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updates for 07.03.2011

7 new posts today

Freedom rings...for three days anyway.

THREE DAY WEEKEND! The Fourth of July never looked so good. Actually, it's looked better. I don't know how Atlanta's fireworks will stack up to the Jersey Shore experience of watching them over the Atlantic from the beach... but nonetheless I am excited to be in the big city for this celebration. The past week has been a difficult one. My emotions for the past few weeks, actually, since the start of this experience, have been on such a weird rollercoaster. Physically, as well, I can notice hits thrown to not only my energy level but to my immune system as well. And mentally, I'm still trying to wrap my head around things. It's over, for the most part. No more lesson plans to be submitted. Only one more class day, and that will be spent reviewing for the test. Then I'll have a couple days in school but not teaching. And then it's Friday. And then it's Closing Ceremonies. And then we move out. Weird? Weird. Relieving though, for sure. I hear a lot of people declaring victory or writhing in defeat as to whether or not they were effective and/or did a good job. I'm still deciding on that as well. I know there are a few kids I changed for the better and whose changes have been enormous. I also know there are a few kids who, in this brief and tense four weeks, I just couldn't reach. I'm not sure how to evaluate the entire experience. That will come later. But I think I stood my ground and did the best I could. "If I knew then what I knew now" is so cliche but it's so true- if I had some of the knowledge I got along the way but a little too late, perhaps I could have been better. But I did the best I could with what I had. Teaching reading to kids who are grade levels below or learning English after only being here for a year is probably the most difficult task to take on. I took it on. I wasn't perfect and I did fail many times, but I can see some really resilient success in there, too. I will miss these kids and part of me will wish I had more time with them and more time to improve, but I feel a sense of awareness and reassurance as I go into my Regional Placement this Fall. I'm looking forward to it being over, though. The schedule itself is grueling. And, to be selfish for a moment, I miss having a life. Finance is also an issue and the reality of this situation is that the last time I had income was May 21st, 2011. It is now July 2nd, 2011. I will not receive my first paycheck until August 31st, 2011. The transitional funding package I received was insulting to my situation and I am frankly frantic as I look forward. But I'll make it work. I have no other choice. We've been looking at some amazing condos in Atlanta and I'm getting really fired up about that. I can't wait to make my home. Life is good on these free weekends... I'm in love with trying new spots to eat and drink, driving down new avenues with the windows down and the music loud, and having time to hear myself think-even if it's a thought about something totally random. I laid by the pool for a few hours today. I ate macaroni and cheese and a freeze pop. I bought some peroxide to gargle in my mouth in hopes that I can combat gingivitis on my own instead of going to a professional with no insurance (that won't kick in until September- awesome). We're trying a taqueria down the street tonight and I'm excited- margaritas are much needed and well-deserved. And that's really what it's been recently, weeks of nonstop work and weekends of random leisure, speckled with bits of beauty and bits of grotesque. Beauty like a bottle of cold Sauvignon Blanc. Grotesque like the meaty red of infected gums and the ache in my right side throat. It's bizarre. But it's mostly beauty. One week left... Happy Fourth. Proud to be an American. Proud to Teach For America.


First Week Down ... 4 To Go

Well my first week in LA is officially over and I have never been more thrilled for a weekend in my entire life. 3 DAY WEEKEND!! I love my little school I am teaching at here in LA and I get to meet my students on Tuesday for their first day of school. Yesterday I was able to set up my kindergarten room and it is seriously half the size of my room in KC. It was fun, but since I have to share it with 3 other people tensions were a little high most of the time because everyone had their own ideas. I have been having a hard time figuring out to write the lesson plans here. They are SO different from what I was taught in school and I sometimes have a closed mine and think I know everything which in reality I don't. I think everything will be better when I actually get to teach on Tuesday! Last night Alyssa, Elisabeth, and I attempted to call a cab to take us to Target. We made it to Target just fine, but after waiting almost an hour for our cab to come take us home, we realized that they didn't pick up where we were at. So we had to figure out another cab company. It was quite an adventure seeing as I have only been in a cab once and that was on Sunday. Today I am going to the BEACH :) which I am pretty excited about. Just to sit in the sun and not worry about anything! We decided to make a pack and not talk about teaching until Sunday, haha. I miss everyone tons. 4 weeks today I will be home :) xoxo



Objective: By the end of this blog Blog Readers Will Be Able To.... 1.) Comprehend and explain to others what my first week of Institute was like 2.) Identify what grade, school, and lesson I am teaching next week 3.) Believe that I have become a coffee drinker. Just kidding...not about becoming a coffee drinker, but that I was actually going to write my blog entry in form of a lesson plan on my day off. It's about 9:15 a.m. on Saturday morning and I'm sitting outside my dorm at a table that faces the entire city. The dorm I am staying here literally is the coolest place in the world because of our view. It's like they placed us here strategically because they knew we would need a peaceful place. I spend probably about 70% of my time out here  between planning, alone time, and running on the trail. It's beautiful. I do think all the regions here got lucky that our Institute is here because of how beautiful it is and how much stuff there is to do. Anywho, the first week of Institute was not too bad at all. I don't know if I was just one of the lucky one's, but I haven't felt stressed out once. There were definitely times that I felt a little discouraged because I had no idea what I was doing, but other than that I have felt very calm. I think some of it has to do with the fact that I'm a workaholic and I really like being busy and having stuff to do. And from 5:30 a.m. until about 8:00 pm there is stuff we have to do. (Clearly a little busy). I was placed at a Charter School for the summer called Gabriella. The school is AMAZING. The foundation is built of dance from a girl named Gabriella who passed away who's passion was dance. Gabriella then turned into a school and incorporated the foundation into it, by giving the kids an hour of dance a day. We watched a video about it yesterday with our principal. Honestly, it gave me goosebumps. The breakdown of what I will teach looks like this....I will be teaching Reading, Writing, and Math for 5th Graders, which I'm excited about because these kids are close to the grade I'm teaching back home. My Collab consists of 3 other people. We're all teaching the same class and each week we teach something different. This week I'm teaching Writing, the week after I will be doing Reading, then the remaining two weeks I will do Math. Planning my first lesson was by far the toughest thing I have done since I've been here. People aren't kidding, teaching is a hard job my friends. That is, if you want to be an EFFECTIVE teacher. I've never felt so boggled about where to start on something. However, TFA is smart because they know people like me are coming through and they set you up with CMA (Corps Member Advisor). And I surely have the best one out of all. It's not even that I'm biased. It's just the truth. Her name is Amelia and she's great. She sat with me for probably a solid 45 minutes during my first lesson and broke it down step by step for me. Which enabled me to end up writing a really solid lesson plan (we'll see how solid it ends up being after I actually present it on Wednesday). My first objective is to teach my 5th graders how to utilize a graphic organizer and to be able to understand the four key elements of a Narrative: plot, setting, POV, and conflict. So the bigger picture here is that they will have written a successful narrative by the time this unit is over with. Friday was legit for a number of reasons. 1.) It is our first friday/weekend! 2.) It was so great to be able to getting through the first week and knowing what is to come after waiting so long. 3.) The Institute Staff people are seriously rock stars. When we returned from the schools on our busses they were blasting music outside LMU and had signs and popsicles awaiting for us. In the words of my friend Elyse, "they're right on track with the reward system they teach us. It has been 5-7 days (which is what the reward system is for older kids), and they rewarded us with a popsicle. I am now ready to work hard again to receive this reward next friday." Touche. Now we get a 3 day weekend this week because of 4th of July. I also think we're extremely lucky that between our first week here and our first week of teaching we get an extra day to work and prepare. My life is going to start looking a little different than it did this past week. We spent the majority of our time here at LMU in classes/sessions. Next week, we will wake up for breakfast at 5:30 everyday and leave for the busses to depart to our school at 6:30. We will teach until about 1 p.m. everyday. When I'm not teaching I will be in sessions. And when we get back from our school we will have class at night, along with lesson planning. I actually have quite a bit due by next Tuesday so I have to plan my time this weekend efficiently. This is where...believe it or not..I have joined the cult and started drinking coffee. Dangggggg. Other than that, my friends and I are hoping to make it out to the beach this weekend and have the Big Blue Bus :-) take us somewhere on Monday for the 4th of July. I'll leave you with the one thing I truly learned this week that matters more than any session I've been in or lesson I have planned..... I'm supposed to be here doing this.


Friday: update day, apparently!

Holy smokes what a week!  It just FLEW by, and before I knew it, it was Friday again. Let me just say, it was incredible.  I love being a teacher.  I've learned so much this week.  I adore my kids.  They're "spirited", to put it lightly, but I love them.  They're just so funny, and they have so much potential.  I can't wait to see them every day, but they still intimidate me more than a little bit. This week was difficult; classroom management is hard and teaching is hard, and doing both at once is, well, hard.  I'm learning very quickly to be way meaner than I think I should be.  Like today, I really cracked down on the consequences, and my students probably hated it but I know they respected me for it. This chain of consequences thing we have to do is pretty silly and full of flaws. I see the reasoning behind it, but still, it's not working very well.  I'm kind of being "creative" with my consequences, and I'm still proving to my class that when I give a consequence, it's actually a punishment.  With 8th graders, apparently you have to prove it to them. It's hard, but it's unbelievably fulfilling.  I've had some really rough days, but I've always wanted to go back the next day. I won't miss waking up at 4 every morning, but Institute hasn't been a negative experience so far.  I just want to put that out there: Institute has been an enjoyable experience.  A different meaning of "enjoyable", but still enjoyable.  I like the people I work for and the people I work with, so even when I'm completely sleep-deprived, I'm not unhappy. I still absolutely love the South.  I've been having grits for breakfast every morning, and I'm starting to really like them.  Also, Sonic. As you can probably tell, I'm not coherent quite yet, but I'll get there this weekend.  I already said that Fridays were better than Christmas, and 3-day weekends are just as wonderful.


Teacher is the Student

I once (rather arrogantly) told my husband “Some people follow rules; others make them.” Let me tell you how those words taste… I have a student who is incredibly bright.  She consistently participates in class, makes keen observations, and asks relevant, insightful questions.  She performs well on most of her assessments.  She is extremely likeable.  But she does not want to follow classroom rules.  She is not disruptive.  In fact, she is rather nonchalant about it.  She may answer a question without raising a hand.  She may ask a question without raising a hand.  She may not open her book and follow along while a classmate reads.  But she will always have the right answer when I call on her. Essentially, this student makes her own rules.  And I believe she feels quite entitled to—she is doing well academically in the class, and she is not causing any disruptions. While reflecting about this student, I had an Aha Moment: I do this all the time!  I so often disregard “rules” I find unnecessary or unjustified.  I surf the internet while I should be listening to a presentation,--after all, I can do both.  I sometimes speed a little on my way to work--after all, there is no one else on the road.  It is incredibly eye-opening (and convicting) to observe the behavior from the other side of the equation.  This is definitely a personality trait/behavior that I will seek to improve in myself. In the meantime, my collab and I intend to find news ways to challenge and engage our student without compromising our classroom rules.  We also look for ways to give her more responsibility and leadership in the classroom.  In short, we will try to maximize her strengths and set her up to succeed. Meanwhile, I am grateful to her for the opportunity to learn about myself through her behavior.


Daily 5s: Week 1 of Institute

Because Institute can be incredibly stressful, every day I'm trying going to write down 5 things that made me happy that day. I decided to just publish weekly, and compile along the way. Some days... finding 5 things has been harder than others. This is the first full week of Institute. June 27, 2011 Had a great night's sleep. My CMA (Corps Member Advisor) is wonderful, and very open about her struggles. Casual dress for the rest of the week! Lunch outside and the accompanying sunburn! (I like being tan...) This is a beautiful campus, and I'm happy to enjoy it for 5 weeks.

June 28, 2011 After  struggling in session, my CMA held a make-up & now I'm comfortable with the process. KCMO, we're the BEST fo' SHO'! I'm so happy with our Corps Culture and Corps Pride! I have great friends (Sam, Mike, & Danielle) who help me let off steam through laughter. There was DELICIOUS fresh pineapple in the caf this morning. After an emotionally draining day, I am re-focused!

June 29, 2011 Early to bed, early to rise... I'm starting to adjust to an earlier schedule. Lesson planning is going well today. Seriously, Southern Californians are so lucky - the citrus here is AMAZING. I'm finding the little bits of time to listen to my amazing audiobook. Everything turned in and in bed at just 10:30!! I can feel the jealousy coming from the other CMs...

June 30, 2011 7 hours of sleep! Had a wonderful, quiet, solitary lunch that helped me recharge. Made plans with my sister for the long weekend. It's almost Friday. Had some good hummus today. (I told you some days were harder than others).

July 1, 2011 FRIDAY! Got to go to my school today and set up my classroom with my cohorts! Popsicles before dinner to celebrate the end of week one (YUM) There's a grocery store with a liquor department less than a mile away. Perfect evening - Jameson & Young Frankenstein with two friends, coupled with an early bed time.


Ohh, we're one-fifth there

Overheard in the suite common room. CT Corps Member: "I'm scared about teaching fourth graders... I don't even know what fourth graders look like." Well, I've emerged from week one of five at NYC Institute, a little tired but for the most part no worse for wear. The "here are the minute-by-minute details of my 18 hour days at Institute, oh woe is me" posts are a little overplayed on Teach For Us, so I'll spare you. (Fun fact: I almost typed TFANet instead of Teach For Us. Sigh.) I'll also spare you complaining about all the in-session discussions, surveys, and self-reflections that we've had to complete. (Though honestly, they are endless.) Instead, here's an excerpt from a note card that my CMA (Corps Member Advisor) wrote to me as part of our getting-to-know-each-other exercises:

I am so glad to have you as a CM at BP. Hearing your concern on teaching students why and how to teach rotations in a meaningful way makes me feel assured that you are so invested in making math accessible and meaningful for your students. In your survey, you mentioned a concern about your introverted personality turning kids off. Kids can tell when their teacher is being authentic with them and genuine and that's how they are going to connect with you.
My CMA is so encouraging and awesome, yay. Two observations: 1) I can't fathom how any teacher would not be invested in making math accessible and meaningful for students. All the secondary teachers attended a session today on setting a math vision in our classrooms, and three of the myths that the facilitator attempted to debunk were that: 1) Math just isn't for everyone. 2) Only really smart people know math. 3) You don't need math in real life. Is this for real? If even some TFA CMs, with all our indoctrination about malleable intelligence and high expectations, believe that math is neither appropriate for everyone nor useful in the real world, what hope do our kids have when they get to school expecting a quality education? I want to talk to the people who say that math just isn't for everyone, and figure out if they've ever wrestled with the concepts and practiced the techniques as hard as they've worked to learn a new language, become familiar with a love interest, or pick up a new hobby. I want to talk to the people who say that only smart people know math, and ask them if only smart people know how to read or write. I want to talk to the people who say that you don't need math in real life, and challenge them to think about the last time they paid their bills, or described a length or angle, or split the check at a restaurant, without using math. Our kids need to learn the basic math skills that will enable them to be functional members of society, much less the advanced math skills that will make them competitive in college and the workplace, and these attitudes about math, while seemingly innocuous, are actively harmful when they enter the minds of teachers. As a side note--but not really, since this is far from trivial--even if math were only useful for the abstract, high-level formulas that describe the workings of the natural universe, I believe that it would still be worth learning. After all, "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). God's invisible qualities are paradoxically clearly seen in the creation of the world, so that those who do not see God in the the world around them are "without excuse" (Romans 1:20); and yet, for someone like me who does see God in the natural universe, learning more and more about how perfectly rational and quantitative it is only reveals more and more of His glory. (As a true side note: this is the real reason why I studied astrophysics in college, but it's too long and formal to repeat when people ask me in casual conversation.) 2) No matter how many times I'm told that kids recognize sincerity in their teachers, regardless of personality type, I can't help but worry that my eighth graders will spend five minutes in my classroom, decide that I'm boring or unengaging, and start wreaking havoc. How do I invest students in a lesson about adding and subtracting integers without the showmanship and charisma that so many of the exemplar teachers in our "virtual" classroom observations display? Why should I use the Behavior Management CycleTM for classroom management when it feels so contrived and foreign to me? Will my students be able to tell that I spent six hours scripting my lesson from start to finish, and if so, will they appreciate that fact? These are concerns that I've been struggling with and praying about, and while I don't have all of the answers (or any, for that matter), I will hopefully have some of them by the end of next week, when we start teaching. But until then, happy Independence Day weekend! I plan to spend the next couple days catching up on rest and alone time, enjoying the beautiful weather that we've been having lately, and bracing myself for the upcoming week. We'll see how that plays out.

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