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updates for 03.21.2011

9 new posts today

Probable Causes

Two years ago, around this time, this is what my brain felt would be cathartic to spit into the abyss of the internet:

I still, for the most part, wake up every morning firmly believing my kids will choose today, Monday (or Tuesday or whatever day) to start doing everything they’re supposed to, take life seriously; in essence, they’ll stop being eleven and start being amazing. I recognize the unlikelihood of this, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming and preparing for the day when they come in, sit down, and do their work.

I go on to make some killer Cubs metaphors (a recurring theme in my blog), bemoan the life of a first-year teacher, and end with a somewhat positive outlook on life. Looking back on my first year in teaching, I have no idea how I was positive at all.

That being said, I feel decidedly negative at the same point in the school year, two years later. The difference between my first year and my third, I've decided, is that my negativity does not stem from the actions of my kids. I'm not sure what it comes from, but I've narrowed it down to some key probable causes:

  • I'm leaving the Delta. This horrifies me, and moreover, makes me incredibly sad. Unlike when I graduated college, I am way more in tune with my emotions to the point that I am already at the crying-all-the-time stage. This is unfortunate in that it's March and I'm not leaving until the first part of June. That's a lot of tears, so I'm going to need to work on staying hydrated.
  • I'm not sure how proud I am of how hard I've worked this year. Looking around me, thinking about last year, and thinking about what I wanted to accomplish, I feel...negligent. Like on every single to-do list I made I ended up just ignoring three or four items and watching TV instead.
  • I don't know how I feel about "teacher forever" as a life goal. Don't get me wrong- I am definitely fine with teaching next year. I like the plan of teaching to help me pay back my loans. I have been saying since the beginning of TFA that I wanted to "teach until I got good at it." I'm definitely not good at it. But, as I've mentioned previously, there are other things I want to be good at too...
  • The Cubs starting rotation. This is always a low point in my life around the end of March. I don't need to go into details, just know that this year, unless there are some drastic changes made in the NL Central, is probably not "the year."
So what is it? Why, instead of being able to grade and track my 9 weeks tests (on which we showed some major improvement from our dismal averages in December, thank you very much), do I descend into tears? It's not a bursting into tears, as the phrase would have you imagine, but a slow devolving from normal functioning ability to a small, fetal-position-in-a-folding-chair mess, clutching a blue pen, feebly attempting to soldier on because I want to make this week a relaxing one, even though I've got things in the afternoons 3 of my 5 days. I'm not relaxing, I'm crying, thus defeating my game plan in the first place! What the hell, psyche! Am I just wasting my time pouting? Most likely. Will this resonate with anyone else? Most likely. But that's not the point. The point is, for me, that after three years of the exact same school ups and downs, I still can't pinpoint the life things that upset me. Sure, my kids will be antsy, or nervous, or moody. I can predict when, and where, and to what extreme. So does my ability to predict what goes on in the 180 days within the confines of a school decrease my ability to understand my own emotions?

Back in Action!

3/20/11 I always get nervous when I go more than a weekend without teaching. Worried that some big change will have happened that will make me a sucky teacher when I get back. Silly, I know, but I can't help it. Spring break was great. Family, friends, and fun...couldn't ask for more. Add in a little spring cleaning, book editing, and unit planning, and I did just about everything! I'm REALLY pumped about the new unit we're starting. Half of my elation comes from the fact that I'm using another teacher's lesson plans. Sometimes I marvel at my stupidity last semester for trying to create EVERYTHING on my own. NO THANKS! I'm modifying someone else's successes to fit my classroom, the solid framework is there, and it feels great! I'm also going over rules/procedures because EVERYONE says things get crazy after spring break. But we still have 5 weeks until reading TAKS, so I have to maintain control. And I just have too many cool things planned to let their summer break tear them away from me yet. So we'll see! My roommate and I are going to a 5:30 a.m. gym class tomorrow. Her choice. I said I'd go but that I probably wouldn't be smiling. We'll see how it goes :S ...sleeping off carbs or burning off carbs....hmmmmm ;)


Livin' on a prayer

(an older post, but worth posting) 3/10/11 Internet went out on Tuesday. While it was a great way to get into a reflective mindset for Ash Wednesday, it is now Thursday, and I'm not too amused. Luckily, I have a teacher friend who is letting me get a Facebook and normal internet function fix. This week has been very powerful. We finished our novel, which ends dramatically with the revelation that our protagonist's struggles have stemmed from being raped at a summer party the year before. I had been extremely nervous about breaching this topic with 7th graders, and I had literally planned out line by line what I would say to lead the discussion after we got to the particular chapter. I cannot express how impressed I was with my 7th graders, and how much my views of them were altered. They rose to the expectations I set for them. We reviewed the maturity pledge before beginning the conversation, and then I presented some statistics. I would venture that 70% already knew the word rape or knew what it meant, even if they didn't know the word. With the type of shows shown now, it's no surprise. They handled it very maturely though, and I told them I'd answer their questions as honestly as I could. This prompted some interesting questions, and also a group of girls coming in during lunch with some questions they weren't ready to spring full-class. Today, I experienced that, geez, I'm blessed to be a teacher moment. Last night, the students wrote reflections on something they want to talk about, since the main message behind the book was that the protagonist had to "speak" about her experiences to prevent others from experiencing a similar fate. (The book is called "speak" btw, and I highly recommend it for all ages. It is a powerful, symbolic, funny book.) For homework, they had to "speak" about something. Probably half of my students wrote about either uniform policy or lunch food. Some, however, wrote about the plight of sea turtles or about recycling. One wrote about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Several wrote about family members who have died or who have been raped. Several shared secrets with big *DO NOT SHARES* written at the top. Several ladies wrote about the woes of "loving" someone who doesn't love them back. Being an English teacher is the best :)


Feelin' It

by Jay-Z. Nerd alert!: I've recently become all about understanding the cognitive processes behind student learning of mathematics. I've also discovered that there's very little research on math learning in elementary grades. I'm so NOT down with this reality because math is not only a really important tool for social justice (because if you understand math you can really understand things like school funding, incarceration rates in your community and can sort out data presented by politicians and others as facts, when they're just interpretations) but also for daily functioning. I don't love math, but I love what you can do with it and how empowered you can feel when you can do it correctly. It's actually really important to develop math abilities in young children so that they can a - learn more complicated math based on a foundation of superb mathematically understanding and b - develop an appreciation for math as a tool and develop a positive attitude towards the study of mathematics. I'm really about integrating math into every single subject, every single day. I will also be telling my students that they've been placed in my class because they are extreme capable students and have a most special aptitude for learning and using advanced mathematics (obviously it's totally unethical, but part of me wishes I could have a control group. I guess the results alone will have to speak for themselves). So on the research let me just let y'all know that: babies know the difference between 2 and 3 (not the numbers, the amounts). Babies (and thus all humans) have an innate ability to recognize the relative size of groups. Humans can do this without instruction. More advanced mathematical concepts, like addition, require abstract thought and aren't essential for survival - so humans have to be taught addition rules, strategies and skills. Luckily, we humans, have an innate ability to use language which means we were literally born to understand things symbolically. I'm feeling learning this knowledge and I'm so jazzed about figuring out how to apply it in lessons (like using a student-centered language to make base 10 more intuitive). I can't wait to teach and I really can't wait to teach math!



It is spring break. Do you understand the magnitude of that statement? It is 80 degrees outside in Dumas, Arkansas. I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt that I stole from Caitlin in the 9th grade, paper thin, from Mackinac Island, MI. My face is tan, because Friday I spent the entire day outside with my classes. They all chose to use their class points on an extra recess. I fully fuuully support that over sitting in the dark watching a movie (though that would have been significantly nicer on my head, which was pounding by the end of the day). But my current situation is not the point of this post. The point is it is spring break right now. Tomorrow I will board an aeroplane, then another, and the second landing will be in Portland, Oregon, to see my beautiful college best friend Valerie. This is insane, this is too insane. Spring Break is an important landmark in first year teaching. I feel it requires some reflection. First, my students. They did a cold prompt on Thursday, and I've graded two classes so far. The prompt was to write a personal narrative about a time when they were afraid. The responses are overwhelming. A few responses so far have included: going to hell, meeting a twin for the first time since they were separated as 3-month-old infants, life (which included a confessed suicide attempt, my heart broke on the spot), going outside (because of constant bullying/abuse from neighbors), roller coasters, snakes, black holes, and the dark. I am so impressed with my students. Impressed and in awe. Often, I notice teachers catching and reprimanding things that are definitely deserving of reprimands, but that are things I don't notice. Why? Because I almost see these kids, kids, as peers. How is that? I have so much respect from them, learn so much about them and from them, that I frequently overlook things that I am supposed to teach them. I am sure students grow huge amounts every year of school, but something tells me that sixth grade is a particularly amazing year to watch. This is the beginning of the great P word: puberty. Some students who were itty bitty quiet children in August are now boisterous, developed pre-teens. As for myself and my classroom, I am so full of gratitude. I've think the single most amazing thing in a teacher-student relationship is trust. Building trust with students has changed me as a person. Sixth graders can be so mature, and so childish. I WISH I COULD EXPLAIN THIS FEELING BETTER. I have a student who in the beginning of the year would sit at an isolated desk and rip his paper into tiny bits, talking through the entire class, taking off his shoes, and humiliating me. On Thursday he asked for TWO EXTRA PIECES of paper for his essay, formatted it perfectly, and used every kind of figurative language we learned in class. He is the one who wrote about getting beat up if he went outside. He is the one who I think trust was the single most essential part of him working in my class. I could be wrong. I'm frustrated by how disorganized this post is, maybe I'll attempt again in a few days, but (sigh) I can't put into words how proud I am that I have endured and loved these seven months. Tomorrow the custodians are moving my classroom into the new building. I will very likely be without my smartboard AGAIN for another... who knows. Probably until the end of the year. But I get a room that is clean with white walls and built in shelves. I get to have complete control over what goes into my room and where. I know that it is going to make me feel so much more permanent, like it is my space, my classroom, my students. I know it's going to be a big mental change for the better, in contrast to this room that I moved into, where I inherited so many things I didn't understand. I could go on and on, but I'll save it for when I have my thoughts more together. For now I'm going to go sunbathe on the third grade playground.


A Meaningful Spring Break

I just returned from my last spring break ever. While I am so looking forward to graduation, I'm sad I'll never travel again with my large group of college friends - friends I have grown so close to these past four years, I can't imagine my life without. Freshman year we spent a week in Puerto Rico, sophomore year a week in Lake Tahoe, and this year, a week in New Orleans. While I won't get into the details of our late nights out on Frenchmen and Bourbon streets, I was struck by the city of New Orleans in a way I haven't been in other cities, American or abroad. The spirit of the city, something I have heard so much about since Hurricane Katrina, was evident in every aspect of life - from the food and drink to the street artists and numerous brass bands I was fortunate enough to find. Everyone seemed like they were just having a good time, and made my friends and I feel insanely welcome. At the same time, New Orleans was the easiest city, in my limited travel experience, to see poverty and to see injustice. Unlike Washington, DC, where I have spent the last four years, New Orleans does not segregate its poverty to one area of the city, and keep it out of view to tourists and the upper classes. Instead, every time my boyfriend and I drove from the beautiful French Quarter back to his brother's apartment in the equally beautiful Uptown area near Tulane, we had to drive through some areas that were as unequally UN-beautiful. I was aghast at the poverty right under the noses of so many tourists, and even more upset, because I knew that these were not even the worst areas of the city. Basically, what I'm trying to say here, is my week in New Orleans really affirmed my belief in the need for quality education - to provide equality for people who have never seen equality in any other aspect of their lives. In addition to this eye-opening experience, I got to meet with my boyfriend's cousin, a TFA alumna who is now founding her own KIPP school in New Orleans. Talking with her was amazing - her energy was unreal, and it was so great to finally have someone to ask all of my questions to, and to get real, genuine feedback and advice. She warned me of how tough Institute will be this summer, but also how amazing it will be. While the talk made me a bit more nervous about embarking on this journey, it also made me infinitely more excited. Now, I am back in DC and trying to get through the next 55 days until I graduate. I still have exams, papers, and a thesis to get through, so the next couple months will in no way shape or form be easy. I also got my Institute work just before I left, and now have to get through all of that by the end of June as well! I'm hoping to hear in regards to more interviews soon, and am getting a little anxious about that, although I know I have no reason to. Happy spring to all of you!


A Love Letter

Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov. Readers who teach: have you read it yet? If not, you need to read it right now. The first person who recommended it to me said something along the lines of, "It's great! It tells you had to do all the basics of teaching, like having high expectations and all that." I thought to myself, oh great. Another book about the basics of teaching. I'm already in love with Fred Jones and I really don't need to read anymore about backwards planning. So it sat on my bookshelf for months. WHAT A WASTE of my students' learning time. I should have read it that instant. It's not about "the basics" in terms of stuff you hear on repeat at new teacher trainings. It's about "the basics" in terms of all the little things you'd never think about that will shape your classroom. It's a step-by-step guide to how to be one of those rockstar TFAmous teachers they make movies about. I'd venture it's just as applicable to first grade teachers as it is to me. It's going to make you think about every word that comes out of your mouth in the classroom. Every word. Everyone says, "have high expectations." Doug Lemov says, "Don't ever let a kid get out of answering a question, no matter what. Do not accept anything less than the 100% correct answer. If a kid answers a question correctly, push them farther in your questioning. Demand that kids communicate their knowledge in the language of opportunity. Do not apologize for your content or your students." And he describes in detail how to do each of those things. If you need more, there's video to show you too. After that, he has chapters on planning, lesson delivery, engagement, classroom culture, behavior, building character and trust, pacing, critical thinking... and an extra section on how to get kids reading. Every time he described something I already do, I was so proud of myself that I'll be doing that forever. The things I don't do are in a list to try, starting MONDAY. Can't wait.


Mama Grizzly

READ THIS. It's also worth following the link in the article to read the full letter. The short version is that a substitute went into a classroom of basically my kids (I mean, not actually, but I know enough about that school to know that they really might as well be my kids) and wrote a letter to the AZ Senate president about the experience. You won't understand the entirety of my anger until you read the full text (I'm SERIOUS) but the essence of it is here:

"I thought, 'Are these the students we are trying to educate with taxpayers' money?' I have found that substitute teaching in these areas, most of the Hispanics do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters."
No. No. NoNoNoNoNo. My kids do not want to be gangsters. The list of what they want to be is here, and it's full of big, productive aspirations. They want to be teachers and doctors and they want to join the military and support their families. Those who become gangsters will do so because we don't give them the educational opportunities to reach their potential, not because it was their plan all along. How dare this man try to convince people that my kids are wastes of time and money. How dare he. Granted, I believe that the scene he describes is a real one. Kids can get wildly out of control, and a substitute who does not command authority will see the worst of that. Yes, I put some of the blame on the substitute in that sentence, since there are subs with great classroom management skills who would never see behavior like this, but I won't put it all on him either. Even the worst behaved kids WANT TO LEARN, but when they're in situations where that opportunity is not provided to them, they eventually give up and join the chaos. They're getting strong messages that they aren't going to be successful (from teachers who don't teach them, from adults who don't value education, from politicians who enact legislation based on letters like this) and they're so terrified it's true that they are quick to give up and join the stereotype when life screams that they're losing an uphill battle. Not that we want them to do that, but please remember that they are just kids. Can you honestly blame them? And in response to his other claims, there's no doubt in my mind that the kids were not huge patriots, and I know they think the country is prejudiced against them. I'm sorry, but DUH. They live in Arizona, where they are constantly bombarded by legislation to get Mexicans out of the country. They had a man be their teacher for  a day and then go write the Senate a letter full of hateful things that was then read in all seriousness on the Senate floor. I'm not here to start an immigration debate; I'm just saying that's all my kids see and they make judgments accordingly. Let me be clear. Our kids want to learn, they want to do great things, and they want to be productive in society. They face enormous challenges that might throw them off track, but that does not make them any less sincere in their aspirations. If I ever meet that substitute or those Senators, they have an open invitation to come into my classroom - any day, any time - and see it for themselves. One man spewing ignorant, unfair accusations and generalizations about children should never be indulged with a straight face in government discussions, and I'm happy to give them better things to talk about if they'd like to come see.

March Madness

It's that time of year..

  • Students take the CSAP (state standardized test)
  • Students are antsy for Spring Break
  • Teachers are ready (and sometimes even show!) they're also ready for Spring Break
  • Possibly my favorite college sports season rolls around
I'm sitting in the airport on my first day of Spring Break.. and absolutely struggling to keep my eyes open. Though it has been quite the last several weeks, I am actually starting to see several students come around and loved (yes, loved!) teaching this week. Not that I wasn't wholeheartedly, entirely, ravenously in need of a break, but it helped the week slide by a little faster. Updates on the classroom/students/etc:
  • I was ushering students to class one morning in February, when I heard an all too familiar cry: "FIGHT!" I ran down the hallway to the commotion, only to find myself in the middle of two of my girls, attempting to pry them off of each other. As I fended off stray punches and wrapped myself around one girl to keep her arms down, it ended up taking 5 of us to get them apart because they wouldn't let go of each other's hair. Whew. Crazy start to a day. One of the students, R (the ringleader of the phone culprits) was expelled right after that incident.
  • I had a third student report molestation. Considering how many students I have, and how many of them are comfortable enough to say these things, it terrifies me how many others probably share this experience.
  • We made root beer in order to discover fermentation in action! We'll see how that combination of brewer's yeast and root beer extract taste next week..
  • I lost S, my ganster that I made cry, to the other science teacher because he did not want to be in my class any longer.
  • I wore sweatpants to school when I was having insane migraines and feeling nauseous.. only to have my principal give me a formal observation (which actually ended up going extremely well!
ON THE LAST SCIENCE ASSESSMENT, 81% OF MY STUDENTS WERE PROFICIENT (50% of whom scored Advanced) ON THE SHORT ANSWER TEST!! Plane boarding. Will continue at another point.

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