updates for 05.12.2011
I wore a paper clip in my hair all day. I have kids that show up an hour before school starts for math help, and they wait outside my door and harass me when I'm two minutes late. This leaves me with very little time for things like managing my bangs, and this morning it somehow left me without time to remember to clip them back. Luckily, office supplies come in handy for anything, and it turns out a big paper clip can hold back bangs. All day long. One of the biggest luxuries of teaching is not having to care what I look like. It started at the beginning of my first year, when I was trying to figure out how to look more like a mom and less like 22-year-old-girl. I didn't want to wear anything that could be even vaguely construed as sexy, because I didn't want to get hit on by hormonal little boys and I decided to err on the side of caution. Then I found the added benefit of kids leaving me alone about my appearance, since they only try to torment teachers on things they seem to care about. It became funny when I started going out dancing with teachers from my school, and realized they were stunned to find out that I don't dress like a frumpy mom outside of school hours. My outfits have since hit some epic high points, like hobo elf day, or when I rock a fanny pack full of math manipulatives, or the time I got cold while wearing a knee-length blue dress and black flats and decided to put on some huge fluffy pink socks too. My Teacher Self is my math nerd alter ego. I get to go from bed to work with minimal effort in between, and there's no such thing as a bad outfit when I've already worn the ugliest things possible. I get to embrace math and all things dorky, and in a building full of image-obsessed teenagers, I get to be the one person who doesn't give a damn. (My bravery with outfits outside of work has also skyrocketed, since I look absurd and still survive middle school unscathed every day.) I need to repeat again that it takes me six seconds to get ready for work, and my kids love me like a mom rather than like a girl barely older than them. It makes life easier for me, it creates hilarious inside jokes with my colleagues, and my kids focus on my teaching. But I do look terrible every single day. And the upshot to the whole thing is that, of all the detail-oriented and judgmental students I see every day, exactly two even bothered to mention that I had a paper clip on my head. Two. They're used to me by now.
I've been reading a lot of the new 2011 CM's blogs on this site. Reading all their posts full of apprehension, expectations and excitement reminds me of being in their shoes approximately 1 year ago. I was apprehensive and excited, and had no idea what to expect. How would I manage a classroom? Exactly how do I teach children anything? You get the picture. Add to that having to uproot my youngest son (who was going to be a freshman in HS) and my husband and moving away from the place I've lived at for most of my life...leaving my parents and my oldest son, all of my friends and those places and things that have been with me for a really long time...re-homing my beloved Elvis because we couldn't have a 180 pound dog in an apartment (he lives on a ranch now...and is as happy as can be...his new mom sends me pictures all the time...he's in great hands). We came to a place where we knew absolutely no one, to teach in a place where everything was so different from what I knew. Induction...Institute...the first few months of school - absolute insanity, but they'll make you realize what you're made of and why TFA chose you. Trust me on that. Fast forward to today. There are 3 1/2 weeks left of school. My first year is almost over. I'll be a second year CM soon. I honestly thought that day would never come....seriously. I am way more comfortable in my teacher skin now. My classroom management (thankfully, one of my strong points...must be that "mom" experience) has gotten even better. My kids have grown in leaps and bounds. My class data shows that...my kids' attitudes show that too. I have made many mistakes...many, many of them. But I've also learned from them, and know that on day 1 of the next school year, things have to be oh so different. For one thing, I won't be getting lost on the way to school and arriving 3 minutes before the bell rings.
So today was my last day at my job, and one of the (incredbly generous) regulars gave me a $100 Borders gift card as a parting gift! I managed to wait two whole hours before driving down and spending about half of it. I got Setting Limits in the Classroom and Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher. Both of them seem good so far, and Setting Limits is really interesting! It's definitely geared towards elementary teachers, but I think some of the principles can apply to the secondary classroom too. It stresses respectful and firm disciplinary practices, and says basically that most teachers are either permissive or punitive: they're either respectful but not firm or firm without being respectful. I've been reading it and thinking "Oh! I think I can do this!". This is probably a bad thing, but I'm concerned about classroom management more than I'm concerned about teaching math content. Have any of you read this book and tried its methods? Have you had success? It makes sense to me, but I have no way of knowing if this would work in an actual classroom.
5/11/11 ....are SO necessary for me to be an effective teacher. I was up a little too late last night finishing portfolio stuff, and then instead of sleep I was dying to read "Chains," the book my 7th graders were assigned for the summer. And I felt the effects today. I was a little snappy with my kiddos. Granted, they did continue to ask the SAME QUESTIONS OVER AND OVER. But still, I have to have patience on my end because they are zoned out too. I thought it was going to be an easy lesson. Teach introductions and conclusions and then read some more. Oh no. This was the hardest lesson to teach thus far. Poor 1st period. There's are crap. I had a better system in 2nd, and by 3rd I was really in a groove. I just forget that my students really need step-by-step assistance with everything. I can't just say, "Ok, write two sentences background information about the book." They're going to write about how Matt kisses Maria because that was the most interesting part to them. Or about how Matt has to use the bathroom like normal humans do. Solution: Ok students, what are some important topics we should include in these sentences: Matt, he's a clone, how clones are treated, who he's cloned from. Then, they had the freedom from there. And it worked much better. In 4th period, I have one student who, if she does not pass every class this quarter and her TAKS test, she will repeat 7th grade. She was getting NO WORK DONE, she was TALKING ACROSS THE ROOM, and I was ready to figuratively strangle her. I literally reached the point where every time she stopped tracking me (i.e. watching me while I was talking), I would stop talking. I did this about 8 times during one sentence. After class, I made her stick around and write down the report I was going to give to our AP. She wrote down she talked 3 times without permission, wasn't tracking "many" times, and chose not to do her work. I asked her to also explain why she chose to do that instead of working to make it to 8th grade. Her response: Miss, I'm passing your class. Me: yes, BUT with a 71. Meaning if you have ONE ZERO, you fail. You repeat 7th grade. I immediately went to my AP, who is wonderful, and flusteredly (is that a word?) told her my concerns. Essentially, this student finally turned in all her makeup work last week, but she's not doing work again, meaning next week she'll have zeroes again, meaning she'll be failing. And you can't not do work for 2 weeks, then turn in a packet, and then repeat the process. That's not mastering material. And I don't want to be the reason why a student fails 7th grade. But if she doesn't turn in one assignment, she's failing. And I needed someone to know that I'm trying, but I am not getting through to her. My AP immediately responded and said she would talk with her and wouldn't let her leave detention until she had finished all her work. 20 minutes later, that student gave me a letter apologizing and saying she would be more respectful. And I know she was being sincere. Which is why it's so frustrating. This girl is a total rollercoaster. And I want her to succeed, I do. But she frustrates me to the core. I was ready to cry today when I was talking to her about 8th grade. Because I can't find her motivation anywhere. Anyways, that put me in a sour mood. It was brightened at 8:30 when I left my last TFA content seminar having turned in my portfolio, thus ending all the work I have to turn in for PACE. Still a few more meetings, but the work part is done. Final thing I have to (somewhat embarrassingly) share....today during class I gave them a final timeline for when their paper is due. And I'm not going to grade it very hard because it has been a learning process for me about how to best facilitate teaching a persuasive essay. This was exemplified today when at least one student in each class perplexedly asked, "Miss, what essay are you talking about?" Me: (are you joking?) Monday we worked on our thesis statement. Tuesday we worked on body paragraphs. Today we worked on intro/conclusion. All of that is forming your paper. ..... ........ ........... Ohhhhhhhhh! So, like, we're writing our paper in class? Me: (eyebrows raised, omg 7th grade) yes. yes we are.
by MIA i love watching my teach like a champion dvd. the teachers are so boss - it's totally inspiring. teachers - if you really think about it - have to have presence and the ability to own a space. teachers have to deliver instruction, monitor work, student focus and manage behavior. it takes someone with an incredible amount of swagger to teach. i mean teachers have to be ready to go hood on a student or a class at the drop of a hat. they also have to be ready to be a loving mama bear for a kid or a class. leadership, as it were, has to be enacted. teachers HAVE to own their classrooms, have to be loving authority figures and have to be able to turn on their swagger before the walk into their classroom on the daily. teacher have to be captivating with their words. so teachers have to act a little bit like rappers :). as much as i'm working on my pedagogical knowledge and my tricks of the trade broken down by TFA and in teach like a champion, i'm just thankful i was born with a crazytown amount of swag. now i just have to channel my swagger and assuming it can be tamed, this whole adventure just might work out...
Testing Day 1- Reading Scene: J, at his desk, tears rolling down his face. State test lady stands, bored, in doorframe, staring at her watch. MS D. kneels. Me- What's wrong? J (weeping, not all that quietly)- "hhhow am i s-s-supposed to get f-f-forty-two if there's only th-th-thirty three q-q-questions?!" Background: J could very well not pass third grade. His grades are NOT pass-worthy. His test scores do not show that he deserves to pass. He reads at mid-2nd grade level. Just...not really there. J and I had several conversations in which I explained to him that for him to pass to 4th, he needed to score basic on the MCT2. Basic = at least 42% of the questions right. This has now been drilled into him at home. 42. 42. 42. Jadon knows that number. Back to the story... Me- ....oh! 42% Percent, J! That means you don't even have to answer half of the questions right! Lets shoot for... J- "F-f-fifteen?" Me- "Good math, J!" Testing Day 2- Language J- "This test is too easy..."
She's a freshman who puts blue streaks in her hair - so when the stage lights hit her, it looks like midnight. I taught her sister earlier this year, but, other than knowing who she was, never interacted with her until she started doing Oral Interpretation. After a while I figured that she was just involved for the trips - for the most part, she'd memorize her lines at the last minute and mess around with her friends. It was something to do. She auditioned and was cast in the One Act play this year - which wasn't nearly as good as last year's - we lost three senior girls to college and the cast was young. When it came time to hold auditions for the spring show, we had an influx of boys, but few girls - and even fewer girls who could handle the lead. I mentioned this to her when she inquired about the spring play - she was quiet for a second and then said, "I think I can do it." I looked at her hard, remembering her freshman tendencies from the fall Oral Interp season, "You want the lead? You think you can tell her story?" I asked. She nodded - no words needed. So I gave it to her. Over the next 6 weeks, all I heard from other teachers was how she devoted any downtime to her lines. She came in during advisory every day to work scenes, she was the only character required to be at rehearsal every day of the week - and, she was getting pretty good. It was one afternoon when we were running the last scene when her character, Liz, has a monologue about realizing who she is and - for the first time, feeling brave enough to be that person - that I realized the parallel that was happening. As she recited the lines of Liz Donderstock, a woman forced to come of age and tackle the realities of life, I could see it. She and her character had joined hands over the course of countless rehearsals and, though she's still got a few techniques to learn before she'll make it to Broadway, she grew up a little. She purposely chose to do a hard thing because it was good, commit to something and follow through and have confidence in herself to take on the risks of the stage. I can't measure that growth. I can't put a number on how important it is for our students to understand the necessity of commitment and diligence. I also can't measure the feelings an audience gets when they laugh or create a collective, robust silence as they contemplate the power of a young actress' words. But I know both of those immeasurable pieces of living sink bone deep - they're in our blood - and they, too, are part of the maturing wholeness of our children. When I told her how proud I was of her, she simply nodded and wandered off to get ready for the next scene, shades of blue appearing and disappearing in the shadows.
One morning of my first year teaching I walked into my classroom and my heart froze. All I could think was some one had done this out of spite. My desks and chairs were strewn everywhere, files and papers that were (somewhat) organized for grading or lessons were in heaps thrown everywhere. And what truly wrenched my heart was all of my wall displays, big goal poster, star students wall, was literally shredded from the walls on the floor. It took me several minutes of standing there to realize my room had not been broken into and vandalized. They had installed new whiteboards on all the walls and this was their way of dealing with what was up. I dragged an administrator into my room and the only response I got was, "didn't they give you a memo yesterday to remove everything you didn't want thrown out?" A year later I had almost the exact same experience. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was supposed to visit my classroom in two days. In the middle of teaching first period, my assistant principal walked in and said I had to go... What?! He said, pick up whatever you need, you can teach in an empty room today, we need to wax the floors before Duncan gets here. So my students carried their work, the computer, projector, etc. to a new classroom. I returned sixth period to get my purse and was told I couldn't enter the room because they had waxed the floors. Everything from my classroom was sitting outside. I got to school the next morning and was supposed to be at a field trip all day with my students and came in to find everything in a mountain on a table. That is, the files of work turned in, work to pass back, past homework assignments, all those papers had been dumped out onto a table. I was going to be gone all day and had the Secretary of Education visiting my classroom the next day and all of my students' work and my lessons were clearly just trash. Just make sure the floors sparkle. And here I am in my third year at the school. This week my students are taking the CSTs. We test in the mornings and get out early. Around 4th period two men came to my room. They asked if we were still testing. I said no... They said they were going to replace my door. I pointed to our schedule and asked if it couldn't wait until after school let out in an hour. They said no, they wouldn't have time and assured me they'd do the noisy part outside. Well the noisy part was hammering my door and then drilling into it. Inside or out, it's being done to the door. My students and I couldn't hear or say a thing. I went back to them and again asked them to wait until after school. They asked again if we were testing. No, but I am teaching! No, they had to do it then. They hammered and drilled through a period and a half. Of course, they cannot disturb the precious CST. But LAUSD sent a message loud and clear today how they feel about instructional time. I wish this were where the stories end. However, a friend sent me a very similar story of her own from LAUSD when she heard about the incident today. I asked her: Where do we take this frustration? It's more than frustration. I feel deep disgust and hate for the people who have built and perpetuate this system in the name of our students. I don't know what to do with that. It drives me and it drains me at the same time. So I'm asking all of you: what do we do with this?
A kid got kicked out of his classroom and sent to my room today. I was busy working with kids and didn't have time to give him something to do. Rather than taking that as an opportunity to sleep, this kid decided to start calculating. He found a reference sheet with formulas, picked up a measuring tape, and proceeded to spend the rest of class estimating the volume of his own head. Best choice ever.
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