updates for 06.23.2011
My school doesn't have co-labs - instead, I teach 2nd period reading, and another teacher (I.), teaches the same students for 1st period. I don't play favorites, but I imagine every class has this student. The one who sits at the front of the room even if you don't have assigned seats, who is shy to answer questions, but knows every answer. The girl or boy who is the only person to get the obscure quiz bonus question correct, which was mentioned for 2 minutes the day before. I haven't gotten to know any of my students well this summer - I know I will this fall, but I was hesitant to form any bonds at summer school because of how short the time is that I will be working with them. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I. told me this afternoon why this student is always in class. The student's mother works cleaning houses, and if the student doesn't go to school, the student has to tag along -- and potentially help out. This made me feel horrible in ways I can't describe. This student is so determined, and deserves so much better than being at the worst middle school in Houston. And it's the kind of thing that, when I think about it, in my room here at Rice, I don't even have to take out the trash - someone comes into my room every day and takes care of it. Maybe it's another of my student's parents, I really don't know. Then again, if nobody was taking out the trash for me, I have absolutely no idea where that person would be. TFA stresses empathy, not sympathy. But when you experience this kind of thing as the teacher for the first time, it's really hard to follow those rules.
Well day four and I am completely overwhelmed at all the stuff I have seen, heard, and experienced. The people here are AMAZING. I have never met so many different people who all have tremendous backgrounds. Sometimes I sit there thinking, "How in the world did I get chose to do this!?" I have been able to see a lot of the city and so far I really love the historic aspect that Kansas City brings to the table. Yesterday I found out that I am going to be teaching 4 and 5 year olds at Faxon Elementary. Its Pre-K/Kindergarten. My school is different and does NOT have grade levels, rather the children are placed in different areas based off their development, which I think is pretty cool. I have met some really great girls and I am trying to find an apartment at the moment which is leading to be quite a headache but hopefully I will find something! We leave for LA on Sunday, so Friday and Saturday are left open for looking for homes and stuff. I miss everyone at home so much, but I guess I am "home" now for the next 22 months of my life :) it's a little shorter when you look at it that way. Love, Katie
I'm a teacher! Kind of. (P.S. Momma: thank you for making me keep this bag. I don't care how non-courtroom it is. At 5:15 in the morning, it makes me happy.) The problem with this is: I just ran my kids diagnostic data into the system tracker today to find out their summer growth goals. In one week, we have to test them again for mid-institute data. How in the hell am I supposed to get these kids to read in three more weeks? Just something that I learned last week that I can't help thinking about over and over: "So strong is the link between literacy and being a useful member of society that some states use 3rd grade-level reading statistics as a factor in projecting future prison construction." --National Adult Literacy Survey (1992), NCES, US Dept. of Education That sounds all fine and dandy and efficient until you sit down with the thirteen-year-olds in your 6th grade English class who literally cannot read. It's not just that they don't have the fluency to revel in the beauty of crafted language or that they can't comprehend a text in front of them. Some of them can't sound out words with heavy letter-sound based prompting. Made me curse and cry yesterday. I'm a crying kind of girl. That's fine. Every morning, my school bus with the blinking little white light bounces out of Cleveland, through Ruleville, and onwards. On the left, every morning, stands the Mississippi State Penitentiary, surrounded by barbed wire and flanked by a couple water towers. I might be over dramatic and I might have drunk the Kool-Aid, but this is real.
(If you want to skip to why I am angry, scroll down) It has been a long time since I have posted. Partially because I have been pretty incredibly busy since I got to Mississippi, and partially because I don't have a lot of good words to say what I am feeling. So this will just be my best go of it. The good things: I love the people here. I love the TFA people, and I love the locals of Cleveland, MS and the surrounding areas. Nobody has been anything but nice to me since I got here, so I have no complaints at all. People really are friendlier the farther south you go, or so it seems. I won't go into a long list of the people here who I really like, but I will admit that it is far more than I anticipated. The less good things: The food, but that is pretty unimportant and also expected. The workload has been killer. I am not normally someone to complain about not having to do my work, but, two weeks in, there have already been a couple of days where I have felt like I did not have enough time to do my best work. But I think that comes with the territory. The days are long, the work is copious, and the sleep is limited. I have a 50 minute ride to school every day, and it is beautiful. We go through miles and miles of fields. Today our bus even got hit by some stuff coming out of a crop duster plane. Not something I can say I had ever experienced before I got here. Decompressing on the bus on the way home has definitely been a life-saver so far. The really bad things: So now we get to why I am angry. I am not angry because I am tired or because I have to get up at 4:50 to stand outside and get bit by crazy Delta mosquitoes that show no mercy. I am not angry because it is ridiculously hot outside and ridiculously cold outside. I am angry because of the achievement gap. Anyone who knows me will be shocked to here me say that. Things like "I want to close the achievement gap" do not often come out of my mouth. Not in those words at least. But now I will say it. I want to help close the achievement gap. I am angry because of what the system has done to my five smart, nice, hardworking, and just plain awesome algebra 1 students this summer. When I think about people being behind in school, I normally think that they are a little slower to pick up concepts then others. Or maybe they are ever a year behind where they should be in math or reading. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine kids who are going to be juniors and seniors in high school not being able to add negative numbers. Never did I imagine that they wouldn't be able to spell "slope" or recognize that 4/4=1. This stuff is real. And it is scary. And it is unfair to the kids who want to graduate high school and might not. And it is an absolute injustice. And I am angry about it. Enter TFA teachers like me. I walk into a classroom of these kids. I am supposed to get them ready for their state test in Algebra 1. They can't do basic division. They can't work with negative numbers. They don't know that an ordered pair is written (x,y). So what do I do? How can I teach them algebra without basic math skills? Even if they understand the concepts, won't they still get the questions wrong? Probably. Can I make time stop and go back and teach them the 7 or 8 years or math they seem to have somehow missed? Nope. So what do I do? Answer: I have no idea. I left the classroom today almost in tears. It wasn't because the kids were misbehaving (they weren't), and it wasn't because I messed up some of my example problems (I did). It was because I am so frustrated and angry on their behalf, and I so so so badly want to be able to help them, but I don't know where to start or what to do or where to go. Am I trying to teach them math skills? Or am I trying to teach them to pass a test? Will one help the other? How in god's name am I going to begin to catch these kids up? (Really, if you have any suggestions, I will take them.) So I left the classroom upset and frustrated and confused. My emotions have been oscillating between frustration/confusion and anger/invigoration. What is happening in our schools is not ok. That has become abundantly clear in two days of teaching my amazing kids so far. There are 3 things that I have heard since I got here that I think will stick with me, and I will leave you with these thoughts. One of the TFA catchphrases that ACTUALLY spoke to me: The need is great; the time is short. After I was telling my kids how I had seen things in Mississippi that I had never seen before Jake looked at me and said, "We do a lot of things different down here in Mississippi." How true and insightful for a 17-year old. When I was apologizing (again) to my kids for messing up some of the example problems we were doing Tavas told me, "We can still learn from it." I can already tell the people here are going to do amazing things for me, and I hope I can do 1/100th as much for them as they are going to do for me.
Whether we're ready or not, we're getting prepared to enter the world of teaching. It's crazy. I'm 22 years old, recently graduated from college, and although I've worked with children for ages, do not feel at all ready to be a teacher. Maybe it's because I haven't been placed yet, but I feel a little like I'm drowning, not swimming. Yesterday, move-in day, was kind of a blur. I got here early in the morning and collected all the papers they were giving me, while my parents dropped my stuff off and said goodbye. I got fingerprinted for the DOE, and ran around doing a million things. I learned that ethernet cords won't be available until next week, neither will the gym, and wireless internet supposedly wouldn't work in the dorm rooms (it does, sort of **thank goodness**). I received a total shock when upon finding my room, I walked into a suite, and then a lofted triple inside. All of a sudden, I was transported back to freshman year, and the two or three crazy weeks I spent living in a lofted triple. I had lunch with one of my new roommates, and went off to find the placement advisor I had set up a meeting with to find out what is going on with my process. By dinner time, all but 2 of the girls in my 8-person suite had moved in, and we had all kind of settled together. The night seemed to be a great beginning, which was disrupted by the fire alarm going off at 11pm and then again at 3am, preventing most of us from getting a good night's sleep. Today was officially the first day of Induction. We had discussion groups, panel discussions, more panels, and more discussions. I shouldn't minimize the awesomeness of all of this at all. We heard from some really inspiring students, and discussed some really important things that we, as teachers, need to keep in mind as we move forward and begin teaching. Each time we go over something, read something, or hear from someone, I am reminded of not only the importance of what we will be doing, but also the power of this movement I've involved myself in. I find the understanding and diversity in this group of people to be staggering. I also find the level of commitment to be awesome. This is not to say that I am impressed by everyone, nor do I think that everyone is here for the right reasons, but what matters is that we are here. No group of people can be perfect; I've definitely learned that over years of moving myself from school to school, and from group to group, in search of the "perfect" dynamic and arena. However, this group of people- 350 of us- who will be first-year teachers in September, represent quite a force, and one that I'm excited to get to know better.
The first day of induction was full of opening ceremonies, great speakers, tons of food from Greektown, and lots of new people. It was also complete with some pretty amazing musical superstars from one of the local schools (DAAS) who performed "Detroit State of Mind" which happens to have its own music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcZf2CLxbgA If you weren't already in love with the D, you should be now. It's slowly but surely starting to hit me that I'm actually doing this.
I believe that TFA does not think so, and I will use this post to explain what evidence I have for this claim and also speculate why that choose to underestimate you in this way. When I was growing up in the 1970s, I loved watching reruns of 'The Brady Bunch' a show about a large family with 3 boys and 3 girls. On one episode that I remember (or just think I remember) the youngest boy, Bobby felt like he was unable to do some kind of task, maybe it was a physical feat, I can' t remember. Well, one of his older siblings gave him a good luck charm that was supposed to have magic powers. With this charm, Bobby's confidence was instantly improved. At the end, he somehow performed the task (again, my memory is fuzzy on the details, and I spent 30 minutes on Google trying to verify the details, but haven't been able to), only to realize at the end that the locket, or whatever it was, had fallen off and that the power to succeed was inside himself after all. The locket was just a lie, a crutch, but one that served a purpose. Without it, he may not have been able to overcome the fear of what he was attempting to do. I'll get back to the significance of this plot-line later. Over the past few posts I've been challenging some of the claims of success in TFA. The comments by former CMs in 'Why Does TFA value Quantity Over Quality' revealed the biggest scam yet. Data to calculate 'significant gains' is self-reported by CMs, and sometimes based on pre and post assessments that are self-created -- invalidating the data to claim that 40% of first year 2009 CMs got 1.5 years of gains. Why would TFA deliberately lie about their success? In my opinion there are two reasons. The first is for PR. By putting success in the best light possible they get more support from government and others so they can grow and improve (in that order) and eventually (maybe) get genuine gains. One problem with this is that if you lie enough, you start to believe it yourself. If TFA really thinks that 40% of first year CMs can get these kinds of gains, they won't feel an urgency to improve their training since it is, by those standards, good enough. The bigger problem is that TFA also presents these claims to the new CMs which give those CMs a false sense of confidence which has the risk of negatively affecting their effectiveness. They seem to think that, like Bobby Brady, a false sense of confidence will help CMs overcome the fear of failure. They are lying to you to trick you into harnessing the skills that you already have inside yourselves. Near the end of Wendy Kopp's book 'A Chance to Make History' (page 177), she writes about how her 8 year old son asked her "how if this is such a big problem -- you know, kids not having the chance to have a good education -- why would you ask people with no experience right out of college to solve it?" Wendy admits "it seems that I'm still spending just as much time as I did on day one trying to get people to understand what it is what we're doing. And my eight year old had gone straight to the heart of the matter." Then she explained to him the philosophy: "I started by sharing my view that although it's true that experience can be invaluable, there's also a power in inexperience -- that it can make a huge difference to channel the energy of young people, before they know what's 'impossible' and when they still have endless energy, against a problem that many have long since given up on. They can set and meet goals that seem impossible to others who know more about how the world works." (page 178) Years ago, I had exchanged a dozen emails with a former head of TFA, Jerry Hauser, who made it pretty clear that this was part of the overall plan of TFA. I see it as deliberately lying to CMs about how difficult teaching is so that they are not held back by their own fear and so they don't give up before they even start. They think that the risk of you giving up if you know the full truth is greater than the risk that you will be unprepared if they lie to you. So they lie to you. And this has been my main problem with TFA dating back to 1996, the one and only time I was a staff member as a CMA at the 1996 Houston institute (working under, of all people, a young Michelle Rhee!). I presented a workshop about how tough my first year was. They allowed me to present that workshop for about 10 summers in a row, but then they stopped letting me do it in 2006. (It's on YouTube if you really want to see it. www.youtube.com/garyrubinstein) My first book, which was based on that workshop, is required reading at many teacher preparation programs, but it doesn't even appear as recommended reading on any TFA list. Instead, copies of it are passed around the different institutes like a Playboy magazine in a middle school class. I believe that 2011 CMs do not need a Bobby Brady magic locket -- or 'The Kool Aid' as I understand CMs like to call it. It may have worked in the Brady Bunch but it is too big of a gamble in the real world where the education of tens of thousands of kids is at stake. Instead they need a training model that is truly succcessful. The Teaching As Leadership framework is very flawed. You can read my extensive review of it here, or I'll just give you a taste of it. I believe that the TAL framework reveals that TFA (or at least Steven Farr -- Chief Knowledge Officer of TFA) does not know the first thing about teaching. That is not to say that they don't know anything about teaching because they certainly know some things, but they do not know the 'first thing' because they make it clear that they think the 'first thing' about teaching is to 'Set Big Goals.' I'm not sure how deeply they go into this three word starting point in training. I'd say it's oversimplified at best and dangerous at worst. Many CMs misinterpret this and think that just because they say that successful CMs have had big goals, then if they have big goals, they will be successful too. What TFA does not say is that many unsuccessful CMs also started by setting big goals. In my opinion, these big goals have, for many CMs, caused them to be failures in their first years. Great teachers do not 'Set Big Goals.' Great teachers set reasonable goals. They are able to do this because they are knowledgeable about what sort of goal is appropriate and what sort of goal is going to get kids frustrated and make them lose confidence in you and in themselves. Anyway, you can (and should) read my entire critique if you want to see more than one side of many of these TFA claims. Even if you disagree with every claim I make, the process of thinking about why you disagree with me will make you more prepared for next year. TFA needs to invest more into training so that CMs don't have to have only 20 hours of practice teaching, sometimes with classes of only 10 kids. CMs deserve to hear the truth and I have confidence that they can handle it. The truth will help them be better prepared so they can be more effective which will benefit the children they teach. And, as an added bonus, TFA won't have to lie about their bogus successes since they will become genuine ones.
I am now well-versed on the exit strategy of Century Hall, the dorm I am housed in for institute on St. John's campus in Queens.
At 8:30pm (EST, for my mom who is still in mountain time), my head determinedly hit the pillow with the intention of being prepared and well-rested the first whole day of induction. I was still recovering from my 5am flight and exhausted from the sweaty experience of the taxi cab and TFA check-in.
At 10:30pm, my slumber was savagely interrupted by sirens, lights, bells, and chimes: fire drill. I threw a sweatshirt on, muttering under my breath about the unlawfulness of hazing, sandwiched between obscenities. Collectively, my suitemates and I merged with our fellow grumpy and half-naked corp members. As we exited, the TFA professional team gave us sympathetic smiles, but I shot my worst evil eye to illustrate my disapproval of such cruel and unusual tactics. Bootcamp had begun. Three fireman gallantly entered the building to ease our fear of fire. After ten minutes of grumbling and hypothesizing the reasoning behind the drill, we were given the go to cattle back into the dorm.
At 2:30AM, to my dismay, the fire alarm sounded a second time. Seriously. And the alarm isn't the standard fire alarm. It is a mean, high-pitched shriek, combined with a bodily intrusive bass. Naturally, one of my roommates slept through the modest warning. The procession of round two commenced down the staircase and out the doors among even more grumpy people and even more half-naked people. Now, no TFA teams were in sight, only police officers with accusatory stares. We huddled in seated positions on the concrete to commiserate, offering only the words of wisdom "this blows."
There was no fire. And we shuffled inside to begin our third attempt at sleep.
Today, we were notified that the alarm wiring was out of whack and they are working hard to resolve the issue.
Boy who cried wolf called...
We started summer school yesterday and I officially became a teacher. The fact that I couldn't find the time or energy to tell you even one thing about it on the day it happened speaks to what kind of day it was! My kids, though absolutely adorable, had a hard time sitting still for more than 30 seconds and wanted to tell me EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING. Worse, they could not draw pictures or write words even close to the level they would need to be able to complete my lesson. I think I had envisioned kids who were just beginning to write sentences but could manage a word or two and certainly a picture. I had envisioned first graders. My kids have just finished kindergarten, and not a single one of them is above grade level. For all intents and purposes, they are kindergartners, not first graders. And kindergartners are babies! But today went 1000% better, because I could start from the mindset that they were babies and needed to be shown how to do most things. We showed them how to sit. We showed them how to raise their hands. We showed them how to answer a question. We showed them how to make a sentence (with pictures to fill in blanks in a sentence frame). Most importantly, we narrated and recognized students who were doing a good job, and we gave consequences (in the form of a temperature behavior chart--Hot, hot, hot! Major cool down! Super Scholar Temperature!) to those who needed to work on their behavior. And we were consistent. All of this sounds simple. But you would not believe the difference it made. Yesterday: One of my students was bouncy and fidgety and couldn't sit still. Randomly, he raised his hand and told me, "I took longer to go to the bathroom because some boys made pee-pee and didn't flush. So I helped them flush. I flushed three toilets!" Very nice, honey, but what body part do you use to see? Today: One of my students managed to participate in group practice, look directly at the speaker, and nod his head that he understood yesterday's lesson, ALL WITHOUT LEARNING ANYTHING AT ALL. He couldn't tell you what the lesson was about. He's managed to do this for all of kindergarten, because if you don't go ask him directly, you'd never know he didn't get it. His reading and math levels are thus incredibly low, and he sometimes is so shy he can't make himself say the answer even when he does know it. I made sure he was in my small group today and gave him as much one-on-one attention as possible, checking for understanding every step of the way. We went through the problems together, we made our sentences, we read them together. Assessment time: guess who got 100% of his objectives mastered AND showed it in words and pictures, one of the only kids to do so? That's right, my little Rock Star. I'm very sorry if this is incoherent or nonsensically described. I've gotten 7 hours of sleep in the past two days. Institute is very busy. But I wanted to get this down, because the look on Rock Star's face when I gave him a high five and he moved his temperature up to Super Scholar is what's stuck in my overtired, mushy brain tonight. You should see a smile like that.
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