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updates for 07.05.2011

9 new posts today


I <3 the 4th of July.

My title is because it was one extra day for myself this weekend where I didn't have to think of the mountain of paperwork and assessments on my desk. I spent the weekend in Sunny San Diego! It was BEAUTIFUL and only 75 degrees instead of the 118 in Phoenix. It was such a nice break from the reality that has become of my life. Wake up, eat, ride bus, teach, listen & learn, ride bus, eat, lesson plan, shower, repeat. That has been all I have done for the last 3 weeks and with only 2 weeks left it is becoming a reality that although institute is hard, my classroom in the fall will benefit from all of this training. On a great note, I finished lesson plans in about 3 1/2 hours tonight which is a record. I still have to get stuff ready for tomorrow, but still it's only 9:50pm...I am doing good. I really don't have much to update on. I had my 23rd birthday on Tuesday which was also TFA day...(Totally Free Afternoon) so that was a welcomed Birthday present for sure! I got off school at 2 and spent the rest of the day with my friends...GREAT BIRTHDAY! My kids did really well on their expository mid-institute assessment and I was very pleased because I have been teaching the literacy block the last two weeks and it definitely made me realize that my hard work is paying off. I think I will quit rambling BUT, only 7 teaching days left...only 3 this week!! I can't believe its almost time to go home and start all over!!

 


3 day Weekends Are Great

I didn't think three-day weekends could get much better than they were during high school and college.  Turns out I was wrong.  I've never valued the 72 hours off as much as I have this weekend.  It's not about the three nights of relaxation and drinking although I definitely didn't miss out on that.  It's more about having 2 complete days where my mind was as far away from teaching as possible.  Not a single thought of lesson plans or worksheets crossed my mind until today.  I think it definitely helped that the 4th of July holiday fell during my last week of Institute rather than in the beginning.  As much as I would have loved an extra day off a few weeks ago, I  think having a regular weekend for the first 3 weeks made teaching and the lifestyle more real.  Knowing that I was able to make it through those first few weekends when it felt like like I was drowning definitely made me a stronger person. Now I only have 4 days of summer school teaching left until I return to to New Orleans.  I have no "real" lessons to plan this weekend because my kids are taking their end of summer Math Assessment tomorrow and on Wednesday all the second grade classes are combining and are having a math "field day" in the afternoon.  Thursday and Friday I'm having my kids play some math games and then we are ending with our party.  I am a tad bit nervous for tomorrow and my kid's assessments.  The reality of me being either a successful teacher or unsuccessful teacher rest in the hands of my kids.  More so in their abilities to actually read directions and the question before circling a letter.  As much as I've tried to instill the importance of reading all directions and questions there are still a few of them that choose not to do that.  Deep down I know that I have made an impact in my kids this summer regardless of their test results but it would really suck if they don't meet their growth goal. As much as I'm ready to be done with Institute and go back to New Orleans (which trust me I am MORE than ready) I will deeply miss my kids.  It saddens me that I will never see them again or most likely be able to keep in touch with them since they are only 8 years old and don't have cell phones or e-mail addresses.  It worries me to think about where they will be in 5 and 10 years from now.  I guess this is the reality of being a teacher and I can't imagine the love I'll feel for my kids after spending an entire school year with them rather than just four weeks.  I'll also miss my Collab members.  They are both in the Atlanta corps and although I know we will keep in touch and visit each other, it still is going to be very weird not seeing or talking to them everyday.  Heck, not seeing my one Collab member during this 3 day weekend has been weird.  I feel like it's been weeks.  I know I'll become close with my new co-workers in New Orleans, especially because there are a handful of us that are all new TFA teachers but it still won't be the same. But enough with my mopey attitude (I blame it on the rainy weather).  Only 4 days left in Atlanta then it is home to Chicago for a quick 36 hours to celebrate my brother's high school graduation and see just about all of my closest friends then to New Orleans, my new home, to continue on this overwhelming, stressful, exciting, and fun journey I call teaching.

 


Placement, anyone?

So it has been quite a while since I posted. Since that time I graduated from college, drove to Memphis, drove to Atlanta, and survived 4 weeks of institute. What has not happened since then is I have not gotten a job (sorry, I really struggled with making that grammatically correct but it's just not happening). In fact, around 100 members of my 180 person strong Memphis corps have not gotten jobs. School starts in a month. Time to be worried? I think so, especially since the Teach Memphis hiring forecast has in fact gotten WORSE since the last time it was released (and it was bad then.)  Now they are forecasting only hiring SPED and some random special subjects, as well as physics. No math, no ELA, no social studies. I was told not to get worried until the end of August, but I've bought some furniture and a new computer and am set to sign a lease this Saturday. I'm getting a little worried. Other than the job front, institute is nowhere near as scary as I anticipated. Sure, teaching is hard, and sure, I've cried, but I guess I had this idea that I just wouldn't be able to get through all the work and that just isn't the case. I've also been enjoying Atlanta. I went to the Aquarium, the World of Coke, tubing down the Chattahoochee, visited the Sweetwater Brewery, and am going to a Braves game tonight. So I'm curious, all you 2011s out there, how is placement going in your regions?

 


Back In Action

I stopped blogging after my first month in the classroom. I'm going into Year 3 in my placement school- and I think it's time to start up again. I am going to try to write a daily blog about classroom moments- as a way to capture memories, but also as a way to self-reflect on what is going on in my classroom. Cheers!

 


Induction, Institute, and Insanity

Induction You will be in Room 321, she said to me as she handed the key over. If you lose the key, it will be $125 to replace. My first thought as a Corps Member in the 2011 Chicago Corps was, "I guess I'll have to make a copy for $3.00." The carefree pace at which Tuesday the 14th of June went will forever be etched into my mind because of the accelerating hyper-speed that we are now operating in. Induction started that night and we had a welcome dinner with the entire Corps - all 256 strong. And this was many new inductees first chance to sip (or guzzle) the TFA kool-aid. I had already had my fill at the 20th Anniversary Summit in D.C. this past February. I know I would have been really excited during dinner that night had it been my first hurrah, but after hearing Michelle Rhee, Joel Klien, Jeferey Canada, and of course Wendy Kopp at the Summit not much was going to top it. Induction was actually exciting. For me, meeting new people, by what felt like hundreds and thousands - all with their own unique perspectives and experiences - was (and continues to be) amazing. The caliber of people here is incredible and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such a driven and diverse body of people. The best way to describe Induction is to compare it to Freshmen Welcome Week during college. We redefined "work hard, play hard" with 8am-5pm sessions supplemented by nights out on the town exploring and getting used to our new city until 3am. During Induction, we had an interview day with approximately 100 principals and school leaders all looking to scoop us up for the fall and while not everyone got a job, quite a few did. I sat down with a charter school and when asked by their CEO if I would work better in a "hippie" or "military" charter school, I looked perplexed. Noting that the CEO had a beard, a shirt and no tie that was open at the neck, I deferred to "hippie" although I really thought I would function much better at a "militaristic" school. His next comment almost sealed my fate, "well we are very militaristic." Shit, I thought, why would you - well let's definitely not call it lying - tailor your answer to what you thought he wanted to hear? I hadn't caused myself too much damage apparently because both of them (I had a previous 15 minute interview with the Academic Director) had already filled out the coveted "orange placement slip." So although I won't name the school directly for confidentiality reasons, I will say that I am going to be teaching on the West side where "we will hear bullets during school and although the neighborhood is in the middle of a turf war between gangs, the school is safe." Institute - Ready, Set, Go! As the weekend hit, we all had one thing on our minds: The First Day. Well technically, there were to be two Firsy Days in our near future: The first day of Institute and the first day of teaching. Institute started bright and early at my placement school at 7:30 am. I am out on the West side of Chicago at a Technology Academy for Elementary grades. Being placed for the summer in a 6th grade classroom is great preparation for the 7th and 8th grade mathematics placement that I have in the fall. As it turns out, our new schedule isn't a 9-5pm nor is it 8-7pm like some intense researches do. We are up around 5-5:30am, out to our schools by 7:30am (commute time is also work time and I am becoming increasingly proficient at working on a bouncy school bus), working straight through the day - including lunch - back to campus at 5:30pm and straight to lesson planning and work until 12am. I will say though, that I carve out 45 mins - 1 hour to work out and I don't work during my half hour dinner so compared to some, I have "free time." This new lifestyle is forcing me to budget not only blocks of time for activities, but precisely plan for them - up to the minute. The first week whipped by as we prepared to enter the classroom the following Monday and the week's days were gone before we knew it. With timidity and amateur lesson plans, we tried to sleep Sunday night for the anticipated event that had been, until now, only a fantastical vision of teaching in front of a class. For me, I had thought of classroom management, investing the students, and delivering an awesome math or science lesson for months. What I would say and do seemed ingrained in my mind and thinking of this moment generated goosebumps... The reality, come to find out, was vastly different and no amount of preparation could prepare you for everything. My students trickled in for 20 minutes after the bell rang and we didn't even start until 8:42am (12 minutes past the start of school). With the influx of late students, the lesson was jolty and disjointed. Some students were alert and paying attention (thank God), while others just put their heads down or stared blankly back at me when I asked a question. A new reality was now evident and I, along with my co-lab partners are quickly adjusting to this fact so that we can not only become better teachers, but also to maximize the learning that happens in our classroom this summer. If I'm honest with myself, I'll say that I walked into a well-run classroom with a previously existing management system. Within a couple of days, as the students warmed up to us, the teaching got relatively better and our FA (Faculty Advisor, the regular teacher) had laid good groundwork for us as new teachers to begin teaching. She and our CMA (Corps Member Advisor - the teacher of us teachers) is excellent too. They, with the rest of the school and TFA staff are making our lives so much easier and really helping us accelerate up the steep learning curve. So, needless to say, my vision of my first day and first week broke down pretty quickly as I adjusted to the reality versus the imagination and while I have so much to learn, I felt decent about the first week. I even had a student write on his paper, "I am now motivated to go on to 7th grade." This same student actually ran to class one day because I told everyone to be there at 8:30 because we need to learn as much as possible in the time given. He walked into class at 8:31 am and had a grin on his face, "Mr. Holberg, I made it!" I said in reply, "It's 8:31, you're a minute late." Later that day a teacher had said she heard he was doing well in summer school to which he responded, "Yea, but I was a minute late, that's my downfall." I imagine that these stories are what will keep me going when the times get rough over the next two years because to have him recognize that learning time is sacred time and that there are no excuses and that everyone is capable of meeting high expectations is a large part of the reason I am here. Speaking of my students, I have lesson planning to do. I need to be more prepared with better differentiation for my students' individual needs and while I want to capture more of my experience, my priority is them. Thus, I will leave you with a short blurb on each of the following topics that I had intended to write about, but cannot: -Continuously increasing effectiveness: This is what it is all about at this point. I am an inexperienced teacher and the more I can learn the better, I am scouring our resources for best practices and listening to others as they share their successes and failures alike. A Look Ahead -One week in: Generally positive. Bootcamp name: warrented. Feasible: Yes. Wellness: Top priority as it contributes to my effectiveness in the classroom. -Visit to Fall placement school: My school fired its entire middle school staff last year. I am one of the replacements. They are not afraid to fire you on the spot if you aren't performing. This is what I dream of: merit based employment. If I suck, I welcome getting fired as it is in the best interest of my students. What's next: -3 more weeks of teaching: Let's Go! I can only get better at this point! -how to increase student investment: This is imperative if I want to see success in the classroom. My goal is to have at least 2 days out of four this week with all students at school on time. -life-long learning as an ultimate goal: This really encapsulates what I would define as true success. If they pass, great. If they enjoyed summer school, great. But what I really want is transformative experiences that will shape and push the students beyond my class and beyond this small, very small, point in their academic and learning lives. -Getting a place in Chicago: Locked up a sick place yesterday in Ukranian Villiage. 2200 square feet (almost twice as big as the house I grew up in) with a balcony, high ceilings, hardwood floors, brand new kitchen, and a fireplace. I'm living with three extremely intelligent and passionate TFA CMs and I know we will all feed off of each others enthusiasm and drive as we grow towards being better teachers.

 


oh, the acronyms

As promised, here are some of the many TFA acronyms that have become a part of our insane lexicon here at Institute: TFA: Teach For America CM: Corps Member (me!) CMA: Corps Member Advisor PD: Program Director TAL: Teaching as Leadership (TFA's book) TALON: Teaching as Leadership Online Network ODC: Observation Debrief Cycle (once a week) DCA: Diversity, Community, Achievement (a category of sessions here) LP: lesson plan INM: Introduction to New Material (the "I do" part of the lesson plan) GP: Guided Practice IP: Independent Practice CFUs: Checks for Understanding CS: Curriculum Specialist LS: Literacy Specialist FA: Faculty Advisor OD: Operations Director AIH: Academic Intervention Hour LPC: Lesson-Planning Clinic ISAT: Institute Student Achievement Toolkit OSAT: Online Student Achievement Tracker (I think) SWBAT: Students Will Be Able To (objective) CMWBAT: Corps Members Will Be Able To WIDWATW: (prounounced wid-wat-W): "What is due when and to whom" - yes, we went there.  It's basically an Institute-long To Do list for us. I'll post more as I remember them, but this is just a little preview.  And the sad thing is that I've had so much kool-aid so far this summer that this all seems normal to me.

 


weekends at Institute

We all re-charge in different ways, I guess, and that's never been as evident to me as it has been at Institute.  I'm always shocked at just how useless I've been on the weekends here, at least for the first 24 hours.  I guess the weeks are so intense that the best I can do on Friday nights/ Saturday mornings is watch movies.  Some people re-charge by going out, but my anti-social tendencies really kick in when I'm tired, as they have on weekends here. Today is the 4th of July!  I'm having brunch with my awesome CMA group, and lesson-planning for the rest of the day to get ahead.  There might be a viewing of National Treasure in there somewhere - watching it makes me feel all patriotic and nerdy. Speaking of which, I'm really looking forward to Institute being over so that I can feel like a human being again.  Like I've said, I've really enjoyed the experience so far.  But it's not the type of "enjoyment" that you want to sustain any longer than 5 or 6 weeks.  I am a morning person, but I'm looking forward to getting up later than 4.  I'm looking forward to eating my own food, to living in a house. I'm looking forward to reading a BOOK again.  It's been weeks since I've sat down and read a book, and I'm going through withdrawals.  I want to read some good old-fashioned beautiful prose.  I have this craving to read Bleak House - maybe I'll have to order it off amazon, because there's no book stores around here!  I think I'll start a book this week and read it in little bits before I go to bed - maybe that'll make me feel more normal. I have today, and then four days of school until another weekend!  The few of us that're placed where I'm placed (a little town in Arkansas) are going to visit and look at houses on Saturday, which will be awesome.  It's crazy that in 2 weeks I'm moving somewhere that I've never even seen before. Then, next week, we have 3 more days of lessons, the assessment on Thursday, and then party day on Friday!  After that, Institute is over, and we have two days of Orientation, which I'm not looking forward to.  Should be pretty painless, though. BUT before I get ahead of myself, I still have 2 weeks here, and I need to BE HERE for those 2 weeks and keep learning as much as I can.

Wherever you are, be all there.  Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. -Jim Eliot
In other news, Sonic is becoming a serious addiction for me.  I'm only letting myself go on weekends, but I think I've been twice this weekend already.  I've never been a fast food person AT ALL, but Sonic to me is in a separate category.  It's mainly the drinks.  My excuse is that as a person who doesn't drink alcohol, it's nice to have sweet, fruity, fizzy, creative drinks every once in awhile, and Sonic is the place to go.  They also have mozzarella sticks, which I've found myself craving more than I care to admit.  There is a Sonic in my town, and I'll need to make sure I don't get completely addicted, because my figure and my wallet can't afford it.
 


I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth

It's been a while since I got around to updating this, so I figured I would give a nice rundown of Induction/Institute. Induction was pretty great. Each day was packed with sessions related to some paperwork we needed to fill out (I now have health insurance like a real person) or education in the US. The sessions were informative and everything, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we were all sort of sitting around congratulating ourselves for being such noble people. Yes, we each committed to teaching for two-years. And yes, a lot of us probably could have chosen a different path. Overall, though, it just felt a little awkward. I got to know Baltimore a lot better during Induction, though. We had a few tours of different neighborhoods and TFA organized dinners with 2010 CMs at their homes, so I got a pretty good feel for a few places. I will say, though, that Johns Hopkins' campus is incredibly confusing. It wasn't until Friday or Saturday that I honestly felt like I could get from point A to point B without getting absurdly lost. I guess I was just spoiled by GW where everything is on a grid. Sunday we traveled from Baltimore to Philly to start Institute. Temple's campus is a lot more like GW in that it's full of ugly buildings (I'm thinking of you Funger and Gelman) but it's also a lot more urban than Hopkins. A typical day at Institute flows like this: 5am - alarm goes off, curse the world for mornings 5:45am - breakfast/caffeine intake 6:30am - pack lunch in a TFA lunchbox, get on yellow school bus 7am - 4:30pm - back-to-back sessions about management or literacy 4:30pm - get back on yellow school bus 5:30pm - dinner, rehash highlights from school that day with other CMs 6pm - 10pm - plan, plan, plan, then sleep My CMA (Corps Member Advisor) is absolutely amazing. She's incredibly helpful, and has a bunch of experience with Kindergarten babies. Much like my experience as a Human Services major, I'm the only male in my CMA group. My CMA has never forgotten my name, though! She typically greets our group with, "Good morning ladies, and Josh!" Everyone in my CMA group gets along pretty well, too. The majority of us are Baltimore CMs, but there are a few Boston and Miami people also. The kiddos start coming for summer school tomorrow, which makes me incredibly anxious. I never though I would be intimidated by a group of 14 six-year olds. It'll be an interesting first day. We have half of the day off because of the holiday. Normally we would go to our schools for session, but they're holding session at Temple today, which also means I don't have to get dressed up. Not wearing a shirt and tie for the first time in almost 1.5 weeks is oddly liberating. There isn't much to update about hiring. I was supposed to have an interview last Thursday, but the school never called. So now I'm back in the odd limbo state. Teachers in Baltimore have until July 15th to submit an update about whether or not they'll be coming back for the school year, so hopefully after that point in time things will start to pick up. So yeah. Institute is busy but manageable. Kiddos start school tomorrow. And I'm incredibly nervous.

 


I hate TFA

I really do. It's a song - it's just the words haven't been written for it yet. There's so much bullshit - I could fill a swimming pool. Instead - I'll just bow out (of blogging on TeachForUs). What? You thought I'd back off teaching the kids because TFA is a hot mess? No fucking way. I will be taking my blogging to other lands because I feel like the clear ethos on this site is to drink the kool aid and I'm just not feeling it. I'll (maybe) post the link if anyone cares to read. Before I sign off - let me just say, institute is no thang. Honestly  - who complains about having 3 meals a day prepared for them, free training, a teacher mentor and having lots of work that'll make you good at your job in the fall? Only people with too much privilege. Let's keep it real. Ciao TeachForUs - it's been real.

 


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