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updates for 06.08.2011

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Our Big Goal Math Haikus

Today I asked my students to write me a haiku for their warm up about their goal as they are working towards 80% or higher on their final exams.  Below are the ones that worked (or almost got the syllables right). To give some context:  Any student that achieves the big goal will be invited to a water balloon fight for which they can throw water balloons at me (and each other).



So I've been in Gallup now for 4 whole days and Induction officially started today. It was a whirlwind of sessions and presentations on everything from Eliminating the Achievement Gap to Everything You Never Learned About American Indians (and Never Knew To Ask), which is not what it was titled but should have been. So here's what I learned: 1. The achievement gap and the possibilities for my future students are staggeringly horrible. New Mexico ranks dead last out of 50 states plus Washington DC in student chances for life success, an aggregate score measured in things like infant mortality, poverty rates, literacy and test scores, health care, and etc. American Indians face risks of death, as compared with other populations, five times higher due to alcoholism, five times higher due to tuberculosis (WHAT????), and twice as high due to diabetes. Nearly half of Native kids don't graduate from high school, even fewer go to college, and of those that do go, 4 out of 5 drop out before graduating. Demographically speaking, Native kids rank lower than any other group except Special Ed in test scores, and 20% of Native kids qualify for Special Ed services themselves. And those are just the statistics I remember. I knew it was bad--I didn't know it was that bad. 2. I, as a highly educated (soon to be) college graduate of liberal leanings and worldly experiences, know next to nothing about the histories, cultures, and experiences of Native American peoples. Although I had a vague idea that Native peoples pretty much got screwed over and over again throughout history, I didn't realize until today exactly how few specifics I could tell you about that. Sure, I'd heard of the Trail of Tears and I knew about assimilation-driven Boarding Schools (Wiki those if you don't know--think forced migration for the former and kidnapping plus cultural brainwashing for the latter). But I'd heard these things second-hand, through random books or articles. No class I have ever taken has included the history or experiences of Native American people, and this is a huge oversight on the part of the American education system as well as myself, for letting that happen. So today I started learning. It's going to continue for a long time, I think. 3. New Mexicorps is full of some really awesome people. Through group discussions, panel talks, and just hanging out and chatting, I have met such interesting, heartfelt, dedicated individuals--and it's only been a day! It seems like, to a person, everyone is here for some powerful reasons. They are horrified by the achievement gap, stunned by the lack of knowledge, but most of all, excited and determined to fight against the issues facing this community. And at the same time, we keep stressing how we don't know it all and we aren't the whole solution. One of the core values of TFA New Mexico is humility and respect: humility to understand our limited experience with this community, culture, and area, and all the challenges that go along with them; respect for the traditions, experiences, and values of those who are from here, have been here, and are working towards what is best for their communities. 4. Gallup country radio stations sound like my iTunes DJ. Had to put a fun one in there at the end :-) Sitting in the lobby of the Historic El Rancho Hotel, erstwhile dwelling of numerous Western movie stars whose names are forever immortalized on the doorframes of each room (I'm in Burt Lancaster's), I realize that I know all the words to every song on the radio station playing. I have terrible eclectic taste in music. Not as cool as the piano that plays itself (!!!) but still pretty great. So that was Day 1. Tomorrow morning I head out bright and early to interview at a school far, far away from Gallup. We're all interviewing tomorrow in various places, and mostly expecting not to get a job because of the way hiring situations look out here just now. But it should be very interesting anyway--my first trip to Deep Rez territory, at the very least. Wish me luck!


Quote of the Day 6/7/11

Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement- Brian Tracy



Today was an absolute pile.

  • First period, my Sly kid threw my entire stack of perfect blue paper down the stairwell right after first period. It would have been some stupid mischevious end-of-year thing if it weren’t MY stack of nice paper that I’d set out for them. For some reason it really made me angry. Probably because my Sly kid is also the one who refused to take my final, since he had a whopping 88 in the class and “this class isn’t even a credit, anyway.”
  • During third period, all of my students left to hang out in the classroom that was watching Princess and the Frog. Don't blame them, but it still didn't make me feel awesome.
  • In fifth period, I let them start playing with the deck of cards in my closet, which of course means throwing them up in the air, knocking over tables, and screaming obscenities at the top of your lungs. Me? I went to my computer, typed a few caps-locked obscenities of my own, then busied myself about the room in a stony silence I pretended they noticed.
  • Seventh period drew on my tables and floor with the brand-new markers I’d decided to let them use for some reason. Then my Sly kid pissed me off again by somehow getting hold of all of my tracing paper squares and throwing them down the stairwell, too.
  • Eighth period suddenly decided I’d promised them they could climb out the window onto the roof on the last day of school. Then shouts in the hallway from a water-balloon fight (or I suppose I should say ketchup-balloon fight) caused a Race to the Door. “Race to the Door” is what happens whenever the hallway becomes a battlefield: there’s a split second during which everyone in the room realizes there’s something big happening, and then it’s me against them. If I don’t win (ha. I never have), consequences range from the entire classroom emptying its contents into whatever hallway spectacle awaits...  to five or six kids becoming suddenly, infuriatingly deaf as I try to order them back inside without touching them, which always causes a spectacle in itself (“ooo miss, don’t you TOUCH me!”).
But, here we are at the end, looking back, just like I wanted. It’s hard to tell whether my sour feelings come from the lovely day or from my level of satisfaction with the year in general. Or my anger at the fact that apparently I have to magically turn a 46% failure rate into an 8% failure rate--when I have yet to enter the grades for the final exam. Anger is it, actually. Turns out I’m riding home on the bus on the last day of school, crying the same hot, angry tears I used to cry after my big brother sat on my face and farted. Turns out my hesitation to reflect on the year and my inability to evaluate it before June 7th was not because it was confusing or because I was conflicted, but because I had a big old mess of frustration I was holding inside my lungs. … and now we’re standing at the end, and I now can only exhale, and now I’m so pissed off I want to scream and throw something loud and breakable. I'm not just mad about feeling bullied into changing grades, but about all of this. I’m angry about being pushed around by my kids for so long, and I’m angry that once I finally found my voice and saw things change, it wasn’t soon enough to make much of a difference. At every math teacher my kids have ever had, and that I now get to add my name to that list. At whoever got my OBGYN girl pregnant and whoever pulled my Wise Young Lesbian out of school and whoever drew huge veiny, saggy boobs on the back of my Cadet’s binder six months ago. At kids who think they can swagger in and ask for missing work on the last day of school, raise their voice at me when they don’t understand how to do it, and turn in trash expecting it to raise their 52% to a passing grade. And then at my principal when I remember that they will, because I don’t have the pages and pages of documentation required to fail them. At stupid, stupid Texas and their stupid, stupid tests that assess my 10th-graders on literally NONE of the standards I’m supposed to teach them in Geometry, and at all the stupid, stupid curriculum people who think it’s okay to ignore that completely. At all of the awful ways this country makes things so hideously unfair for everyone in that building—from the principal all the way to every last student. At all the people who will go through their lives and never know or care about it, and think that’s “just the way it is.” And at every evening I wasted just being upset about it instead of getting my ass in gear. That it took me five months and seven therapists to solve my problem. At everyone who wasted my time with “but it’s not your job to change these kids’ lives.” That I haven’t seen my kid they call Dirty for weeks. That my department chair is quitting (“because I want to teach—this is a zoo” he said today), and that his next-door neighbor is not. That my kids’ parents aren’t answering their phones.   --That my Brat left without saying goodbye.


Since I'm at induction and have some rare time for myself I thought I'd try and sneak in quick blog, since that's what I set out to do and all. SO! Charlotte! TFA! This thing that's been in my future since October is now my present. Travel headaches, money worries and oh-my-god-how-am-I-going-to-find-a-place-without-a-car concerns aside, I don't have much to complain about. The city is beautiful, if intolerably hot, moist and hazy for my delicate Bay Area sensibilities. But I figure that's the beauty of Institute in the Delta: it will be so sweltering and miserable that Charlotte will seem to have a delightful climate in comparison. Everyone is really nice, most of them are also really intense. I mean, I guess that's how you get into TFA. We've been talking a lot about the philosophical approach of the program, which is good I guess, but not very much about the practical stuff, which is what I'm much more interested in. I feel like after reading 600 pages of TFA material over the spring I GET the philosophical stuff, I really do. I appreciate that the staff here are not particularly pushy about the "party line," at least not yet, and my understanding is that not all regions are like that. I feel MUCH better about the whole thing today, though, than I did yesterday. After two days without sleep I was nodding off towards the end of our welcoming dinner/community panel--impressive, right? I'm lucky I didn't wind up passing out into a plate full of pulled pork (which is prepared somewhat differently in North Carolina than the rest of the country apparently--the more you know!). By the time I got home I was almost hysterical-- my anxiety about the weeks ahead, figuring out how to pay for everything and just plain old homesickness was made a thousand times worse by my lack of sleep and I freaked out over the phone at Mike. Six hours of sleep and two cups of coffee in the morning helped me get some perspective. Just "first day of camp syndrome," as Mike called it. "By the time it's over you won't want to leave." I'm not as sure about that second part, but I hope he's right. I am surprised, though, by my own homesickness after just two days. I thought I was a tough guy. Especially given the FIVE YEARS I spent lrd-ing it up with Mike. Marriage makes you soft, I guess. I also feel like kind of the odd duck out of my fellow corps members, but whatever. I'm sure the things that make me feel out of place here will help inform the kind of teach I become blah blah. I'm enjoying myself and looking forward to the weeks ahead, but I cannot wait for my husband and cat to catch up to me. Heading out with my fellow inductees and some veteran TFA people to NoDa, Charlotte's hippie arts district, for a poetry reading tonight. Not having a car out here is pretty wretched, so I'll be glad to see more of the city. As of now I don't really have any sense of it. I'll sign off with this little gem: I went to go get a sandwich in the dining hall yesterday and the lady behind the counter asked what kind of cheese I wanted. There was American and some sort of white cheese, so I asked what the latter was. "American." Isn't that the orange cheese? "They're both American." Ohh... Clearly John C. Smith University's students have a pretty refined palate when it comes to varieties of American cheese.


ENC Induction

ENC Induction begins today and I always get excited thinking about it....all of that fresh meat enthusiasm and energy for the cause. ;) This is just a quick post to say "Hi" ("HIIIIIIII!!!" *waving arms madly*) to all of the 2011 ENC Corps Members. Have fun, learn lots, and remember that the kids -- your kids --- are waiting. What I said back in November holds true. We need you. We want you. If I can help you in any way please let me know. <3  Mrs. B


My hair and I are ready for STL and Chicago!

As my departure date for Induction looms near, I realize I have wasted most of the “down time” (as my mother refers to my current unemployment) between graduation and the start of TFA with copious amounts of HGTV, episodes of Ice Road Truckers, and obsessive Google research on subjects ranging from gender studies to petit lap giraffes (they aren’t real, unfortunately). That’s what happens when I’m not constantly on the go with school, work, and activities; I become a bored, human sloth. BUT, it is almost time, after months of obsessing, reading, planning and longing, for Induction and Institute to start! Despite the crippling heart-in-my-throat anxiety /excitement that have taken over me, I count not be more fired up and ready to go (channeling my inner, annoying, cheerleader persona). I’ve titled my blog “Big Hair, Big Goals” for fairly straightforward reasons. For one, I have giant hair. Not pretty hair with lots of body or interesting curls, no, I look like one of those eighties country singers who spout the mantra “the higher the hair, the closer to God!” The worst part is that it looks like I did it on purpose, that I want this overdone pageant hair (*shudder*) and moving to the much more humid city of St. Louis will only exacerbate this issue. So I’ve decided to embrace it; “The bigger the hair, the bigger the goals”, right? So as I work relentlessly to end the achievement gap and become the best teacher I possibly can, I will do so with big, country music hair. Look out STL, here I come!



So this blog should have been started months ago - but somehow I never found the time to sit down and start it.  It probably had something to do with the fact that none of this felt real.  But that's all changed in the past 27 hours or so with the onset of Induction. The only way I could possibly relate Induction to people who haven't lived through it (or better yet, survived it) is through the analogy of a theme park ride.  At times you feel like your waiting endlessly for things to begin - at which point, you get a chance to bond with other corps members looking to diffuse the interminable introductions, smiles, and shakes - and then suddenly you're thrust 75 m.p.h. into the world of TFA.  And like a roller coaster - it isn't all smooth.  There are rickety portions, stretches where you don't feel quite secure, and even moments where you wonder why you buckled up in the first place. This isn't to say I haven't met people that I know will be essential to my formative years as an educator.  This isn't to say that I'm not feeling myself challenged to grow and evolve in new ways (though, I'm pretty sure moving across the country would do that no matter what).  All it is to say is that I'm aware of the Kool-Aid on the table, TFA.  And while I'm excited to be working for and with my kids next year, whoever they may be, I'm not so sure I'm going to be drinking down all of what you're serving.  I'm "suspending judgement" until I can get a thorough sense of what you're really about, but I'm cautious and skeptic. The first half of Induction has been intense.  Packed (and sometimes questionable) programming, heat, humidity, duplex dorm rooms at JCSU, and an introduction to Southern cuisine... I'm intrigued to see what the second half has in store.


Livingston, Alabama

Alright so I'm now currently being "inducted", not abducted. I arrived at induction today around noon. Induction lasts a week, and I finally got a schedule so i can fill everyone in on what I'll be doing while I stay in Livingston, Alabama at the University of West Alabama. This morning when I woke up I felt happy and excited about meeting new friends, also happy and excited about getting training over with and actually being able to settle in somewhere. I'm ready to not live out of a suitcase already, and it hasn't even been a day. This morning I got to go on a special date to Waffle House with my lovely Dawjr, what a special time! After that I jolted out of town on a two hour trek to Livingston, past Tuscaloosa, almost in Mississippi! Driving through Tuscaoosa was a little scary, there are still a lot of trees down and it looks torn up . Onward I drove until I saw my first "real life" Teach For America sign outside the campus I would be staying at for the week of induction! How surreal, I saw a REAL sign :) ! Anyways, I'm settled in here until Sunday, and I have a roommate and she seems very nice .. and clean! The campus is really pretty, I'll hopefully be able to post some pictures of our view and room. I've made 2 new friends already today and I got to talk with Danielle and Stephen, a lovely "fianced" couple that graduated from Samford and was friends with Dawjr! Very nice having some friends, everyone seems to be in the same boat, far away from home and clueless :) . Speaking of home, I have interviews this week on Thursday, the hiring fair is from 12-6pm (central time) and prayers would be much appreciated, I can't wait to find out where my new home will be! Word on the street is I should find out in the net three weeks where I'll be working, thought it would be sooner, but we will see.  Word on the street is also that all the district are not posting their openings on Alabama website, meaning, I shouldn't loose hope on Birmingham! It's crazy what people know, that you don't know, all you have to do is ask! Tonight we have a cook out and "community building", all past RA's know that community building is really a professional way to say "NAME GAME". Tomorrows game plan is sessions and learning! Well I gotta run! Love "ya'll"


Hello world!

So excited to be a part of Teach For America!


Naked Room

It took me the whole school year of arriving at either 7am or 8am to realize there’s a bus that will get me here right at 7:20. Now I’m sitting on one of my tables like I tell my Brat not to do, taking a look at things before I spend this hour organizing and storing. I now realize why I’ve been putting off thinking about this year; it is partly that it’d get messy with the year still in progress, but mostly it’s because I don’t really want to do it anyway. I didn’t realize I was this reluctant to get into the details of how and why this year unraveled and finally put itself back together again. I’m glad I planned a week of pure reflection when it was April and that’s all I wanted to do, or else I’d probably jump stupidly from Deduction to relaxing to planning next year. My thoughts are in those plans for next year, my thoughts are in Houston with our new corps and with institute staff, my thoughts are in the summer wondering what my kids are doing—but my thoughts are not here in this bare, mint-green, used-up room. Seeing it like this reminds me of how it looked in August, and thinking of all the potential I saw in it is making my gut tighten.


I'm a Teacher!

I got a job today! So excited! It's a K-8 charter school in Glendale.  They're starting a Project CHILD model this next year which stands for Changing how Learning for Instruction is Delivered. There's a ton you can learn about the program here. It's a cluster program, so to make a long story short, I have a second grade homeroom, but then throughout the day, I will teach K, 1, and my 2nd graders reading in 90 min chunks. Then there's specials of course that rotate, and recess and lunch take up the rest of my day. I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am. This school, the staff, everything felt like a PERFECT fit. I loved it from the second I walked in the door. The school is colorful, beautiful, there's huge banners hanging everywhere encouraging hardwork and academic growth. There's college graduating class signs above the homeroom doors of every classroom. The interview team was the Principal and another K-2 reading teacher (she'll teach a different 3 classes of K, 1, and 2, the same curriculum). She has been teaching at the school for 6 years and I LOVED her. I want her to be my mentor teacher already. The principal is amazing. I feel so at home, and I know its going to be so easy to go to her and just say, hey I'm clueless, etc. I'm not afraid to ask for help from her at all. After my interview she showed me my "potential" classroom, showed me the copiers, explained to me which to use for what type of copying, showed me the teachers' lounge, the whole campus, how the cluster program works.... everything. And I had SUCH a vision of me teaching in Phoenix that I was going to die if she didn't hire me. It was too close to home. I'm SO happy with my placement too. The majority of the tutoring I did in college for 3 years was 1st and 2nd grade literacy (reading, speaking, writing, etc). I am so thrilled to work with similar kids again and to be teaching reading. Literacy is so important to me in the educational inequality gap and I'll be able to help these kids succeed. It's crazy. Room 104 if you ever want to visit. :) I've also always thought about becoming a reading specialist. How perfect! Things happen for a reason, ya know? some things are just absolutely meant to be. I can't wait to get started and really make things happen.... But on the flip side, I'm honestly just so relieved to have been hired and to have that weight off my shoulders. I know it would have happened eventually, but going into induction and institute, I'm so happy to know I have a school, a principal and a classroom waiting for me. They are emailing me my contract tomorrow. This is real!!


Does it take more learning to pass math than reading?

AIMS scores are out. I can't really write about mine yet because I just don't know what to say. They're definitely bad, but I'm not sure if I should tear myself apart for them or start making excuses. I'm such a better teacher this year than last year, I know my kids learned dramatically more, and yet my scores are worse. What am I supposed to do with that? What I will share is one interesting thing I learned in the "Is it harder to be a math teacher?" wars. (READ THIS, which is a double-dose of blogger awesomeness from both Ms. Math and Kool-Aid.) I've been on the fence up until this point, but I think my school has some data that helps support the "yes" side. I'm looking at scores for two middle school teachers who left mid-year, one who taught reading and one who taught math. Given the amount of time each teacher or substitute taught and the amount of time each class was wildly out of control, I'd say the kids received roughly equal amounts of learning time. (I have other teachers from my school agreeing with that claim.) It was WAY less learning time than any child should receive over the course of an entire year, but it was at least about the same for both groups. In the group with an absent reading teacher, 70% of the kids passed reading. In the group with an absent math teacher, 10% of the kids passed math. Does that say something about comparing math and reading teachers? (Or am I overanalyzing to defend my own scores?)


T-Minus 1 Week

One week from today, I'll be in St. Louis for Induction. It's so crazy! I moved out of my apartment in Los Angeles last week, saying goodbye to my best friend, my coworkers, and the city I've called home for 5 years. Now I'm spending some time with my family before heading out for everything this summer. I got to visit St. Louis a few weeks ago for a hiring fair, which was really amazing. It was surreal to drive around the city with my host and realize that in the upcoming two years, I'll come to be familiar with it. It was also my first time in a school in the area. I finally feel like I can picture myself in the city, and what my classroom might look like. What teaching will be like...well, that's still pretty up in the air. It was also so exciting to meet some of my fellow STL CMs for the first time! Sadly, no job offer for me out of that hiring fair, but at least a couple incoming CMs did get hired, so I'm glad for them!  The interviews themselves were a good experience, and I know I'll feel more confident going into my next one. I'm not letting myself get stressed about a placement yet - plenty of current or former corps members have instilled the mantra in me, "Don't worry, you'll get a job." I'll wait until, say, the beginning of August before really letting myself get concerned. Until then, I'm trying to focus on Induction and Institute. I'm still finishing up all my pre-work, but it's only making me more pumped up! I sat alone in my mom's kitchen the other day, practicing out loud, "One two three, all eyes on me" and the like. Those things still sounds pretty outrageous coming out of my mouth, like I'm playing classroom with my stuffed animals. Hard to believe that in just a couple short weeks I'll be teaching in Chicago!


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