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updates for 07.01.2011

9 new posts today

I went to school today

And oh my goodness, it was amazing! It's a beautiful school, much better than I could ever have hoped for. Setting up the classroom to work as parallel teachers in a collab of four was incredibly difficult, but it was still amazing. Not everything today was amazing; in fact, pretty much everything but getting my classroom wasn't. If we had started working on our lesson plans, investment plans, and management plans on Monday or Tuesday instead of yesterday everything would have been fine. However, we didn't even learn anything about lesson plans until yesterday, and they were do at 8am this morning. Today, we learned about investment plans at management plans, as well as what we're going to have to do during our ILT on our first few days (a.k.a. teaching our kids our norms and expectations, procedures, and management tools). The paperwork for all of that is due tomorrow, somewhere between 8am and noon. This is a LOT of work. If you've never done TFA, and you're a teacher, you're pretty lucky in terms of this type of paperwork. Spreading it out over a couple of days would have been really helpful, but we've been given it all at once. Also, we won't see our classrooms again until Tuesday, about an hour and a half before our students arrive. This means that we have to hope all of the stuff we make to put up on the walls actually FITS, because we wont have much time to adjust it if it doesn't. We have been given some basic supplies, but not anything you might expect like construction paper. I'm extremely frustrated and tired, not at all helped by the fact that I just got my first draft LP back and was graded "N" for novice. I guess I should feel grateful that my collab works pretty well together, and that we're all very task-oriented about the whole thing, which makes writing everything we have to write a lot easier. At this point, people have already started dropping out and we haven't even seen the kids yet. I can't wait till Tuesday.


Public Education Across the Atlantic

Imagine for a second that you're a student ("pupil") in the United Kingdom today. You wake up and, ready to face the challenges of the day, select clothes to wear, scarf down breakfast and run out the door, eager as always to leave the house, see friends, learn something. Soon enough you arrive at the gate to your school and you attempt to enter, only to nearly walk into a sign that looks something like this: Perplexed, you wonder what could have happened. You decide to investigate. How about the newspaper stand? You attempt to cross the street and realize you don't have anyone helping you navigate traffic: By the time you reach the stand, you have a good idea of what's going on. But you want to confirm. You pick up a copy of the local paper and read this. School's are closed because of an industrial action--in this instance, as part of comprehensive strikes in the public sector against a pension reform proposal, which asks workers to contribute slightly more and retire slightly later. Indeed, almost half of UK schools were closed today. Several major teachers unions asked their teachers to strike. Though most of the public sector was affected by the industrial action, the schools were undoubtedly hit hardest. It is certainly an unfortunate day for you, a pupil in the UK. ***** I happen to be in England right now. Every TV news station is airing non-stop footage of the strikes (crowding out Wimbledon coverage). The talking heads debate the cause, effectiveness, legitimacy and legacy of the strikes. The newspapers echo this, only in text format. I don't know enough about UK politics to comment much about the current crisis. But, based on what little I've read, the proposed pension reforms seem reasonable in light of current economic conditions. The government is pressed for money, and pensions are bloated. The private sector has made cuts. Why can't the public sector as well? What infuriates me most is the way the teachers union attempted to ensure the closure of as many schools as possible, in order to increase the magnitude of its negative impact. When education secretary Mike Gove implored heads of school to enlist parents and other volunteers to fill in staffing gaps to minimize disruptions to student learning, a union leader responded with "grave concerns":

We would strongly advise our members not to accept voluntary help to cover for absent staff this Thursday. When qualified staff are present, the voluntary help of parents is a very welcome contribution to schools and something to be very much encouraged. However, where qualified staff are unable to supervise them, the presence of voluntary, temporary helpers can have very serious implications for the safety and well-being of pupils.
Translated: "Don't let people fill our teachers' spots. Our strike will be most effective when we minimize the number of students learning. Therefore do the most that you can to abandon the schools!" I heard a working mother sobbing on TV because she could not find any child care for her kids. It was sad, but not rare. The strikes were extremely disruptive to schools. This brings me to a point: the level of unionization in the UK (and other European countries) is still far higher than what we see in the US. Even though Margaret Thatcher boldly smashed the unions in the 1970s, today's strikes show that their remnants still play a significant role in British society. Education basically ground to a halt. Could something like that ever happen in the US today? I find the union dynamic in education intriguing. Others do too. Terry Moe of Stanford, for one, finds teachers unions to be an insidious influence. I presume that he believes that the US needs someone to do to teachers unions what Thatcher did to manufacturing unions. Might Chris Christie fit the bill? Only time will tell. profile counter

Skrawberry Fields Forever

Before we had ever met them, my collab decided to name our students "Straight-A Scholars" because we expected them to "Act Appropriately" and "Achieve Academically." Little did we know that in the Mississippi Delta, the "str-" sound is pronounced "skr-." Our "Straight-A Scholars" refer to themselves as "Skraight-A Scholars." I think this is adorable, but this dialectal oddity is also unfortunately (or fortunately?) kind of contagious; I've started switching my str- out for skr- when I'm really tired. Yesterday morning I informed my roommate (when we were waking up at 5am) that I was "skressed out and skruggling," and our morning school bus is now unofficially the "Skruggle Bus." I also got some "skrawberry" on my shirt this morning and had to use my Tide-to-Go pen. TFA: Skraddling the achievement gap in the Mississippi Delta since 1991


Ms. B over there done doin da stanky leg!

Woah -- we are half way done with institute (and yes I did rock out to bon jovi yesterday) Yesterday (exactly mid point of institute)  was a roller coater of emotions!  My students are not terrible, but classroom management is definitely an issue.  It is so hard to keep their little bodies in those chairs/at the rug (which I think is hilarious that there is NO rug, just masking tape on the floor!)  for 4 hours.. yup! little people with 7-10 minute attention spans for 4 hours.  3 different teachers -- 2 different subjects -- anyway that was a tangent.  I sent a student out of the classroom in those 45 minutes of teaching because he FLEW through (or down) the consequence chart.  Some of these students really don't care about receiving consequences.  5 minute silent lunch, time out -- they really do nothing for them.  I sent out the student with about 15 minutes left in the day and I could hardly keep my composure.  What had I done to not redirect his behavior?  Had I given him enough chances? (the answer to this is more than enough according to my collab)  His parents came and we had an impromptu conference in which they were really receptive and had a talking to with him. Then.. the best thing happened! Happy TFA Appreciation Day! = Happy Totally Free Afternoon! Oh my gosh! Just what I needed, after I came back and had a good cry (thanks for listening, Daddy!)  I went out and had some good old childhood fun here on DSUs campus.  There was a water slide, team building games, and the best part -- carnival food at dinner!  It was much needed for everyone here at institute. Institute is definitely the hardest most rigorous thing that I have ever done.  Sleep is about 3-4 hours a night (plus my 30 minute nap on the way to and from school)  routine, the work is endless (there really aren't enough hours in the day).  But the people are great!  All of us are in the same boat, we laugh (hysterically -- mainly at nothing because of our delusions from lack of sleep) , we cry, we yell, we drive around the Delta because we have to escape.  But the point is that we do it together. We are doing this for the very real achievement gap!  My students can barely count to 20 heading into 1st grade.  My students barely know their shapes.  It is just heart break after heart break.  But the glimmer of hopes are there!  Students to make strides, they do want to be better, they do want to achieve -- we just have to show them how! The best parts of my day are typically the funny things that their little mouths say.  For example, take my blog title.  During our 5 minute class point earned dance party today I happen to ask a student what he was doing and mimicked his fabulous moves, and then one student yelled out "Ms. B over there done doin da stanky leg!"  The entire class cracked up and we just laughed and laughed.  It is good to see smilies on their little faces.  I have also learned that the answer to "How are you"  is "alllrriiiggghhhttt"  which I've decided is the equivalent to "doing good" in the north!  I also love the "wut dat is?"  when they are curious about different things. My students are great.  I'm doing just fine (I promise I'm still alive -- though some people think different)  and this achievement gap can be eliminated.  It won't be this year or next, but with each and every student that we can get to work hard and have a goal for their life, we can do this!  These students are very capable of going to college and being successful humans one day. We have a 3 day weekend this weekend!  Wayyy better than Christmas!  We are going to have a no TFA day where we are not allowed to talk about our students or TFA because we are forming friendships on that -- and I want life long friends from this experience!  Can't wait for the 4th and the celebrations that they have planned for us!


Rollercoaster Physics (Institute)

To be completely honest, I came into institute feeling pretty confident. It would be hard, but I'd probably be all right. I wouldn't be one of those people you hear about having breakdowns. Well. I haven't had a breakdown, but I've definitely had some really rough days. Halfway through my first lesson all I wanted to do was cry and run away. Constant messages (from TFA, but mostly from myself) just start beating down on me: I need to lesson plan faster, I need to maintain my new friendships, I need to manage behavior better, I need to time my lessons better, I need to have a better teacher voice, I need to remediate the kids who are falling behind, I need to bring up my test scores, I need to be less scattered, I need to practice more, I need to have the students practice more.... A constant barrage of huge things that need fixing - now. We only have two more weeks with these kids, and they need to meet their goals! They need to get credit for this science class... But sometimes all I really need to do is just talk about something else with one of the awesome people here that is going through the same thing. Or I need to call home and ward off some of that homesickness, or call a friend that has other things to talk about... I mean, it's almost halfway done. I've learned a hell of a lot already about teaching, and I know what my strengths and weaknesses are at this point. I have peers and advisers that I can talk to this fall (and indefinitely), AND I have a THREE DAY WEEKENDDDDDD :D


It's not the number of times you fall, but how you pick yourself up

I keep trying to remember to blog as often as possible. But, this week it just wasn't possible. Week 3 has been the hardest by far. The honeymoon period is over, the achievement gap is real, sleep is minimal, but the halfway point has passed. My week can be summed up with saying: teaching is hard. I don't think I ever fully thought it would be quite this hard until I am doing it now. I knew my teachers always did a lot, and had a lot going on - but I never knew it was this much. As I tried to explain to someone yesterday, there are more things on my mind during a lesson than any other time in my life. Just a snap shot of what I am thinking while teaching: 1. are my students getting this information? 2. why is that student over there slouching? how can I get him/her to sit up straight? 3. everyone has their hand raised, who do I choose on strategically? 4. now others are upset I did not choose on them, how do I keep them engaged? 5. why aren't they answering the question I just asked? 6. how am I doing for time? 7. how should I frame this question to solicit the answer to guide the students to proper analysis? 8. is teaching this hard for everyone? 9. that student has put his head down - is he sleeping or reading? 10. do my students know how much I really love teaching them....even when they frustrate me? .......and that's all within about 20 seconds. I teach for over 2 hour blocks - you get the picture. And Tuesday my lesson bombed. I COMPLETELY misunderstood the level that my students were at and overshot the lesson completely. I used ideas and words that were not familiar to them without taking the time to define and teach them how to use them. Then when the lesson got out of hand, my students became bored and disengaged and therefore classroom management became a challenge and fell apart. By the end of the lesson I had only one student who was still following along, and it was my fault. Talk about defeat. I've lost soccer games, failed tests, and had many other difficult upsets in life and none of them even begin to compare. Because I let down my kids who has been let down so many other times before. I left my room and crashed into our teacher's room and took about 10 minutes to analyze how my lesson went so wrong. Then I vented to some good friends. Then I debriefed with my advisor who made me realize that this happens to everyone at some point and to take the frustration and channel it into a more engaging and understandable lesson on Friday. And that I have done.....I hope. Right now, my students are taking their mid-institute assessment to see how much they have grown so far in our class. I have seen them grow and watched them develop so much already in the past two weeks so it will be interesting to see how this assessment data turns out. And thank everything for the three day holiday weekend coming up. I need that about as much as I need water to survive.


How to boost employee morale

They told me this was going to happen in my interview, but I actually didn't believe them. I figured it was one of those promises you make to hire someone and then conveniently forget about later. And it's true that the school year is still two months away, so there's still time for this to slip out of my fingers. But today I got to see the Master Schedule for the actual school year (as opposed to summer school, which starts Tuesday) and they're at least planning to make this happen for us. This year, I'm scheduled to have TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF PREP TIME... every day. That's 150 minutes of time during my work day to actually do my work. That's as opposed to staying after school until evening and then bringing the work home. (They are warning us about having so much work we'll still need to do that anyway, but I'm too giddy with joy to be paying attention to that.) Sure, my school day is about an hour longer than last year, but my prep time  is also FOUR TIMES what it used to be. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me it's just a big joke. I teach three classes. I have a homeroom group I do activities with. I have to be present at some all-school events and run some detentions. And I have time to plan collaboratively with the other sixth grade math teacher. Oh yeah, did I mention that I have 2.5 hours of prep? Everyone says we'll feel overworked even with the prep time, but it's not like that would be a new feeling for me. The point is that someone actually is giving me time, at my job, to do my work. I know that's normal in other fields, but it's a HUGE GIFT in teaching. I feel like I just won the lottery.


What my kids gave me for my birthday yesterday...

So, to preface this post, let me just say that Monday was AWFUL. My kids were all over the place, I was all over the place, it was an avalanche on top of a train wreck in a post-apocalyptic tornado. Badbadbadbadbad. BUT yesterday was my birthday. And here's what my kids gave me:

  • A Days of the Week song sung to the tune of the Addams Family theme song.
  • Hugs galore.
  • 85,000 paperclips, bits of fuzz, and staples found on the carpet (you would not believe the things they find so they can have the honor of handing me something).
And even better:
  • J1 (half my kids have J-names, and for anonymity's sake we'll leave it at that) really struggles with reading, partly because she has a speech impediment and can't really sound things out very well. When asked to do a reading task, she often says, "But I can't read," as if it is an insurmountable fact she will never get past. But yesterday, she worked hard one-on-one for a whole lesson on something that is really and truly hard for her, and she sorted all her sight words correctly.
  • J2 really struggles to control his body, and spends at least part of every class twitching, flailing, and generally distracting himself and everyone around him.  Yesterday he kept his movements inside his body, shaking or rocking but not distracting anyone at all. When he did have a meltdown (he has at least 1 a day, because he's 6, so this doesn't count against him), he snapped back into focusing and came back to do a perfect assessment.
  • B tends to slide down the slippery slope of behavior until he has to face isolating consequences, at which point he is so upset he can miss the whole lesson to sulking and hiding his face. Yesterday he got in serious trouble and went to sulk. BUT he came up after a little bit, waited his turn to speak (something he usually does only upon pain of death!) and asked, "Ms. EMinNM, can I come back?" This is the first time he's taken the initiative to come back to learning after a consequence.
  • The final touch: overall, my kids got 96% mastery of the objective I was trying to teach.
I know that to the casual non-1st-grade-familiar observer, these presents might not seem so impressive. Let me tell you why they are. For my kids, there are easy paths and there are hard paths. Depending on the kid, the easy path might be reading or it might be sitting staring into space instead of trying to read. It might be paying attention, or it might be shooting your arms out in distraction and punching the kid next to you. It might be raising your hand, or it might be shouting out the answer uncontrollably even when you have been asked, warned, and finally forced to wait your turn. In a way, I'm more proud of them for consciously choosing the hard path than I am for anything they can tell me on a worksheet. My kids, at 6 years old, try SO HARD to learn. Anyone can learn when they are able to sit still. Anyone can learn when they already have all the building blocks in place. Anyone can learn when their body is under their control. But some of my kids come in every day without any of those things, and work their little behinds off to try to learn anyway. They teach me a lot about what it means to work hard, what it means to be dedicated, and what it means to trust someone enough that you'll work like crazy to do something you think you can't do, because they think you can. What more can I ask for my birthday?

How many Type A personalities does it take to unscrew a lightbulb?

None. The lightbulb remains screwed in. They are too busy being worried over the fact that they haven't been able to unscrew it for the past three days. I have too much work to do and not nearly enough caffeine. I promise myself an extra long post in response to my first official observation and after I've stopped being depressed over the fact that I had 100% of students fail my assessment today. Not in a great place. Not really fit company. Not really interested in thinking about it at the moment.


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