updates for 07.07.2011
So, I know my corps members and my staff are working furiously tonight to input their data for the MAJOR mid-institute data roll-up tomorrow. Here I sit, anxious as a kid on Christmas eve, wondering what picture it will paint for us tomorrow. I already know students are behind where their growth goals say they should be, but I will be able to compare different collabs, see what the trends say about students but also what they say about rigor. Since teachers are writing their own exit slips, there can be a high amount of variance between what one teacher gives to students and another. Sometimes that difference plays out directly in a collab. Overall, this marks an important benchmark in our work this summer. The next data point this big is the end of Institute roll up. Sweet dreams!
Institute, Week 2 This week we have KIDS! which is the best thing in the world. My students are 7th graders in summer school because they failed or performed poorly in math, reading or both. This week has been full of diagnostic assessments, and many - but not all - of the students are definitely behind grade level. We have four weeks to make as much academic progress as possible (we have specific, targeted goals for each student). This week I'm teaching math - we're on a rotation, so next week I teach a literacy block. I'm remembering how much I loved math back in middle school! I like the logical sequencing of algebra... it was the calculus that threw me for a loop in high school. Today the class was pretty attentive during their order of operations lesson, although I did have to push them to raise their hands more and speak up. It's throwing me off a bit that they're quiet! A bit of a change from my classroom last summer! Our class is small but we have boys and girls at a range of reading and math levels, several Special Ed kids, and a bit of a range in ages (and of course a range in sizes - it is puberty time, after all!) Touching, heartbreaking, stomach churning: "Miss, can you help me? I don't remember how to divide." This from at least three of my students, who could understand that the order of operations meant exponents would come before division but couldn't all tell me the square of four or twelve divided by three. How did they get to 7th grade without those basic skills? I love that they are asking for help, realizing their areas of weakness, feeling comfortable speaking out already. But we all have our work cut out for us. Some are speeding through, though, and I need to watch the kids who seem to get it just as much as the kids who seem to be behind. And the ones in the middle! And the clock - the summer school day is shortened and we're all pressed for time.
Week 5 of institute = week of somewhat helpful while at the same time somewhat useless sessions. Houston ISD only had four weeks of summer school and therefore we only taught for three weeks + 1 day instead of the normal 4 weeks that most experience. We also did not teach Fridays.. so if you count that up that's approximately 13 days of teaching. I will teach that many days before the end of my third week of teaching.. just doesn't quite seem right. But, these sessions have forced me to think about why I joined this movement. My kid's growth this summer reminded me why I joined this movement..
If 76% growth towards my students' big goals in 9 days of teaching wasn't enough.. :) One of my kiddos went from a 57% on his pre-assessment to a 97% on his post-assessment. I let him brush his shoulders after he started crying when he heard the news. He's literally the smallest kid in my class and he jumped about 3 feet in the air. ADORABLE. Another one of my girls who has literally spent the last two years fully in alternative school and has a LOT of issues with anger but is such a caring girl all at the same time scored a 40% on her pre-assessment.. drumroll please... she made an 83% on her post-test!!!!! She also cried when she received her scores. Overall I had 6 reach their "big goals" which I learned are "big goals" that most reach in 4 weeks of teaching.. not nine days of teaching, so I was pretty happy with my kiddos.
My hardest student, the one that told me that she was bad one day because she didn't go to her anger management classes, was the one that brought me to absolute tears last Wednesday night though.. She scored a 30% on her pre-assessment. She was in ISS for two days during the nine days of teaching and I visited with her both times for about an hour and talked with her about why she was in there and what she could do to fix it. She is SO smart. And when she received her score of an 85% on her post-assessment she just looked at me as if I was crazy. Unfortunately and fortunately at the same time I had to send her to the hall about 10 minutes into my last class last Thursday because she couldn't stay quiet. One of the teachers in my CMA group, who has her big brother in her class, grabbed her from the hallway and started talking with her about her grades. I had been pushing this young lady into looking into magnet and/or charter schools because if she had more structure I truly believe that her life trajectory would drastically change. I have been telling her all summer long that she is SO smart and that she is capable of anything if she can keep her attitude in check. When the teacher in my CMA group pulled her away my student started tearing up and told the teacher that she had never been told she was smart before. That she just didn't understand why someone would believe in her like that. This situation was proof to me that if you continue to tell someone something that is true that eventually they may start to believe it themselves. I found a magnet school that is perfect for her and am going to call her mom and talk with them about it tomorrow (tried calling this week no answer yet). I think I made a difference in at least one child.. I hope I made a difference in at least one child this summer. She was my hardest kid, and if I helped change her mindset even a little bit I would be the happiest first-year teacher alive.
On the other less positive note, I did not significantly alter the life trajectory of some of my kids. EVERYONE in my class grew.. but I allowed some of my kids to slip because they were the "middle" kids. One of my sweetest kids, my football player, scored a 20% on his pre-assessment. He truly struggled with a number of the concepts in the class and only scored a 46% on his post-assessment. This is drastic improvement don't get me wrong, but not good enough. I allowed him to slip because he was better-behaved and he is a better student as a whole. He may not be better academically, but behaviorally he was one of my best students and I therefore did not focus on him as much. Shame on me.
I also, as many of the blog readers know, had a lot of racial issues in my classroom. Last Wednesday I was walking my kiddos to their first class and heard one of my students say "She's just sayin' that cuz she's White!" in a not-so-nice way. I turned around and looked at her in shock and attempted to explain to her that this was not okay to say. She said "sorry, sorry, sorry, miss" but I knew this wasn't enough. I determined that it was time to have the discussion so for the Do Now I had a prompt on the board that stated "Write something down that someone has said to you that has hurt your feelings. Then write something down that you have said to someone that has hurt their feelings." I then addressed the racial slurs spoken in class and how this was not okay because it hurt others' feelings and no one in here should be judged on what they look like. My kids were silent. The hearbreaking part to this story is that in the evening I sat down and started reading their stories I had a few really heartwrenching ones, but the one that brought me down the most said:
"A time that somebody makes me feel bad is when somebody calls me stupid, rearded, you to go summer school because your stupic and all of that. My sister calls me supid all the time and my dad calls me a dumb A, that I could never pass, my dad is always putting me down."
The young man who wrote this is one of the sweetest kids I have ever met, and one of the smartest. He doubts himself constantly, which makes sense now, but he is so so so smart and has so much potential. I was broken up about this letter and know that I will see much worse in the fall. But it's kids like that that I teach for. I teach for the kids who otherwise would never have known they were smart. For the kids that their intelligence is undermined on a daily basis by the people closest to them. I want to be there for the kids that don't have anyone else to believe in them. I teach for everyone that may not necessarily have that support system. I will be that support system. I will be the believer. Sometimes that's all kids need to make 91% growth which is what this young man did. Sometimes all we need as people is a sense of understanding from those around us. Together we can accomplish anything. Alone we can accomplish nothing.
In the Words of Journey,
Don't Stop Believin'
Year one is over. It was a whirlwind. Often, I thought I should write about what was going on, but I didn't have time . . . or energy. It was also a huge surprise when I found out that a very famous TeachForUs (would she be considered TFAmous too?) blogger taught across the hall from me. When she would write, I recognized some of the people in her posts just by their descriptions. Summer is nearly over as well. I didn't go "home" to Texas. I didn't leave Arizona. I went on a single road trip to Payson with 2 other '10s that I have really grown close to. Other than that, I've been holding down the fort in the PHX. Don't get me wrong, though, I haven't just been doing nothing at all. In fact, I've been quite busy. 1) The first week that school let out, I was already back at District working on a few things. We are developing a common assessment for 7th and 8th grades. These are supposed to be similar to benchmarks but then again completely different too. A testament to how ambitious (and starved for money) TFAers are . . . the majority of the teachers working together were TFAers ('09s and '10s). The week after that, we basically played around with probes that we plan to implement into our classrooms this year. Probes? That sounds weird. They kind of look like kindles or nooks, but they're used for labs. They're pretty cool. However, it's just another "thing" that District purchased. 2) The TTL position has been revamped and is now called CCL (Corps Culture Leader). I am the extra C in CCLC. 3) The regional bulletin board at ASU has been under the careful watch of my friends and I. 4) Colorado CMs need jobs? No worries, I have probably filmed you teaching. Add in there a week or so of unit planning for next year. I think the best thing I have done so far . . . even though it's taken up the most time has been filming CMs while they teach. The lessons have improved so much since their first week of teaching. It's now their third week of teaching, and I am in awe of some of the strategies they are using. These are things that I never did during Institute that I had to learn how to do during my first year of teaching. They're also way better at implementing the BMC than I was during Institute. The behavior narration is legit out of this world. This also isn't meant to be a dig at the '11s, but they have also reminded me of things I should not or do not want to do in the classroom. The biggest thing is addressing minor misbehavior problems. I have seen these seemingly small things begin to spiral into larger things . . . or the CM will spend time constantly nagging the student to stop the misbehavior. It's been a privilege watching CMs grow into better teachers. I have visited one classroom specifically many times this summer. The FA is a very good friend of mine, so I have stopped into her classroom every time I'm at her school filming even if it's just for a few minutes. One her of CMs has gotten better over the last few weeks. In his defense, though, his collab partner quit. Don't even get me started on people that quit . . . I mean, I know it's better that you quit during Institute rather than during the school year. However, there are thousands of people out there that wanted that spot. Yea, failure sucks. My school is changing its format next year. We are in teams. Right now, I'm slotted to only teach 8th grade science. I am stepping into some big shoes. The former only-8th-grade teacher at my school just moved to Denver . . . to basically to teach at her dream school. How disappointed my 8th graders were this year when they found I was their teacher rather than the infamous Ms. J. I dealt with it every single day. Eventually, I think they finally got that I was a rookie that deserved a fair chance at being their teacher. They stopped comparing me to her. I will never be as good of a teacher as her, but at least this year, I won't stand in anyone's shadow. My school is also getting 2 new CMs. According to my newly promoted principal, they are on their own 8th grade team. One is teaching both math and science. The other is teaching R/W/SS. Yikes. The other 8th grade team consists of a teacher with 1 semester of teaching under her belt (at my school and in real life), 2 fifth year TFA alumni, and me. Change is change is change is change. The 8th grade team will basically run itself. We create our own behavior management system, and we stick to it. Having a single prep this year will I think really help me sharpen my skills as a teacher. Rather than double planning (I know - whine, whine whine), I can focus on really perfecting what I want my students to know and be able to do upon leaving my classroom . . . rather than half-assing my lessons because I have to learn 2 completely different grade level content areas. I have already contemplated my Big Goal and begun to rewrite it. I am deciding which VIPs I want to post in my room. I. Am. Ready. Edit: I'm getting ready.
There are officially only 2 days left of institute! Our school's official slogan throughout institute has been: "Meaningful learning for kids, empowered leadership for adults." In spite of all the efforts I make to be a positive polly, deep down inside of me lives a bitter, bitter cynic, a negative nancy who sometimes escapes to come up with sarcastic comments. It was this secret cynic in me who has considered the unofficial, or "accurate" slogan for the summer to be: "Questionable learning for kids, severe sleep deprivation for adults." But don't worry y'all, here comes the magical unexpected plot twist: positive polly has finally and decisively triumphed over negative nancy! Here's how it happened: Our summer growth goal for our kids (as dictacted by TFA) was for each student to make a 6 point improvement in their DRA score. Here are the results for our 10 3rd grade students we have tested thus far: 1 student fell just short of the goal, improving by only 4 points (this student was already testing at an early 5th grade level), 1 student met the goal exactly, improving by 6 points, 1 student exceeded the goal, improving by 9 points, but the other 7 all MORE THAN DOUBLED their growth goals, improving by at least 12 or more points in just 4 weeks. The sense of accomplishment and the pride on our kids faces were incredible, and served as a major confidence boost for them going into the CRCT test which they all took this morning. A couple caveats to satisfy the cynics out there: 1) some of our kids admittedly had a lot of room to improve, 2) We are not expert proctors of the DRA test, 3) the DRA test is a diagnostic administered and tracked by us, and finally 4) the DRA results have no bearing on whether our kids will advance to the 4th grade. However, given all those caveats, it is extremely important for us to have seen that, at least on some level- meaningful learning did occur in our classroom this summer. Our kids are arguably the most rambunctious group in the school, they are sassy, loud, and energetic- but they really do love to learn. Their improvement has validated our claim all along that, yes our kids are rowdy- but only because they are so engaged with the material! We couldn't be more proud of them. I won't go as far as to attribute our kids' success to any dynamic teaching that we were able to do- because in all honesty my collab and I probably did a lot more learning than our kids. BUT what it does prove is that even the so-called 'problem' kids, the ones who have already repeated, who are constantly sent out of class, whose parents are on speed dial, even these kids, when given the right attention, are capable of catching up to their peers. And that is exactly the opportunity we had this summer: with 4 (albeit inexperienced) teachers to only 11 students our kids finally got the attention they needed to succeed. And they did succeed. The goal now is for that taste of success to help solidify the confidence and work ethic we have tried to instill in our students this summer so that they can bring it with them into the upcoming school year and continue to build on the momentum they have made!
Below is a post I typed up about a week ago but had forgotten to publish. For the two people who actually read this blog- an update to this post is forthcoming... so in the words of the great lyricist Jesse McCartney, 'don't stress, don't stress, don't stress.' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfXpRn8uFL8&feature=related\"It\'s not your fault\" It probably seems unnecessary for someone who keeps a public blog on the internet, but I am generally speaking a pretty open book. Unless I think it will hurt someone's feelings or ruin a surprise, if someone asks, I pretty much always say exactly what is on my mind without reservation or hesitation. I recognize that this is not a personality trait so much as a privilege resulting from me never having been truly burned from opening up to someone. So anyways in my various advisory and debrief sessions (with my CMA, with my Behavior Management Coach, School Director, etc) I'm pretty honest with them and therefore critical of myself. The job of pretty much everyone at institute other than the CMs is to help us improve as teachers, so really I see no reason to be reserved with them. As a result of this, I feel like almost every meeting I have ends with the other party saying, "Wow you're so reflective." I didn't really see my openness as a problem until today when my behavior management coach went all Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting on me today after our debrief (video is attached, for reference). She went out of her way after our meeting to find me, and our conversation was almost verbatim the exchange from Good Will Hunting except substitute "You will get better" for "It's not your fault" and minus the crying. What is funny about this is that anyone who knows me knows confidence is not and never has been an issue for me. My confidence in my self as a person and my ability to persevere in the face of challenge and continually improve is perfectly intact. My confidence in my abilities and skills as a teacher is pretty low, because well, my teacher skills are pretty low. If my outlook sounds bleak or frustrating that's because the reality of my skill set is bleak and frustrating; but my confidence and more importantly my resolve are perfectly well in tact. Yes, it is a little frustrating that I am not having immediate success. The only comparable experience in my life of being so bad at something that I care so much about and put so much effort into was the first two years of my college basketball career which were spent almost entirely on the bench. Having continued through that, I am not frustrated by the effect of my inadequate performance on myself personally, because I know I will improve. What frustrates me is that my kids are suffering as a result of my ineptitude, and that is not acceptable and never will be. So although I want to be proud of the strides I have made thus far, and I have made some pretty important ones, I really can't allow myself to be. But I'm thinking in the future (after this post, of course) I will probably be a little less candid when talking about my own shortcomings because I don't know if I could keep a straight face through another Robin Williams-esque outpouring of pity.
As I've said many times, one of my biggest fears about working with younger kids was how easily they cry. Well, it's Day 2 of school and I already brought my first student to tears. At least I got it out of the way? She talked in class once when she shouldn't have, and I took away one of the points our school uses. (Ah yes, schoolwide incentive systems are fabulous.) Then she had the nerve to talk again a few minutes later. Mind you, I understand the comedy of this situation. For the last two years, the absolute least of my worries was a kid who whispered to her neighbor twice over a reasonable span of time. But if we're paying attention to the little details at this school, then that's the sort of thing that gets stomped on quickly. Everyone else in the class was quiet except for her. So I pulled her aside and reamed into her. She took the brunt of all the sternness and faux-anger I learned when I had to control fifteen-year-old gangbangers. Force of habit. Totally unnecessary. She just looked at me and her eyes filled with tears and she had nothing to say back. No attitude, no stubbornness, just crying and nodding and trying to pacify me. I got nicer and tried to be friendly again... she wasn't having it. That girl is never going to talk again for the rest of her life.
Yep. Kool-Aid and I actually got together in Seattle to talk math ed and try to figure out how to make new teachers' lives easier. Sadly, Math in Az wasn't there but I got to dinner party it up with her before she moved on to new and grand teaching adventures. And yes, we all met on this website and live in different states. So cool! Thank you Adam Geller! So what did we talk about while drinking green tea smoothies? Wow. Kool-Aid is so full of enthusiasm even after a somewhat brutal first year(see her early posts for details) it amazes me. She's been to two workshops already this summer and wanting to help new teachers in her region teach math more meaningfully. She's curious. She's examining her ideas. She listens. She REALLY cares about her kids. I think the main question we both have on our minds is "how do we make first year math teaching easier than it was for us?" It's not that I don't think both of us had our fair share of breakthroughs and amazing teacher moments but we also had our fair share of breakdowns. (Kook-Aid, I'm sorry to out you, but we both know you blogged about this already :) What can you tell a new teacher, give a new teacher, show a new teacher, that will make things different for them? Kool-Aid went to a conference that trained her in a specific, engaging classroom management style(can you post the link below?) On her fancy new phone we watched a teacher have kids plane is leaving. must finish later.
I'm close to it. I'm so close to reaching my breaking point. If teaching is this much of an emotional roller coaster, how the hell am I supposed to do this everyday for the next 2 years? I know I'm learning, but my kids aren't. And I'm getting upset when I'm told things to improve and given little direction or guidance. Not only does it feel like blindsiding when my whole group gets called out, but it's week 4. Of 5. Basically the END of week 4. One more teaching day this week. 4 next week. 5 more teaching days. 5 more days to close the gap. And now is when you choose to tell me there's a real problem... really? my heart hurts. my brain hurts. my body hurts. my feet are swollen. my eyes are swollen. All I think about are my kids. All I talk about are my kids. I have zero social life, zero gym time, zero swim time, zero relaxing time, zero sleep time. zero me time. zero K is left. I'm Miss R. And I'm failing my class.
By far one of the biggest differences I've encountered this summer is the attitudes of my 7th and 8th graders, compared to the mindsets of the kindergarten students I had been around for the past 9 months. I realize I've been spoiled by the eagerness of little minds who are at just the beginning of their education careers with so much ahead of them. They haven't been tainted by frustrations or failures or bad experiences in general, for the most part. But my summer students are a much different story, as I would guess any middle school teacher would agree. It's probably not fair to truly compare these students while teaching them during the summer, considering none of them has gushed feelings of loving spending time in a classroom when they thought they would be on break. However, I know some of my students are holding themselves back from making great progress in this little amount of time. The attitudes they bring to class, for some of them it's the thought that they don't really need to be there, and for others it's the thought that they would just rather be anywhere else, has been affecting their engagement and success. I believe it's my job as the teacher to find ways to motivate the students, but this has been a struggle for me in such a short amount of time. It's disappointing and simply irritating to try to teach a lesson while not getting effort or participation from the receiving end. I need to get to know my students more to find out what it will take to motivate them and what it will take to have them come to class, or at least sit in class, with a positive attitude. Sometimes getting to know them opens up a world that sheds a new light on a student and explains those attitudes. Just in the past week, through talks of weekend plans and 4th of July celebrations, I learned while some kids had bottle rocket wars, others spent more quiet time. One student shared with me that she couldn't do much because she needed to be at home with her dad who has cancer. As much as I tried to be understanding and comforting, it was interesting to see the reactions of other students to such somber news. None made any comments or asked questions, and most looked unsure of how to look or what to say next. It was a general discomfort. Days earlier a student shared news of her mother's cancer, though she was telling me about her mother's survival. She was so proud and excited to talk about this heavy family event, so much strong emotion and crisis for a 7th grader to handle. I'm reminded of my own emotional baggage I carry into the classroom -- sometimes it's just stress and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with class. As an adult, it's challenging but you learn to check your emotions and mindset at the door so that you get your job done. I'm not always great at this, but at least I'm aware. Maybe this is a solution for some of my students. Maybe they just have never been taught and haven't learned how to deal with some of their realities, and life at school seems insignificant. I've learned that many, probably most, of my students have jobs, serious jobs. They have responsibilities outside of school that are just as demanding. Perhaps with continued patience and more understanding, I can give a little more and receive a little more, because I know they're capable, as am I, of so much more.
I love the freedom of summer. This summer feels particularly unique because I know that I will be going back to the classroom as a student, rather than a teacher, this fall. But I'll still be in my role as a teacher for a bit. A text conversation between a student and me shows that I'll forever be seen as a "teacher":
Student, July 2: Hey mr. k guess what Me, July 2: What? Student, July 2: U know i work at a christian camp this summer....and there is this counslor that reminds me of you....all the way to the t.....he is majoring in English from UMC he acts just like you and everything.........this is making my entire summer.....its like taking mr. k's class all over again.... :) Me, July 5: Hilarious. I hope he makes you read, read, read. I'm going to China tomorrow. Bye! Student, July 5: why are you leaving....we were supposed to hang out this summer mr. k Me, July 5: I'm going to teach Chinese kids English and do some traveling. Hope you're well. Student, July 6: well good luck. i'll keep you in my prayers mr. kSecond, I'm spending a couple weeks teaching English to middle and high schoolers in a rural province as part of a service project. Actually, 5 other 2009 DC CMs are with me. It is a sort of celebratory, culminating, half-pleasure, half-serious educational trip. China is a mystical place, not least because of the sheer scale of the city that I'm in now, Shanghai. Also, there is something eerie about being stuck behind the great firewall, which cuts access to such web necessities as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. I'm looking forward to teaching "other" students in Xiuning, a small town in Anhui province. Obviously, as I'll be working in a typical Chinese public school system, I'm very much looking forward to doing a little comparative analysis. So here's to exploring China--and teaching English to Chinese students!
I resolved this morning that if I couldn't say anything positive, I wouldn't say anything at all. I also was going to observe much more than I spoke. And good heavens did I do some observing. For one, I haven't noticed in a while how entirely unnecessary it is to have two people in a conversation many times. People spoke at me all morning - they didn't even need me to be there. I held the door for everyone to come into school this morning, hoping it would inspire me to get ready for the day. Instead, my stomach filled with dread as person after person walked straight past me without saying a word. I felt so alone. I reflected on how much my everyday actions affect other people around me without me even realizing it, just like their ignoring me made me feel terribly small. As soon as I entered the school, my cma directed us upstairs right away - greetings are so important. Note to self, remember to start the day with a smile. So by the time I dragged myself to the top of the stairs, one of the cma's asked if I was alright. With tears in my eyes, I looked down and said fine. I won't be the one to break down when everything else is starting to get better. Not that you would be able to tell from looking at my lesson plan. While other group members are seeing improvement, I have green slash marks all over mine and question marks. As I was on my way to my cma to ask for an appointment for improvement, another cm asked the same thing. In order to receive the reply, "I have no time." This all comes back to the fact that there is no time. We are in a crunch and have to learn on this incredibly steep learning curve and I feel like I'm going to flounder horribly in my own classroom because I'm not getting the help I'm seeking now. I'm watching the videos on TFAnet every night. I spend time every day in the Resource room. I work for hours with other corps members - many of whom are also confused. I am doing so much and not improving. No wonder I burst into tears in my empty classroom this morning. I watched children unload from the bus and walk into the school and all I could think about was has terribly I am failing. I lose time every day from my lesson because coming back from lunch and getting to the bus eat 15 minutes - so I tried to proactively plan a shorter lesson. My feedback is to plan a full lesson and cut it on the fly. I have blank faces stare at me during math - so I try new engagement strategies. My engagement strategies are too involved and complicated. I am a solution seeker and I can't find answers anywhere. I want to ask staff members to help but they are all so busy I feel as though I am imposing or like if I get help consistently from one person that I'm not trying hard enough. The day isn't even half over and I'm exhausted. I'm overwhelmed. It's only Wednesday and it's not even lunch time. I don't think I can do this. How can I be sensitive to the background my students are coming from (as we covered in DCA) and not make excuses for their behavior (as we covered in PLAN)? I have no idea where to look to gain resources because all the resources I"m currently using aren't helping. I'm going to do this on my own because I have to but it is not easy. I could really use the backup.
Each day, we have a period we call academic intervention. Academic intervention is a period in which four teachers divide their time among the sixteen students in our class. We can work one-on-one or in small groups. We can review materials covered earlier in the day in class. We can go over individual assessments to make sure students understand what they may have missed. We can go over concepts that the class, as a whole, may not have grasped. We can use the time to study vocabulary. There are many ways to ensure that learning is continuing and deepening during this period. Because the class is often divided into groups that are performing different activities, academic intervention time can be distracting. If students are working on math problems at the board, reading students may be eager to watch and see what they are up to. If reading students are talking among themselves, math students may be eavesdropping on the conversations. I may have mentioned before—my students are cool. And cool students know what is going on around them. All the time. One day, during academic intervention, we decided to break into small groups and have individuals in the reading groups read aloud from an upcoming text. One of the aspects of reading on which we are focusing in our class this summer is fluency, and reading aloud helps students achieve better fluency. My group had four students. We all opened the text, and Student 1 started reading. After Student 1 finished the first paragraph, Student 2 picked up, and so on. At one point, I noticed Student 2 watching students writing math problems on the board and encouraged the student to follow along with the text by underlining what was being read with his finger. Problem solved. I noticed that Student 3 was doing a great job of helping the other students with difficult words in the text. When I asked questions about the text, I noticed that the students were comprehending the text well, in spite of the chatter going on around them and the math problems being written on the board. Finally, we finished Chapter 1. All of the students in the group had read aloud a number of times. All of the students had answered questions about the text. I was proud. It was almost time for lunch. Then, Student 1 asked, “Can we read one more chapter?” And I was even more proud.
I did not get run out of town by tiny sixth graders today, but it's also hilariously clear that these aren't eighth graders anymore. *When all the kids were entering school and finding their homerooms, a girl walked up to me bawling. Between sobs, she managed to get out a, "Can *gasp* you *gasp* help *gasp* me?!" When I asked her what was wrong, she wailed, "I just don't know where to go!" Oh dear. I made her my helper later and she beamed with joy for the rest of the day. Eighth graders don't cry like that or someone beats the shit out of them. *The kids had homework for Advisory today, which was to bring home various forms and get them signed. One girl called me over because she wanted me to make sure she had all her paperwork in order. She said, "Otherwise, I'm going to have nightmares all night long. I'm going to dream that I come in without signatures and you guys are going to lock me in a cold dark place!" She said this with all earnestness and sincerity. I had to "Awwwww honey" her and nicely explain that we would never do that. With eighth graders, I would think of a nearby cold dark place and tell them that was actually where they would be sent. Probably that weird trap door under my old desk. * I had multiple kids come in without paper today, so I asked the class if anyone had some extra loose-leaf sheets. (I, of course, was wildly unprepared for this.) Not only did multiple kids raise their hands, but I got more volunteers than there was demand for extra paper. They all scrambled to be the first to get paper out of their backpacks, and then couldn't get their hands high enough in the air for me to use theirs. While I walked over to take from a couple kids, there were others leaning out of their chairs to pass the pages directly to needy neighbors. I ended up with too many loose-leaf sheets in my hands and not enough students who needed them. Ridiculous. Eighth graders are protective over how much they have and how much it costs to replace. They would tell you to screw off and bring your own supplies.
This year, I promise I will never even imply that I work in the trenches. I also promise that by the time I do get back to the trenches, I am going to be the best teacher ever. Wait for it. Today was the first day of my new school. Not just the first day of this year's summer school, but the first day this school has ever been open. We are starting from scratch and today could have gone in a million different ways. Luckily, it went amazingly. It was a great lesson for me in how expectations and structure can produce whatever you decide they're going to produce. The kids were told that there is no talking in the hallways... so the halls were silent. The kids were told to tuck in their shirts, so no one's shirt came untucked. The kids were told to SLANT... so they Sat straight, Listened actively, Asked and answered questions, Nodded in acknowledgment, and Tracked the speaker. You walk across a room and all the little bodies swivel to follow you. You say, "I don't see everyone SLANTing!" and they sit ramrod straight and fold their hands on the desk. You say, "Can I get someone to show courage and answer this question?" and eight hands go in the air. You say, "I think I should see all hands in the air for that one," and all twenty-two other hands join them in the air. Don't worry, elbows are above the ears. The kids have been hearing these expectations since they signed up for school. Today, they heard them in advisory, in morning meeting, and in the same exact PowerPoint in every single class. We took advantage of the fact that they're right out of fifth grade and still terrified on the first day of school, and we hammered home how they're supposed to behave. It's the Broken Windows social theory applied to education: we focused on all the tiny details, like how straight they sat and how high their elbows were, and in exchange you don't have to deal with bigger problems. All the teachers were on the same page, but also a critical mass of kids was too scared to act out and they all had no choice but to follow along. It was just incredible. I know these kids aren't the same as the kids at my last school. By definition of being at a charter, these kids have parents who are at least active enough to get them through a lottery process and get them to summer testing sessions. Either they can afford their own supplies and uniform or they are brave enough to ask for help. (Sure, we will go out of our way to buy every item that any kid needs, but imagine how many parents are too uncomfortable to ask for that.) A lot of kids need to get transportation to and from school. I'm sure there are also some kids who heard about all the rules and just decided not to come. So for all that I do believe my school has put good faith effort into trying to serve every child, I think that's technically impossible at a charter. But still, you can have the richest parents and still have the worst kids. This behavior might be easier to get because the students are easier to work with, but I would say that a dramatic percentage of the perfection today really just came from the actions we took as a school. It came from getting a clean start with young kids and setting clear, sky-high expectations and enforcing them. I think if my old school were able to start over like we are, and were able to hire people who would drill and maintain these expectations, it could probably do close to the same thing. The problem is that public schools aren't allowed to just start from scratch with one grade, like we are. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I know I'm just talking about one first day. I know things will go wrong and kids will go crazy and limits will be tested, and today was never going to be the day for that. But on the first day of school for the last two years, I've been tested like crazy. I've had kids yell out inappropriate things and switch my seating chart and refuse to take assigned seats and decide against following directions. In comparison, today just looked like a miracle. I wouldn't have even thought it was possible to get kids this silent or this compliant, even just for one day. I hope one day I go back to a school like my old one and take this knowledge with me of how to demand more from children...I think it really does make a world of difference.
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