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updates for 03.03.2011

13 new posts today

<10 days

I have no idea where the time has gone. I almost feel like I haven't learned anything new since I posted 12 days ago! I looked up what score I need to pass NJ's DoE requirements- a 145. Of course the actual grading is somewhat elusive, but it's roughly a 73%. If the test were only the 90 MC questions, I could get about 22 questions wrong, which just happens to be the approximate number of Physics and Chemistry questions on the test. Ha. Of course I know I won't get ALL of the questions in any section wrong, but it was a little bit of a comfort at least. At this point, I feel fully confident with about 45% of the information. There's still about 30% that I am totally still just trying to wrap my head around. I have been watching YouTube videos of teachers which has been surprisingly effective. I have even been using my Netflix to order Physics and Chemistry lesson DVDs. I can't help but feel like a bit of an impostor. I know that TFA had someone reviewing my academic history and that they thought I was qualified for this placement, but I do question it. Family members keep saying, "But you have your B.S.! Of course you can teach middle schoolers!" They don't seem to realize I have no more experience with Chemistry or Physics than any other person that graduated from high school... 5 years ago... (and I have never had a class in Astronomy!). I guess I'm just afraid I will do a disservice to these kids who need that the least. If I can't, for the life of me, sort out and conceptualize entropy what business do I have teaching it? In non-Praxis news, my box of pre-Institute goodies came last Wednesday. I couldn't help myself and read the intro to Teaching As Leadership and I spent my non-productive hours (when my mind is too much of a sieve to retain important science facts) listening to the audio file of Ms. Lora's story. Cooking to Ms. Lora's story, straightening my hair to Ms. Lora's story, drifting off to sleep to Ms.  Lora's story. Granted, it took about 8-9 hours, which is far slower than if I had been reading it myself, but it was enjoyable! I haven't started formally doing any of the exercises. Those will have to wait another 11 days.


My math geniuses

The multiplication unit was a piece of cake for my 2nd graders...the lowest grade on the unit exam was an 80...2 of those....2 90s and the rest were 100s. They hit it out of the park! Today, we went outside to the hard court after breakfast to play a multiplication game where I drew all the answers to the 2s multiplication facts with sidewalk chalk. I divided the class into two teams and then I would shout out a multiplication fact and two players at a time would run around like chickens with their heads cut off looking for the answer. They were having so much fun...they don't even realize that they're learning. We also spent the day wearing name tags with an individual multiplication fact. Their name for the day was the answer to their fact. Kids all over the school were calling out the answers as we lined up to go different places. Even the principal got into the action. Our line leader was 2 x 9 for the day...so she asked him "What's 2x9?" Without missing a beat, he answered "18." I was so proud....:) Now I need to think up of more math games. These kids will know all their multiplication facts by the end of the year....they will!! Those kids from Finland won't have anything on my kids!!


The highs and lows of a day in the life

7:00 AM: Arrive at school earlier than normal due to the need to lesson plan for the day (I usually do it the night or weekend before). The person that typically unlocks the school was not there, so I sit in my car (by myself at first, and then with other teachers as they arrive). 8:00 AM: Building opens. I have less than an hour to make class work, beat the rush to the copier, and cut up sheets of paper into squares for an activity. I don't give homework because I didn't have time to make it. 8:45AM: Children begin to arrive in my classroom. Darren knocks me over as he runs through the hall and into my classroom. 9:00 AM: Class begins. It's "hat day" so we do a quick activity where the kids measure the diameter of their hat and then find the radius and the circumference. 9:30 AM: The guidance counselor comes into my classroom and tells me I need to attend a 10 minute meeting about one of my kid's 504 plans; she says  she will watch my kids because the meeting is now, in the middle of class and with no prior notice. I get the kids started on the next activity and leave. 10:15 AM: After forty-five minutes of the "ten minute" meeting where a child advocate explains to my principal and assistant principal all of the illegal things my school is doing (the list is quite long, actually) I finally remind administration that I was in the middle of TEACHING and they let me go back to class. I was half-glad for the break but half-annoyed that I basically just lost an entire mod of instruction, especially since I had left the kids with only about 20 minutes of work. 10:30: Attend a meeting on testing security and eat lunch. 11:30: Enter in grades, organize supplies, respond to e-mail. 12:30: 3rd mod starts. The lesson goes ok-- kids won't stop talking but that's normal. 2:00: 4th mod starts. Thirty-seven out of my 38 kids are present, and it seems like all 37 of them want to repetitiously tap their ruler against their desks. Ten kids have their rulers taken away and I make a personal note to not use rulers for a month because they are driving me crazy. 3:45 Children leave. I clean up the classroom, write one referral for a kid walking out of class, enter more grades, make class work and homework for the following day, use the copier, e-mail and call parents for both positives and negatives. 6:30: Attend the "MSA Parent Dinner Night"--talk to parents about what the MSA is and why it's important. 8:30: Finally leave school (it is not normal for me to stay this late!). When I get in the car, but before driving away, I return a call to Ms. G,  Rianna's mom, (who I left a positive message with earlier) and her mom and I have a great conversation. We discover that we are both from California and both went to UCs. Rianna is a kid who had shot me with a rubberband earlier in the year; since then, her mom and I have had a rocky relationship. Now, however, after a few positive calls to Ms. G and several months later, she tell me she thinks I should be teacher of the year or a congress person to advocate for education in the county where I teach. We connect over being from California and she shares with me the news that she is a grandma as of last Friday. I congratulate her and we talk about some options for how she can get her daughter to go to a better high school than Rianna's assigned neighborhood school.


lighter note

a story from yesterday, to make today go down a little easier: L got sick at breakfast. Personally, I think he probably just ate too quickly. In any case, at roughly the same time he should've been standing up to return his tray, he vomited. I hear you. You're thinking, "Gross." L's vomit was phenomenal for a number of reasons: 1. All of it- and I do mean all of it- landed in his tray. 2. When it was his turn to get up, even though he'd just returned his partially digested breakfast to its place of origin, he got up. 3. He started to get in line to return his tray with vomitty spit hanging from his mouth. 4. He did not cry, he did not complain. Another child came to tell me that he'd gotten sick. He didn't break from our routine until after I'd approached him, seen the mess, and told him he should sit back down.


recess - the best part of the day

I discovered why all the recess monitors were grumpy back when I was a kid. They just walked around and told us not to do stuff. Well, now that I'm also a recess monitor, I also walk around and tell kids not to do stuff. And it makes me grumpy, too. Then I discovered Tag. Unlike pushing on swings, which is no fun (I give any child that asks one push. Only one. Of course, it's a fantastic push, but just one), Tag is perfect. I can run, laugh, and actually play with the kids without losing authority with them. So that's the secret: the recess monitors were grumpy because they couldn't play, too. It's time to reinstate recess as the best part of the day! :)


Praxis II: Mild Freak-Out

My Praxis is in 10 days. I've been arduously studying, but I realized that this little CliffNotes book consolidates about 7 years of high school math. And that freaked me out. Just a little.


And it's just like starting over

I ended a tumultous 3 year relationship today: I left my job. Sorta. I left the position I've had for 3 years...I've stepped down to a lower capacity now so I can focus on TFA.  Work consumed all hours of my life.  I was always on call for it.  I relied on it and it relied on me.  This is the first time in years t hat I when I wake up in the morning, I know that things will go on without me.  Granted, this break is short--barely a month before I'm back at work and 6 weeks before I test again, but it's all strange.  Walking out with the last box of my things today was very bittersweet.  The past 3 years have taught me so much about myself and the people around me, good and bad.  It taught me I'm stronger then I always give myself credit for and that sometimes you really can only rely on yourself.  This has prepared me to be a teacher...I know how to plan and to organize.  I can make a list for anything.  I write directions in my sleep.  But am I ready to be a teacher?  I don't know and that scares me.


If you don't want to learn- leave.

I walked into my classroom today with 20 minutes to spare. This is a rare occurrence, but one I took no chance in wasting, as I eagerly erased our DEAR seating chart and our language center schedule from my chalkboard. Yeah, we still have one of those. I took my two biggest remaining pieces of chalk and turned them sideways for more emphasis, scrawling in large block letters:


is dedicated to


If you don't want to learn- leave.

I believe I made my point, as my children walked in to hushed whispers of "where do we write our names?" and "March is d....March is decayed? March is dictated?"

DEAR went by smoothly with the exception of Tyrik emerging from the bathroom after 20 minutes of low grunts with the explanation of "man Ms. Dilks, I knew I shouldn't have eaten that cheese on the donuts..." (he's allergic.) As we returned to our seats to begin spelling, our eyes were drawn to the board and the relatively large message in the front of the room.

"Ms D, what that is?"

I explained that after yesterday, in which I went home frustrated -- depleted --, and realized it was MARCH, and I had less than 2 months until the MCT2, I made a decision. I, Ms. D, was not going to lose sight of what was important: school is for getting smart, right? (echoes of yes maam, right, amen, etc.) We're here to learn, right? (preach, uh huh, yes maam.) Then we need to remember that every day when we come to school, we don't come to complain, or whine, or talk to our friends, or yell and scream, or stand on our heads, or whatEVER it is that we feel is more important than.....

"Learning?" Jada finished my sentence.


"And if you don't feel like learning?" I asked. Several small, yellow-shirted arms pointed towards the trailer door. I nodded.

"Anybody need to leave?" No noise. No movement. My 11 year old faked like he was going to leave, but I teacher-stared him back into his desk in a milli-second.

"Results," I hear you demanding! "What were the results of your awesome morning breakthrough?!?!?!?!"

I wrote up two kids by lunchtime. Kels told the 11 year old "you can fight but you can't read." This was shortly followed by Ali-Baba telling my 11 year old, during silent lunch (yeah that's right, telling....which implies talking....follow along) that if he told he'd be a ************ blankity blank blank snitch.

So in case anybody forgot:

March is dedicated to learning.


An Unexpected Smile

Now here's a cheesy one. One that I hear people talk about and I gag a little because I think: 1. I will never have sweet cheesy stories 2. They are making it up to sound like good teachers So now, needless to say, my 2 thoughts have been altered. I am trying to go back to my first days of school and recount the hilarious/ridiculous things that have happened, but after speaking on Facebook chat with an old friend, I realized that I needed to write. This week progress reports were given out. I reflected on the grades that the students were going to see beforehand and was happy to see that one student in particular (let's call him Benry... since you can't figure out his real name from that) had a B. Now Benry is two years behind, meaning he is supposed to be in 7th grade. He's a hormone-raging, anxious, young man. He started out the year by lashing out at my team teacher constantly, rarely participating in class, and constantly finding ways to cause madness. I never saw him smile. His first marking period grade: F. Second marking period grade: D. Now: B! Right when Benry came in my class I pulled him aside. "You know, progress reports go out tomorrow," I say. He looks up with that "and why do I care?" look. "You know what you have...?" *Silence* "B." Benry's left cheek lifts a little as a smile creeps upon his face.


congrats, R. you found my limit.

when I revise my classroom management tone to try to accomodate your moods, i expect a response. when I am acutely aware of your moods and do absolutely everything i can think of to pull you out of them (to varying degrees of success) i expect you to learn, eventually, to improve them on your own. when what I do works for all but 3 students in the room 99% of the time, it's no longer my problem. it's your problem. spending 90% of my energy to try to control those 3 students is not sustainable. i can't do it. the fact that you're 6 no longer makes a difference. i am out of ideas regarding how to address this kid's misbehavior within the boundaries of my school's discipline policy- a policy i fully support. sending him out of the room, calling home... that's what he *wants*. he wants attention more than anything else. scene: Me: R, sit correctly. R: no response. Me: R, sit correctly or go to Ms. N's room. R: no response. Me: R, you can either take yourself to Ms. N's room, or I will get the principal to come remove you. R: "Go get the principal." I lost a power struggle with a child. I do not want to do this anymore. Not that there's any chance this post portrays me in a positive light... in the interest of full disclosure, the last step I took before leaving my classroom defeated, in tears, was to scream at him. the worst part is... well, pick one: the shame I feel for how I handled the situation, the embarassment of defeat (to a child, no less), or the hopelessness of knowing that I've got no idea how to keep this same shit from happening tomorrow.


On Black History Month

I'm not going to go into the politics behind Black History Month. Rather, I'd like to talk about how Black History Month influenced my school. There were two narratives for the month of February, one that was uplifting and one that was depressing. Uplifting: Our school incorporated a series of fantastic, truly unique events for Black History Month: (1) C.R. Gibbs, a local DC lecturer and specialist on African-American history, gave a slide presentation on the role of DC African-Americans in the Civil War. If anything, I got a much more thoughtful understanding of DC's place in US history, particularly as it relates to race relations. He focused on the 1st Regiment of DC Colored Volunteers, which was formed soon after the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  Here are some other nuggets of information that I learned:

  • The only extant slave plantation building in DC is 1/2 a block from the Eastern Market metro station.
  • The phrase, "City of Magnificent Intentions" (which became the title of the DC history textbook), was coined by Charles Dickens in his American Notes.
  • Solomon Northrop, in his autobiographical narrative, Twelve Years a Slave, exposed one of the cruel ironies of DC in one observation: "A slave pen within the very shadow of the Capitol!"
It was uplifting to see the way that DC blacks played a valuable role during the Civil War.

(2) The Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz presented its "Jazz Across America" concert to our school. T.S. Monk, Thelonius Monk's son, gave the opening remarks before an all-star cast (i.e. Grammy-winning and -nominated artists) composed of Chris Thomas King, Bobby Watson, MC Supernatural and Lisa Henry took the stage. The artists attempted to connect the dots from past to present by performing a historical progression of music.
  • Guitarist Chris Thomas King began with some Delta blues, playing "Come on in My Kitchen."
  • Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson then transitioned into more modern jazz, playing Paul Williams' "Hucklebuck."
  • MC Supernatural closed the show, showing how hip hop's rhymes and syncopation grew out of these other genres of music. The best part about the show was when MC Supernatural invited students to bring up items to the stage. He freestyled about these items, which ranged from hand lotion to $20 bills to pencils and books (fun fact: MC Supernatural holds the Guinness World Record for longest freestyle at over 9 straight hours).
It was uplifting to see the way that many students explicitly made the connection between modern-day and past music. (3) Ronald Machen, DC's US Attorney, came to speak about his path to success. A Harvard Law School graduate and a former Assistant US Attorney, Mr. Machen clearly symbolized success, particularly to the predominantly black student body. His talk encompassed a range of topics:
  • He made the connection between education and crime, arguing that the best way to reduce crime is to educate a community's students.
  • He also described some grim trends in DC: violent crimes, overall, are down, but juvenile crime is up significantly. In fact, over 30% of the 135 murders in 2010 involved juveniles, either as victims or attackers.
  • He explained his theory for why juveniles committed crimes and argued that most crime was borne out of (a) overreaction (b) insecurity or (c) ignorance. He emphasized the need to "let things go" and not allow a petty argument spiral out of control.
It was uplifting to see the way the students were mesmerized by his talk, even though he, in some salient ways, symbolizes what many students at my school despise--the "Feds" or the "popos." (4) My school had a Black History Month Assembly, which included a range of performances and presentations. Most notably, a student reenacted Frederick Douglass' speech, "Men of Color, To Arms!" It was really inspiring. It was uplifting to see a school community focused on commemorating a crucial part of US history. Depressing: Thankfully, I don't have much to say here. However, the little I do have to say is extremely sad. Throughout the month's events, there was a sizable chunk of students who showed a complete disregard for, or appreciation of, black history:
  • The C.R. Gibbs lecture began just before the final school bell rang. As soon as it did, 75% of the present students shot up out of their seats and left, right as Mr. Gibbs was mid-sentence describing the role of black soldiers during the Civil War. Fewer than a half dozen students remained for the rest of the lecture.
  • During the "Jazz Across America" concert, a mass of students also peaced out of the auditorium after the second lunch bell rang, right in the middle of Grammy Award-winner Chris Thomas King was playing a blues song.
  • A number of students refused to stand up or take off their hats as the school sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Black National Anthem. Instead, they chose to holler at and make fun of others who were singing.
I was depressed to see that, despite the amazing, unforgettable opportunities to learn--no less, on topics focused on one's own heritage--the majority of students either chose not, or knew no better than, to reflect. profile counter

That time of year?

Our middle school building is quickly becoming a disaster zone. We have kids skipping classes, doing drugs in the bathrooms, fighting, stealing, swearing at teachers... and that's just the big blatant stuff. What's worse is all the low-grade obnoxiousness and defiance that make it hard to run a classroom and maintain a feeling of control. It's throughout the whole middle school, and I know I speak for all the teachers when I say it's driving me insane. I know it's that time of year. But we also had the months of February and March last year, and my classroom management was a thousand times worse, and I don't remember feeling like there was this much insanity all around me. I'm going to blame it on the fact that of our 14 teachers, 2 have long-term substitutes in their classrooms and only 4 have been here for any substantial number of years. The substitutes alone mean that some kids spend half their days out of control and not learning anything. All the inexperienced teachers (myself included) don't necessarily help the situation much. Last year, I felt like it was me against my kids, and I knew that they were taking advantage of me but that they were pretty good in their other classes. This year, it feels like the whole school against the kids... and I have this sinking feeling that the teachers might be losing.


Inspiring readers through illustrations

As one of our favorite author/illustrators will soon tell you:  for a reluctant or struggling reader, learning to enjoy illustrations may be the motivation they need to pick up a book and discover the delight of reading. Understanding how artwork can compliment a story and help bring imagination to life may inspire future illustrators to tell stories through images. As March is “Youth Art Month,” here is some advice from Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series and The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, on the importance of encouraging expression through art in the classroom.

When I was a kid, I loved to draw and make up stories. I didn’t worry about drawing things perfectly or spelling things correctly. I just wanted to get my ideas and stories on paper. I loved the freedom that came with creating stories just for fun. Once I got published, I spent years traveling to different schools and talking with kids about my books. During these school visits, I was surprised to learn that most kids didn’t consider themselves to be artists or writers. Most kids thought they had to be able to draw Garfield perfectly to be an artist. They had also convinced themselves that they needed to spell perfectly in order to be writers. Everywhere I went, I met kids who were stifled creatively because of their fears of imperfection. My goal at these school visits was to encourage kids to be creative without worrying about being perfect. I showed kids examples of Impressionists who drew houses upside down, painted freely, and broke all the rules. Much to the dismay of the teachers in the room, I also gave examples of famous writers and poets who didn’t use conventional spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I think the kids I spoke with were inspired by these examples, but I wanted to reach more kids, all over the world. That’s how Captain Underpants came along. I designed each book to contain two or three “mini-comics” which were created by the stories’ protagonists, George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George and Harold’s simple, silly, and wildly imperfect mini-comics turned out to be one of the most popular parts of each book. My hope was that George and Harold’s “imperfect examples” would give kids permission to invent their own stories without concern for perfectionism, and so far, it seems to have worked. Every year, I get hundreds of original comics and stories mailed to me from kids. These kids didn’t make their comics because of a school assignment. None of these stories were proofread or graded or marked up with a red pen. These stories were all made for one reason—for fun! And isn’t that what creativity is all about?

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