach a decision as integral to the student's welfare as this. --Made some calls tonight to my students who are failing for stupid reasons like not turning in work. One dad said he'd check....yea, we'll see. Left a voicemail with one mom. She is one who got really defensive the first time I called, so I was very careful in wording - your son will fail this quarter if he doesn't turn in the project that i've already given him an extension for. She JUST called back, angry b/c her son had lied to her about turning it in and grounded him for the rest of the semester from games. Can't say I wasn't a little happy b/c I get in trouble for failings....and I won't pass a student who doesn't turn in work. So that should take care of that problem :) Now, I must be productive because even though tonight I have nothing, the rest of this week is chock-full....back to the usual crazy hey-day.
I started my last semester of college today, and I can already tell it's going to be a long one. The only thing standing between me and my BA in English is one lousy requirement: I need two more English electives. Seems silly to stay on a whole extra semester for two electives, but that's life. My last semester of high school, I remember, I couldn't WAIT to graduate and move on with my life. I was in a constant state of tension that semester, doing whatever I could to make the time pass faster. I'm already seeing a parallel with this semester, but I want Spring 2011 to be different than Spring 2006. I'd like to think I've grown as a person since high school, and I want to enjoy this semester and live in the present as much as I can. I also want to prepare myself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically for my "grown-up" life, aka TFA. I want to enjoy spending time with my family, while I live in the same house with them instead of 1,800 miles away. I want to enjoy the relative simplicity of waitressing as a job. It doesn't consume my life, as I'm sure teaching will. Waitressing is stressful and makes me want to dump french onion soup on people sometimes, but it's a relatively simple job and I don't need to think about it when I'm not physically at work. I want to eat as much Trader Joe's food as I can - apparently the nearest TJ's to the Delta is in Nashville, 300 miles away. I also want to eat In-n-Out as much as I can - I don't go there very often, but I'm sure I'll miss those cheeseburgers. I want to do reasonably well in my classes. At the same time, I don't really care that much. I'll be okay with Bs, I think. I want to go to the beach more. It's 20 minutes away, so it's ridiculous that I don't go very often. I want to get into a more teaching-friendly sleeping schedule. I'm sure I won't be sleeping very much starting in June, but it'll help if I'm used to getting up early and going to bed early. I'm sure I take lots of things about living in Southern California for granted, but I'm SO excited to be moving to a completely new area of the country, living a completely new life. Another mistake I made during that spring semester senior year was assuming that once I moved and transitioned to the next phase in my life, that all of my problems would go away and I'd magically get a new personality. I have to remember this time that wherever I go, I'm still me, and I have to prepare for the intense (to put it mildly) experience I have ahead of me. Part of me wants to just fast-forward through the next four months, but I know I wouldn't be ready if I did that. I have these last few months for a reason, and I want to get the most out of them that I can. All of this resolve won't stop me from obsessing a little bit, though :).
Amidst the pressure that is mounting as the FCAT is looming, I've had absolutely NO time to think about blogging. This little tidbit, however, was too good to file away in my memory box in hopes that it would be written about later... In September, which seems like years ago at this point, I very speedily taught a unit on Reasoning & Proof to my Geometry classes. (Many of you may remember this as the era that included the infamous sex talk with my 7th period. - "Ms. Nolte, what is lube?" Oh, joy.) One of the things we learned was how to write the converse of a conditional statement. Here's a quick lesson, only because it makes the story better: A conditional statement is better known as an if-then statement. Ex. IF it is cloudy, THEN it will rain. The converse of a conditional statement is essentially the same statement, reversed. So, IF it will rain, THEN it is cloudy. Fast-forward to today, as we're covering theorems about rectangles. First theorem: If a rectangle is a parallelogram, then its diagonals are congruent. They marinated on that for a little bit, and we moved on to the next one. If the diagonals are congruent, then the parallelogram is a rectangle. I let them think that over for a few minutes, and then I got ready to start an example. And then, the kicker. One of my students says, "Wait a minute, isn't that like, that thing we learned? What's it called? The con- converse?" I TAUGHT THEM SOMETHING. (At least one of them.)
I have to say, reading some of these blog posts has made me somewhat more apprehensive about my decision to commit to TFA. I definitely don't regret it, and am still very much looking forward to it, and am still humbled and a little shocked that I was accepted. But the overwhelming amount of negative experiences I've read through the past week since I found out I was accepted are--while not exactly disheartening, yet--disconcerting, to say the least. I wonder if people don't blog about positive experiences the way they do negative ones. I've read that one of the common criticisms of TFA is that the organization attempts to suppress or quash negative publicity, such as people's disillusioned blog posts. But I've found no dearth of them online--quite the opposite, in fact. One of the first things that comes up on a Google search of "Teach for America" is a worrisome blog post someone wrote called "How I Got Accepted by Teach For America and Got Sued For 20 Million Dollars," or something to that effect. I read this post with interest, before I was admitted to TFA, as I'm sure thousands of other people who Google TFA do, as well. I know that a lot of the naysaying is a result of people who are bitter over having been rejected, and thus run to the internet to post ideological criticisms of the organization and its execution, so I take these posts with a whopping grain of salt. But browsing Teach for Us has yielded some undeniably honest and earnest details about personal experience in the program that I feel it would be idiotic not to pay attention to. Not that I am going to let them dictate my choices or spoil my excitement, but I am the kind of person who wants to prepare as much as possible for the future. Realizing that it's going to be exceedingly difficult to prepare for this experience is something I'm going to have to adjust to for sure. So far, the organization has been unbelievably supportive. I spoke at length to a regional representative from Baltimore, who was very helpful and kind. I'm supposed to talk to an ECE Baltimore teacher about what I can expect from the ECE program. I got the cutest letter in the mail from a kindergarten class in Baltimore, colored in with crayons, welcoming and thanking me, as well as a few goodies and congratulations from TFA. My parents and I participated in the Baltimore regional conference call last night, which answered a lot of questions for us. And my parents are very pleased and excited by the financial offers from the organization, as well as my opportunity to get my Master's from John Hopkins while I fulfill my teaching commitment. These all seem to be positive signs. Of course, what is the most important to me is the mission of TFA, and my enthusiasm and passion for closing the achievement gap, and my personal obsession with doing what I can to help promote racial and social equality. No matter what I read on the internet, I am still devoted, already, to the cause, and I'm not going to change my mind, and I certainly don't see myself "quitting." I just always need to prepare myself, perhaps to a neurotic degree, and this has resulted in some apprehension. I hope that there are more happy stories out there, of people who develop a love of teaching and feel like they can and are truly making a difference. It would be nice if joining TFA wasn't so commonly linked to "martyrdom." While I can appreciate the necessity for self-sacrifice, I am hoping to learn a lot about myself and challenge myself in a way that benefits me, too. Does that sound selfish? Is that a bad attitude? Maybe. While my commitment to the kids is already the force behind my decision to apply for and accept a position at TFA, it'll be nice if I don't come out of the program personally ruined at the same time. But I'm sure this is all very, very premature worrying. I don't want to sound negative in this blog because I truly am excited and can't wait to graduate and start TFA. I am also so grateful and lucky to be placed in Baltimore, considering I am from DC, which is so close. My boyfriend lives in DC and many of my friends from high school and some from college live in DC and Baltimore. My support structure will be so close by, which I think will make a huge difference. I guess I just feel that that old adage "It's better to be pleasantly surprised than severely disappointed" rings true in my life. I don't want to go into TFA thinking and believing that I will end every day smiling and singing and that I will immediately make a huge difference and feel like a hero. I want to be realistic about what I'm about to do.
My family moved to America from Bangladesh in 2004. When we landed in California, I knew this was the place for me. This was it- I had found my home away from home. On many instances I have told my peers that once I am done with my undergraduate studies in Berkeley, I will settle in San Francisco or Los Angeles. I never thought of a life outside California. Perhaps this little background makes it easier for one to understand why the last week has been such a hectic, scary, fun, exciting and thrilling week for me. So much has happened ever since I got accepted to Teach For America. The first day, my boyfriend Daniel and I were both freaked out. We had discussed moving when I submitted my placement preferences. He knew how serious I was about this and was very supportive all throughout the interview process. It was not until now however that it actually hit us that we will be moving. The furthest I have lived from my family in Orange County is in Berkeley 350 miles away. My adorable and loving mother calculated that Nashville is 2,000 miles away from Southern California. Daniel would have to abandon his job as a relief counsellor at the Progress Foundation, a job that pays well and he loves. He has never lived outside California so this will be a big move for him as well. Most of this anxiety was however, gone by the day after my acceptance. I knew how badly I wanted to do Teach For America, and so did he. It was what I have been wanting to do for a while and he knows just as well as me that I would never be able to say no to such a wonderful opportunity. I am blessed that I was one of the chosen ones. SO... once we got past all this, the excitement took over every worry we had. I have already slowly started to sell all out stuff. Some of the smaller things in the apartment are gone, and I listed all my books online for sale. We have decided to sell his BMW and only take my awesome little Toyota to Nashville with us. We are moving on 1st June, and thanks to my lovely friend Jessica (the only person I know in Nashville...) we have found some nice apartments in Bellevue that we are looking to rent. With my transitional funding and the money I have saved up from working the last 6 months, we should be able to do it. I had kind of been driving myself crazy in the last couple of days looking for apartments and then realized we can just lease for a couple of months and if we really hate it, we can move to a better place. At least the Lexington offers a 6 month lease for $799 which sounds great. We live in the Bay Area and pay $1,220 in rent right now. This is great news for us. I have also signed myself up for the Praxis II. The tests will take place in March (12th I believe). Its really soon but I signed up because I was super stoked that they are offering one in my area. My parents have also been taking the news better than they were before. So far things has been going smoothly. Taking to some of the Teach For America Alums and Corp members in the Bay Area over the TFA sponsored dinner absolutely helped the process. Its good to see people who were once in your shoes doing so well! No that we have this housing issue settled, I am going to be looking up strategies for teaching Secondary English.... well of course, I must deal with the 6 classes I am signed up for in Berkeley first. Things are going to be hard, and maybe I will never be totally prepared to deal with them but that's OK. I am very passionate about education, I love children and I truly believe that they can be successful. I learnt this at an early age when I was a child in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world with some of the brightest people I have ever met. In the end, it will all work out. It always does. I am so excited for this move! I will always be a O.C. girl, and I will never forget the beauties of San Francisco. Every time I drive on the Bay Bridge now I think about how much I will miss the bay. That being said, I am sure Nashville will be a wonderful, life-changing and unique experience. 4 months till Nashville!
I love this country. Though sometimes my anxiety about becoming a bilingual educator mixed with excessive studying for the CSET (one of 2 certification tests California needs me to pass to be a teacher) makes me shake my head in shame, Let me recap:
I understand that students who are still learning English are a harder group to teach. There's a language barrier that makes it more challenging for them to understand the teacher, read the question, and articulate their thoughts. We have to go through special training to teach Structured English Immersion classrooms (which is basically all classrooms in Arizona, and requires two semesters of ASU coursework for me) because there are different strategies you need to use and different ways to approach a classroom when there are children in it who do not speak the dominant language. I get that. What I don't get is why there are so many people who talk about English Language Learners (ELLs) as if that designation makes them moronic. I literally heard a colleague say, "My classroom has special ed kids, and ELL kids, and they just don't even know how to think!" She was in a workshop, feeling exasperated, and we all nodded along looking sorry for her. I pick on her here because I remember the words as they came out of her mouth, but it's not an uncommon sentiment and no one batted an eyelash when she said it. Forgive me, but I'm confused about the relationship between speaking the local language and knowing how to think. I was never aware those two were directly related. I studied abroad and took classes at a university full of Spanish speakers. I struggled to keep up with the professor, and when I talked I butchered grammar while only expressing relatively simple ideas. Despite that, I consider myself a relatively intelligent human being, and I know my IQ didn't miraculously plummet while I was living there. I'm lucky; I get to see a great side of the ELL kids, because math is a language in itself. Sure, they struggle on the word problems and that makes standardized test scores drop, but some of the best math students in my classroom are ELL. Speaking Spanish as a first language actually doesn't make you dumber, believe it or not. I wish that so many of their teachers didn't believe otherwise.
So I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a middle-class suburb in Northern Los Angeles County. For the past two years, I've studied in Irvine, a very affluent neighborhood in Orange County. Irvine ranks as the nation's safest nation, and Baltimore ranks as the 10th most dangerous. I've been reading articles on the Baltimore Sun to virtually familiarize myself with my new home, and it's surreal. A "crime" portion doesn't even exist on the OC Register, but the Baltimore Sun reports crime as casually as the LA Times maps traffic with their SigAlert app. I'm a quirky 19 year old girl with plenty of life lessons to learn, but I also have an infinite amount of passion and perseverance. I'm guilty of valspeak and using SoCal lingo; it's who I am. I've got this glaze of unbridled child wonder in my eyes, and the combination of naivete and valspeak often gets misinterpreted for stupidity. I've got 5 months left at UC Irvine before summer institute and my life in Baltimore. I'm more excited to simply prove myself than prove others wrong, but I'm not going to lie-- I'm totes excited about the latter, too.
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