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updates for 04.12.2011

9 new posts today

Read this article

This one, right here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/magazine/mag-10School-t.html. I feel like this article gave me a better idea of what working in a non-charter high-needs school will be like (if I get placed in a non-charter school). Two interesting mentions of TFA by the principal of 223. 1.  TFA first-year teachers are essentially worthless. 2.  The ideal teacher is a third-year TFA teacher.


I'm a teacher?!?!

It took me until a couple months into my second year of teaching to call myself a teacher.  For some reason, it was really hard for me to admit, as though it was something to be embarrassed and conscious of.  Leave it to a Jon Stewart episode to help me to become defensive of the profession of teaching. I can't exactly mark the point at which I began to think that I could possibly be in the field of education but it happened somewhere between October and January.  It was something that I have been denying for quite a while but now am questioning if I ever want to do anything else.  Even my facebook page claims that I am not a career teacher. Now, I fall asleep thinking about if they did their homework and ate dinner.  I dream about whether I am worthy enough to educate them.  I wake up thinking about my objectives, strategies, rigor, and engagement of my lessons.  On the weekends, I teach Saturday School and coach basketball.  I get text messages and emails constantly and I am always checking my phone for them. Now it seems that I am inseparable from even the idea of being a teacher, let alone the act.  I still feel as though I am fighting it sometimes, but in my heart, I can't leave the idea alone.  I am consumed by every aspect of it. Two years ago, I was still in college, with lofty idealism and a desire to change the world.  I was hoping to make a difference by turning my kids into students; however, they ended up changing my life and turned me into a teacher.


The Weirdest Idea Ever

AIMS Day 1, completed. After turning in their test, the only thing kids are allowed to do is read. Only a handful of kids show up with something they're interested in, so I have to provide something for the rest or struggle to keep them quiet while they wait for their classmates to finish. I completely forgot I'd need to go to the library for AIMS week, and all I had on hand was the collection of math-in-the-real world books, travel books (my kids LOVE pictures from around the world), and get-into-college books I've been putting out during testing all year. They've already gone through these books a million times, so I apologized to them and told them I'd try to get to the library tonight. Then I added, "If it's closed by the time I get out of track practice, I'll just bring some of my books from home and go to the library tomorrow." That statement made a bunch of my kids laugh out loud. "Miss, you have books at home? Ha! Why would you do that?" It wasn't said with meanness or mockery, but with genuine mirth. The idea of having books in the home was hilarious. One kid started laughing about a person he knows who "has, like, a whole library in her house" like this was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever seen. Books! How funny! Those are for libraries and schools... what kind of weirdo would actually keep them in their house? Oh dear. I couldn't muster up more than an, "Um, I know lots of people who keep books in their house. I know it sounds CRAZY, but some people actually like to read." Then all my smart kids (notice I said smart, not necessarily well-behaved or great students) started piping up about how they keep lots of books in their homes too. Maybe it isn't so weird?


April 11...just another day

I can't believe that my two years are almost over and I just now am doing this. Not writing down my thoughts, emotions, and events over time will be my number one regret as a first and second year teacher. Today was the epitome of what it means to be a teacher.  I spent the first part of the morning in meetings.  Then, my job started.  I wasn't terribly prepared and spent the morning rushing around and stressed.  This, along with being really tired, was poised for a bad outcome.  My first class was great and then: 7th graders.  I am not sure what they ate this morning, but they were on fire.  By the time my second 7th grade class was done, I wanted to cry.  They were disruptive, disrespectful, and unproductive.  I felt like the worst teacher ever.  Then, my extremely apathetic 8th graders came in shocked that their essays were due today.  Following that were my 6th grade classes which were both shockingly great today.  I was exhausted and ready to beat my head against the wall.  The last thing I wanted to do was to go to practice. However, it was probably the best thing I could have done.  My group of 7th grade boys are making some amazing progress.  We worked on reverse layups on Friday, among other things.  Then, in the middle of a shooting drill, Jamarcus drove to the basket and did a reverse layup like it is what he does.  The look on his face was priceless.  He shocked himself and tried to act as though it was nothing.  You could see the amazement on his face.  I asked him if it was the first time he did it without thinking of doing it before.  He shook his head "yes" with uncertainty.  It was such an amazing feeling that I had worked with him on that and three days later, he mastered it.  Pretty amazing...

Just Terrible

4/8/11 Today started off, in the unassuming Friday way, as a supposedly good, speedy Friday. I taught for half of class, and then the kids tested for the 2nd half. Everything went smoothly until lunch. Then, I started hearing stories of how my kiddos were behaving in front of the 3 subs they had today (science, math, spanish). During my conference, the counselor came over my intercom to ask me to please remove a student from a class because he was causing issues and there weren't any admins available to deal with him. So I go to that class, put on my meanest face and voice, threaten them with writing consequences, and whisk him away. This is the student who was suspended for 3 days this week for bringing a knife to school. Now, he's one of my secret favorites because although he blurts out ALL the time, he is crazy smart, and super helpful if he isn't grandstanding for his classmates. So I rarely actually get mad at him. But as we walked, I quietly stated - I don't even want you to answer, I just want you to think. They're having a meeting -today- to determine whether you get to stay in this school today, and you decide to disrupt class? What are you thinking? Luckily, the counselor quickly showed up to take him away, and I was left shaking my head. Then, during TAKS class, I again had to be the "mean" enforcer to the math class because they were all over the place and not in the right rooms. My TAKS class was boisterous as well, and it's partly my fault b/c I still haven't gotten around to making seating charts, but it was just bleh. 4th, again, started off calmly. They were crazy in the hall, so I warned them all about talking. I had to give one student, a chronic offender, a demerit before she walked in because she was talking. Then, she raises her hand to say she has an emergency and she has to use the restroom. I say no, class continues. She asks again, this time without permission. While the class is getting folders out, I kneel by her desk and tell her - We're not supposed to let you leave at all, and the last time you had an emergency and I let you leave, you were gone for 10 minutes and then I saw your handwriting in the bathroom. (note: we have a huge Sharpie issue in the girls' restroom) If I had known what was going to happen next I wouldn't have said anything. Even though it's true....it just slipped out because we had never reported what I and another teacher saw in her handwriting.  Actually, I would've probably let her go to the bathroom if I had known. As I'm walking away, she screams out that she didn't do that and that it isn't right how we accuse her of everything and always assume it's her fault. Then she gets quiet. Refuses to work. Starts to cry. I ask her several times to get to work. I bring her a kleenex and I inform her she will receive a consequence if she doesn't start working. All of a sudden, she gets up and tearily announces to the class - I'm going to the principal. And she walks out of my class. And continues walking, even when I go outside and call her name. After a few seconds of panic, I get the class started on their quiz and send one of my best students to inform the office. 10 minutes later no one knows where she is. I happen to see my principal walking down the hall, and I inform him about what has happened. He says he'll take care of it. 10 minutes later, student walks back in. Sits there. Assuming she has already talked with someone and been sent back in, I ask her to move to a different chair to finish her quiz that everyone else has finished. She refuses. and refuses. and refuses. And then walks out a 2nd time. I kid you not. Luckily, this time, the principal was walking down the hall again, this time in search of her. He takes her with him after she shouts - she's accusing me of writing graffiti in the bathroom! At the end of class, she comes back. I have no idea of what has been discussed, and she refuses to talk to me or take my quiz. Then, we file all the students into one classroom, where 2 rookie teachers (aka myself and another teacher) unsuccessfully try to command them. Except that I'm nearly in tears already and almost hiding in the back, supposedly trying to keep the kids in the back from goofing off. As we do our attention getting gesture, I'm calling out specific students who aren't responding. One happens to be the girl who has decided I'm her worst enemy. Instead of responding, she yells out - WHAT. Resulting in an eruption of laughter from her peers, none of whom need another reason to lose more respect for me. At this point, I can feel the tears forming, although they haven't spilled or anything, and I'm just walking around praying that my face doesn't turn red. FINALLY, they dismiss them all. And I go to my room and cry and cry until 2 teachers stop by to chat and hear me out slash share their battle scars. I confided in them how terrified I am that these girls who have decided I am their enemy are going to bleed their emotions onto other students and that it's going to make these last 2 weeks before TAKS unproductive and terrible. They gave me some fantastic suggestions, and through my tears, I was again reminded of how blessed I am to have awesome co-workers who are willing to honestly delve into some of their less pleasant memories and work with me to find improvements. I already emailed my principal to ask to talk with him about how his talk with the student went. I am going to talk to my team lead, who I think is amazing, and ask to speak with her about the other student concerns I have to try to find a solution before one of those students blows up at me, or vice-versa. Terrible ending to the Friday, no lie. but, the silver lining: I graded one classes quizzes, and all but 2 students passed. I am so excited by this news. Since I created it, I don't think it's the most rigorous quiz ever, but it is directly aligned to the objectives we've been working on, so I at least know that they're getting it. One step at a time.


I thought it fitting.

"Then there's the future.  Sheer vertigo." -Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake


Hello world!

My name is Krastina, and in less than 2 months I will be in the Mississippi Delta as part of the 2011 TFA Corps! Thinking of my future fills me with two emotions that often go hand in hand for me: utter, uncontainble exuberance and all-encompassing fear. The exuberance is certainly a welcome emotion. It's what makes me tick, fill me with joy and energy, and allow me to propagate those sentiments to those around her. The fear, I reluctantly accept because, quite frankly, nothing worth doing is easy and devoid of trepidation.


An Open Letter to DCPS...

Nearly 2 years on, IMPACT, DCPS' pioneering teacher evaluation system, still has many kinks. Every day, I hear the draining talk of IMPACT this, IMPACT that: "My master educator just rated me 'ineffective.' Should I drink my sorrows away?" "Did I put a SMART objective on the board?" "I hope the master educator doesn't come in during my test review day." "IMPACT sucks. Should I quit?" (My take on IMPACT after year one is here.) Though I know a minority of teachers that generally approve of (or maybe tolerate) IMPACT, the majority still see it as oppressive and burdensome. For too many, it is still an overly-mechanical, "I gotcha" system meant to be a "stick" to beat teachers with. Sure, for the mighty few who get rated "highly effective," there is the "carrot" of monetary bonuses. But, overwhelmingly, teachers interpret IMPACT as a heartless algorithm that assigns a single number corresponding to a teacher's supposedly-measurable teaching abilities. No one likes to be defined by one number. IMPACT is a dilemma to me. On the one hand, I cringe at how it has (a) distorted the way teachers teach and (b) battered teacher morale. On the other hand, I still believe that teachers need to be evaluated and assessed, not only for the sake of identifying (and removing) under-performing teachers, but also as a means to pinpoint professional development needs. We need to figure out how to reconcile its negatives with its positives. Easier said than done. What follows today is a guest post from a DCPS educator who has had one too many frustrating experiences with IMPACT. After a demoralizing master educator observation, she has decided to call it quits. This is her open letter to DCPS:

Dear DCPS, Thank you for your honest and informative feedback provided by your most recently hired “Master Educator” of the current WL teacher at $%HS in Washington DC. According to your rubric, she has been qualified as a Minimally Effective teacher, scoring not so much as one 3 or 4 out of 4 points in any of the Teach 1-9 categories on your IMPACT rubric. According to your score, this is what a “minimally effective” teacher looks like:
  • She has been at the same position for 3 years and has developed positive rapports with 80-90% of the students she’s taught (P.S. She almost just wrote “teached”. Thank you also for the stellar grammatical influence your environment has on college graduates).
  • She has gotten to school hours before and after the required time to A) plan lessons, B) grade quizzes, projects and in-class assignments that clearly show production of a language other than English and C) organize extracurricular activities that you put on her shoulders the DAY BEFORE THEY TAKE PLACE because you failed to take the responsibility on yourself and she didn’t want to let the students down.
  • She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Foreign Language Education and Teaching English as a Second Language Certification to become a better teacher for your students.
  • She was nominated as her Department Chair in her second year of teaching (granted by default) and took an enormous workload including statistical analysis of the (non)growth of student achievement without so much as training her in any of the documentation that is so “official”.
  • She remains a solid presence in her students’ anything-but-stable lives, serving as a mother, best friend, sister, guidance counselor, mentor and teacher while also trying to maintain her own life separate from work.
I could go on about the “detrimental” behaviors and actions that this teacher has engaged in to make you consider her “Minimally Effective” when, miraculously, she has ­never received an overall score of less than a 3.2 out of 4 in her two years teaching under this imperfect IMPACT evaluation system. Why then did she receive in her most recent “Master Educator” evaluation a 1.66 out of 4 overall?? Tell me, was she drunk in front of the classroom? Did she by chance hit or insult any of the students in your presence? In fact, did any of the students act out AT ALL at any point throughout the tiny, 30-minute window you saw into her class when she teaches 3 classes for 80 minutes a day? (Because really, that’s what her job has become: babysitting.) The District of Columbia is special. You tell the teachers and students so every day. We are in a unique situation and are pioneers of the future of education, specifically ensuring that every single classroom is stocked with a “Highly Effective” teacher, who apparently engages in none of the behaviors exhibited so erroneously by the WL teacher at $%HS. She understands what it takes to be an effective teacher, and in fact, scored 4. Points. Away from being considered “Highly Effective” last year and receiving a considerable amount of money, the possibility of being observed and filmed as a model classroom for potential new hires to the District. Why then did she receive a score of 1.66 out of 4? Yes, the “Monster Educator”, Mr. @, championed for the rights of World Languages. He claimed that he was an advocate for them, and that only when we worked together to demand professional development (because it is our right) that we would receive scores that ACCURATELY reflect our teaching abilities. So Mr. @ told this poor WL teacher that her scores were essentially not accurate. … Let’s think for a moment: How can you claim to represent a system that insists upon having Effective and Highly Effective teachers in the classroom when the very rubric you work upon is NOT ACCURATE?? Her job, salary and integrity are at stake because of this imperfect evaluation system. How demeaning to hear from a man who saw 30 minutes of one lesson, on one day, in one week, of one month, in one year of a course that she is “Minimally Effective” in not one, but NINE categories. Who. Do you think. You are? DCPS, you claim to support teachers and initiatives that retain teachers for longer than a Teach for America or DC Teaching Fellows stint of two years. This teacher CHOSE to come to the District after graduation, maybe not fully understanding what she was getting herself into, but she put her heart, soul, mind, body and LIFE into this job. You didn’t put a single person into her classroom her first year of teaching. NOT ONE. She was put out to sea with swimmies and somehow managed to make it through the Bermuda triangle, shark-infested waters and the annoyance of jellyfish stings, to stay on to a third year at an institution that you claim is “on the mend”. I’m sorry, DCPS, but you just lost the most Highly “Minimally Effective” WL teacher that you will NEVER find again. I guarantee that not many people have the heart that she has to do what she did for so long for your district. When you continually tell her that is it HER fault that students are not succeeding, she beings to believe it. However, she has come to realize that she doesn’t have to tread this murky water any longer. There are countless other districts around the world that would throw out life vests, buoys, canoes and jet skis just to get this “Minimally Effective” WL teacher into their programs. So, if your goal is the retention of Effective to Highly Effective teachers, you’re doing an extremely poor job of giving them the support they need. You can’t come in three years later and assess this teacher who’s been doing a pretty good job on a rubric that you never prepared her or trained her for. You are setting teachers up for failure and you are burning them out by placing ALL of the blame on them. It’s time for this WL teacher who is so much more than “Minimally Effective” according to your rubric to go test the waters elsewhere, reflect on her time in DCPS with fondness and to selectively remember all of the other positive comments, feedback and scores she has received in her three years of service to your District. Thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck. You will need it.
***** Excuse me, DCPS, but I think we still have a long way to go with IMPACT. Let's rethink the way we do the evaluating that we still need to do (a recent Aspen Institute report on IMPACT can be found here; commentary on it here and here). profile counter

I stayed up late planning like a newbie.

... and I LOVED every second of it! It's Monday morning and I missed the early bus because I slept through my alarm--but I love teaching, stayed up late to do it well, wrote nine pages of certification papers before that, put Pokemon on my worksheets, and life is generally beautiful. (also, I wore two different earrings to school on Friday. My kids thought I did it on purpose (I guess they are kind of getting to know me...), but when my DJ asked me why I had a snowflake in one ear and a dolphin in the other, my hands flew to my ears in disbelief before I guffawed loud enough to make the entire class wonder what happened.)


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