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updates for 07.12.2011

13 new posts today

That's the achievement gap. It's a Beast... ... ... Rawr

Thank goodness for my CMA group. They are the reason I am narrowly surviving the fact that I am actually widening the gap. Last week, we had the mid-institute data analysis and the results showed we suck. Our students are actually getting less smart. I mean, these are the cold hard numbers, and numbers don't lie. Overall, our school site is at 30% to the goal. Our classroom is at 15% mastery. I can't believe that I'm actually inhibiting their growth. At some points, I can't help but wonder if I'm being selfish for doing this - riding in on a white horse and rescue these children from the evils of an achievement gap that will determine their futures and prospects. We have to laugh sometimes, to bring levity to this incredibly weighty obligation that we have accepted. "What are we going to do to the achievement gap, Megan?" "We're going to shank it. We're going to stab it..." "Shank and stab?" "I could only think of one thing" (from across the room) "Scaffold that $h*t!" We are finally getting all the training we need to be highly effective teachers. Now I can add CFUs to my AIT LPs because I've had that CS. I am CIE by investing students and aligning my assessments to my KPs in my INM, GP, and IP. My ODC went well today (finally) and my debrief was super productive. I speak in acronyms and initial-isms and even though my best friends don't understand the words coming out of my mouth - my CMA group does. My collab freaking rocks and honestly, I don't think I could have chosen a more eclectic set of personalities. The best part is the stats are about even across the board. We are all equally effective. Something I've been thinking a lot about this week are relationships between people in the corps and people who aren't. I'm formulating my thoughts on the matter and continuing to gather anecdotal evidence. I'll post on it soon once I have all my ducks in a row.


In which there are 12 days left

Because there comes a point when your brain turns to goo and you just can't lesson plan anymore...  (credit to my good friend, the other Ms. B, for help with these brilliant lyrics) On the twelfth day of Institute, TFA gave to me 12 copiers copying 11 printers jamming 10 teachers crying 9 students learning 8 LPs drafting 7 assessments failing 6 hairs a-graying 5 TAL BP's 4 kids in trouble 3 observations 2 hours of sleep and another session about the BMC


Teacher Beats

The bus ride to the school where I teach is about 20-25 minutes long, and that is some precious listening-to-music time. Anyone who knows me can attest to how terribly picky I am about music, especially when traveling. Most people use the bus ride to sleep or bs with one another, but I NEED that time with my headphones on to get centered for the day, or I am much less enthused about the Teaching I need to do For America that day. So here, in no particular order, are some of the songs that have been helping me cling grudgingly on to my sanity for the past several weeks: 1. Janelle Monae- Cold War: Because teaching is kind of like being an android revolutionary. 2.The Beatles- Getting Better: From the "fake it til you make it" files. If I listen to this song enough I can almost convince myself that my teaching is, in fact, getting better all the time. 3. Jill Scott- Golden: Despite the 5am wake up calls and the, shall we say, disheartening lunches, being here is what I want to do. I am living my life like it's golden, thankyouverymuch. 4.Sufjan Stevens- Chicago: This isn't the first major life event this song has gotten me through, and I daresay it won't be the last. I think this song is the "Don't Stop Believin'" of our generation, and I look forward to its saccharine Glee cover. 5. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues"I was raised up believin' I was somehow unique/ like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see/ And now after some thinkin' I'd say I'd rather be/ a functioning cog in some great machinery servin' something beyond me. /But I don't, I don't know what that will be. /I'll get back to you someday/ Soon you will see." This IS the first major life event this song has gotten me through, but I can tell you it won't be the last (Montezuma also gets played a whole lot) 6.The Roots- The Fire: While I knew that this song will totally pump me up no matter how down I might be feeling, I did not know until I looked up the video just now what a baller music video it has. Whoa. 7.Nickel Creek- When In Rome: "Where can a teacher go?/ Wherever she thinks people need the things she knows." 8. Stevie Wonder- Higher Ground: Not only will this song prompt me to shake my booty wherever I happen to be, its zen message reminds me to stop trippin' about whether my lesson plan is getting rated BP- or BP+. (BONUS: There are some really amusing Youtube comments for this video). 9. Goldfish- This Is How It Goes: This is great chillin' on the road music, and when I played it for my kids last week during their independent work time they LOVED it. Their taste consistently surprises me. 10. Florence and the Machine- Dog Days Are Over: Why no, I'm NOT sick of this overplayed song. If this song doesn't make you feel generally okay about life you should probably make an appointment with your health care specialist. Because I'm concerned about you. 11. Alabama 3- Let's Go Back to Church: Pay no attention to the footage of Vietnamese markets; this song is Delta as all get out. 12.The Decemberists- This Is Why We Fight: This is my favorite Decemberists' album to date (don't hate) and this is one of my favorite tracks. If you were playing close attention to this list you might notice a theme of youthful idealism for the slightly less youthful listener. I never said I was deep. 13. Utada Hikaru- Simple and Clean (remix): "Regardless of warning/ the future doesn't scare me at all." SUGOI!! ^_^ Whatever, I'm not too proud. 14. Sarah Jarosz- My Muse: I downloaded this album on an impulse because it was a dollar on Amazon, and it was one of the best decisions I've made since arriving at institute (along with the purchase of a $9 electric tea kettle). It's completely gorgeous beginning to end and I can play on repeat for hours, but this song just sort of slipped inside my heart and has stayed their for weeks. 15. Daft Punk- Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: That's what I'm here to become, right? "Our work is never over." Only four days left! My kids have their reading tomorrow and I couldn't be more stoked. I can't wait to see them all dressed up and showing off their work!


It's for the children... it's for the children...

That's what I keep thinking to myself. The pain that I get in my stomach every time I go into the dining hall, the lack of sleep, the weird water, and everything that comes with these things, are all worth it if my teaching means that even one of my students gets to move on to 4th grade in the fall. One of my students told me today that her brother is going to be starting 3rd grade in September, and she's scared that he's going to be in the same grade as her and then pass her by. These kids are almost the perfect age for me, in terms of teaching. Would I like it if they were a little younger? Yes, but I think as a starting point it's pretty good. They have very real adult emotions, but they're still completely trusting (for the most part). Some of the things that I've been thinking about as I try to wrap my head around the fact that very little makes sense or works quite properly here are things that my kids have done or said. On the first day, we gave our students a survey, and one of the questions was "What is your perfect teacher?" One of the students responded "My summer teachers," despite having barely known us for an hour. This same young man, after a lesson with me, told me that his mother was bringing his baby brother with her to pick him up from school, and that he would let me hold the baby! Every day, at least one of the kids does something that almost makes me cry, in a good way. They are completely adorable. And so last night, as I worked through the night to complete the many things that I needed to have in the classroom with me this morning, I just kept thinking "It's for the children... it's for the children..."


Could you serve that with a little more crazy sauce?

This week will have to be different. It will just have to be. Otherwise kids will not learn, I will not learn, I will not get a job in this city. Everything will be bad and sad. That may sound pessimistic, but Summer School at M.S. 331 is probably the hardest thing I have ever tried to attempt being good at. We have kids who want to fight each other, a kid who can't read in the sixth grade, and a kid who has ADD so bad he can't stay in his seat. Normally, this would not really, really bother me. If this was my class for the year, I'd be totally down with working out a relationship with each of them so that they didn't kill each other and actually learned something. But I have 3 weeks. The kids know I only have 3 weeks. They are willing to make it the bumpiest road possible so that they gain control. I won't let them have control, but it makes me not a happy camper in the classroom. Supposedly they are taking a bit to the rewards system and are calming down a bit. But one of them got on my co-teacher with a rude "Geez, why you always try to make me do my work?" ...really? When I think back, however, I think maybe I was this uppity too, but definitely not straight up rude to my teachers or classmates. Unless they were my sworn enemy. Which I guess I have about 3 sworn enemies in this classroom, so that's just middle school for you, and I'm going to have to just be the only sane one in the room. We have basically scrapped our sports-theme. I haven't gotten a chance to yell my "Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can't Lose" chant because they won't be quiet for a second without snipping at each other. We are going to learn about thesis statements tomorrow, and I'm going to sing a thesis statement song and they better like it. I'm making it up right now or stealing a bit from Headmaster, I can't decide. I'm pretty homesick. I didn't get a honeymoon period with this job really, and so I'm maybe suffering from that a bit too. Things will just have to turn around this week, they just have to.


A day in the life of...

Well, today was my first day doing both my lesson and the lesson for the girl from my collab who quit last week.  It was a little rough on all of us (by all of us, I mean me and my children) but we got through it.  The centers and math objectives for today were a little perplexing (but I won't get too into that) so we didn't have too much time to do hands on stuff, but tomorrow should be a lot more fun for everyone.  I love my kids so much.  I am so proud of them already and so pleased with our classroom culture even though today wasn't the best day for us.  I think Mondays are a little difficult for everyone, especially the young ones for whom school is so new. Institute is weird.  It's so up and down.  Like, at the end of Friday, I was feeling so high on how awesomely my kids have been doing and how much I love them, and I was just so pro-TFA and pro everything that I smiled all the way home to DC even though I was in traffic for 5 hours from the storms.  (By the way, for any incoming CMs of the future reading this, don't listen to the advice to stay at institute for the weekends unless you want to.  I've gone home both weekends so far and I'm having my boyfriend visit this weekend and a lot of my friends here have also gone home and are planning to go home every weekend.  A lot of people in TFA have serious boy/girlfriends or are married or have children in other states so going home is totally normal and it's actually more easy for some people to get work done that way.  Don't be brainwashed into thinking you're going to miss out on all these social events if you choose to leave institute for the weekend.  I mean, you might, but you might have other stuff to do at home and there's no shame in that!).  But then, like, today, I was in such a bad mood for the majority of the day, mostly because I disapprove of the way TFA handles it when people quit institute and the other collab members are left to pick up the pieces without enough support.  But whatever.  Even in the course of a day I'll go from being super happy about something to super sad about something to super angry about something and then back again.  It's pretty crazy. I went home last weekend which was so nice.  I went to an Animal Collective concert with my boyfriend and his sister and our friends which was really fun but I was so exhausted that I actually fell asleep during it (anyone familiar with Animal Collective will know this a feat... it's not really calming music).  I slept a lot and caught up on the double lesson planning I've needed to do for this week (I am all done with this week's LPs except for one).  Institute really is stressful, mostly because there is always so much to do.  There just aren't enough hours in the day to get done everything I want to do and I am used to having a LOT of autonomy in my personal life and schedule (again, at my college, classes didn't really start before noon--at least none that I took--and we pretty much did whatever we wanted at all times).  It's a huge adjustment coming here where, if you're lucky, you get maybe an hour of legitimate free time. To illustrate, here's what my average day looks like: 5:45 wake up (this is super late; most people I know get up at around 5, but I shower at night) 6:05 out the door to walk to the dining hall 6:17: arrive at dining hall; enter, walk to back to "allergy room" to get my vegan lunch (huge hassel, bad luck); grab some granola and coffee and walk to the bus 6:35 get on bus 6:50 bus leaves 7:05 bus arrives at school in West Philly 7:06 sessions start (first week) OR go to room to prepare for morning meeting/set up classroom 7:07-7:49 clean room and rearrange seats, etc. 7:50-8:20 go to breakfast to help kids eat, greet parents, take attendance, take kids to bathroom, etc. 8:25-9:25 morning meeting (it's complicated) 9:30-11 session, usually on lesson planning, sometimes on things like diversity and investing parents/families 11-11:05 SHOVE food in mouth 11:05-11:20 prepare math lesson 11:25-12:15 teach math lesson 12:15-1:00 teach centers lesson 1:00-1:15 take care of kids whose parents are late getting them 1:15-4:30 different sessions 4:45 back on campus 4:45-5:15 decompress 5:15-6:00 dinner 6-8:00 lesson plan 8:00-8:30 print; get things ready for tomorrow 8:30-9:00 shower 9:00-10:00 talk 0n phone 10-10:45 in bed trying to sleep. and that's on a good day because I got a half hour to decompress in there.  also, only 2 hours of LPing is pretty good, I think.  If I am lucky I can squeeze a visit to the gym or track in there to continue my decompression, but that isn't possible every day because I've been vigilant about being able to get in bed on time.


rumor has it...

The mosquitoes roam in swarms and will eat you alive.

When you take a shower, the water will come all the way to your knees. The dorms make you wish you were living outside. The wait time at the copy center is insane. I never get more than 2 hours of sleep a night. Rumors. All of them. Or at least these haven't been my experience so far. First I want to apologize to all of those English-savvy people out there who are annoyed with my fragment sentences. My apologies. Anywho, I heard horror stories about Institute in the Delta and only about one of them is really true: I really know the value of a full day's work. I've been going from 5 am until 11 pm for weeks and I'm happy to say that its almost over. I survived (knock on wood.) I've only blogged one other time since I've been at Institute. That should be proof enough of how intense it is. Institute is intense but its not at all a trip to hell that everyone makes it out to be. Really. I am taking a lot of things with me from Institute. Besides being able to talk like a crazy person and form sentences with acronyms only, I've also enhanced my lesson-planning skills and learned great behavior management skills. The sessions were long and the work was never-ending, but it's one of those things that you hate while you're going through it, but when its all over, you really appreciate it. All of my LPs are written and I'm just finishing entering data in the OSAT. Some of my kids began DRA testing today and ISAT testing begins on Thursday. I'm rolling back to the Queen City on Friday and I'm ready. Thank you Delta Institute for helping me on my journey to becoming a great teacher :) It was rough (not as rough as everyone made it seem) but it was worth it!

Bring it on!

Sitting at home on my oh-so-comfy bed, I realize that 6 weeks of my life have just flown by. There were tears all around the room as my collaborative group and I said goodbye to our faculty advisor, our students, and most importantly, each other on Friday. Our group of teachers has grown so close and interdependent over 5 weeks of teaching that there was rarely a lunch, curriculum session or bus ride where one of us was not sitting next to another collab member. Thinking of having my own classroom of eager little faces in a few weeks is super exciting, but knowing that I have to do it alone without the support of my 3 collab partners seems quite daunting. No doubt, I owned the institute experience and feel very well prepared going into my first year of teaching. When I get overwhelmed, my boyfriend just reminds me that I am doing in 5 weeks what most teachers do in 4 years! My family is also really supportive and has more confidence in my ability to succeed than I do in myself sometimes. Knowing that I won't be with my summer school students this year breaks my heart because I know they have so much hard work still left to do. I hope they get teachers who see how bright and driven they can be, and they get pushed to read and write at the level expected of their high-income peers. There are innumerable things that I could have done better this summer, but after much reflection I've settled on two main areas to focus on this fall: organization and parent relationships. I've never been good at keeping track of paperwork and having efficient systems to manage tasks, but coordinating assignments, group work and tests truly strained me the past few weeks. I'm going to seek out people who've mastered organization in the classroom and enlist their help. I also need to make reaching out to parents and community members a top priority. The students whose parents I contacted were more invested in my class, and tended to complete homework better. Parents and guardians can be the driving and inspiring factor to push a child from apathetic and compliant to purposeful and driven. I need to seek help to create a system to keep myself accountable to these parents. I'm so anxious about this new year with second-graders, but more than anything I'm grateful for the chance to fundamentally change the life trajectory of my students. I hope I can deliver on the promise that I will be a relentless teacher, and if I forget this charge I know people in my life will help me get back on track when times get challenging. First year teaching... bring it on!


An Unexpected Question

Here are the demographics of my 8th grade classroom: 10 Latino students, 3 African-American students, and 1 Asian-American student. Diversity and Culture are things that we talk about in TFA a lot - but it's difficult to really understand until you're in the classroom and a statement or question comes up. Today, E1 asked me "Don't take this the wrong way, Miss... are you white?" To which I said, "yes." E1 then said "Oh, sorry, do you prefer 'Caucasian?'" This exchange took me off guard. For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a fair skinned blonde woman with blue eyes. Hm. A responded "Yea, it's 'cause she has pretty eyes, all white people have pretty eyes." This leaves me a bit sad, honestly. Both about their exposure to a diverse group of people, and also their perception of race. I'm sure I'll update this post later as I have more time to reflect, but this really caught me off guard.


Teaching as a Tidal Wave

As you can tell by my lack of updates, teaching hit me like a tidal wave last week.  I think I'm only just recovering.  Today was a good day; my head finally broke water.  But all last week I was in a frantic tumble and I'm still not exactly sure why. My first instinct, to be honest, was to blame the organization.  There are plenty of things about institute that almost everyone agrees don't work well.  Last minute grade level reassignments, room changes, new due dates, a complete lack of content specific guidance...  These frustrations were the first target of my tears (though friends from college will attest that my personal motto is "if you don't cry, you're not passionate enough"). But honestly, I'm just a bad teacher.  Yeah, I said it.  Right now, I suck.  And for those of you thinking I'm being over dramatic, think again.  We are pressed with the urgency of the need for these students to have great teachers that help them achieve "transformational academic gains" this summer, and yet I haven't met a single person who can confidently say they know what they're doing.  The matter is urgent and we are not meeting the call.  Not yet.  Maybe not by the end of the summer.  That is sucky and disheartening. On a brighter note though, I am making really wonderful friends at Institute.  We may be clinging to each other for dear life and comfort but they are some of the funniest and most caring people I have ever met (still got love for college though!). As I said, today was a good day.  I'm doing read-alouds, and I'm the first teacher of the day.  The students are ridiculously adorable.  But 17 4-year-olds who are used to 2 hour school days are demons by the end of the day.  I was teaching the last lesson of the day last week and I cried both days.  My SMT felt bad (though I know she also thought it was hilarious).  You might not think it but you have to get INCREDIBLY creative to find ways to keep your lessons on the letter P active.  These kids need to move, they need to wiggle or they are going to start asking for their moms.  And crying when you give them consequences.  But thankfully not peeing. I also think I'm gaining confidence.  I'm learning my style.  And I'm hoping to God that I have found my stride.  But it was only my third day.  I'm sure I will hit new lows before I start to hit the highs.  I will keep you informed and I will stay real.  This is hard work but I have somehow managed to remember that it is necessary.  And if I'm still a sucky teacher by the end of this year, I swear I will quit (so I'm not part of the problem).


Um, I forgot to post the past 5 weeks.

Hello all, WOW...so it has definitely been a while since I last posted. Thank you Institute. I could spend days writing about the Houston Institute (as you all know) but I'm still in this process of decomposing. Nonetheless, I will offer a snapshot reflection of the past five weeks for me:

  • I really enjoyed Institute. Yes, it is tough aesthetically getting used to LONG, jam-packed days (and not being able to talk to loved ones) but I genuinely found the experience to be very meaningful, moving, and insightful.
For Institute, I taught an amazing group of aspiring third graders at Lewis Elementary-a school near Houston's Hobby airport. Gosh do I miss my babies. With my collaborative, we taught three subjects: math, reading, and writing. Due to budget cuts for HISD, we actually did not teach on Fridays and our fifth week had no teaching at all. As a result, I only taught in the class for 9 days-bummer. Call me crazy, but the time I actually had with my students was easily the highlight of my days! Despite the short time we had in the class, my students made phenomenal progress this summer :) Not only did 8 of our 10 kids meet their summer growth goals, they kicked a** in the process! The two who didn't meet their goals still greatly despite being diagnosed SPED; as a result, they had no IEPs or specialized progress reports which is simply unacceptable. Above their quantitative growth was the fact that this summer they internalized that they are each smart, capable, and can do anything they want. They inspired me and their transformation is something words cannot describe. Ms. Ilboudo (their upcoming 3rd grade teacher), don't let them achieve anything less than acceptable! I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this education movement. My collaborative was amazing-I know they will all do amazing things in their respective regions. My CMA (a fellow Kinder teacher) was so helpful and understanding. Infinite thanks to the rest of the 2011 San Antonio corps for keeping my spirits high and supporting each other like a family does! Shoutouts to the rest of my summer school staff, the Institute staff, Rice University, and my loved ones who truly believe in me and support what I'm doing. I'm sitting in the TFA office now in San Antonio and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. The fall will be here quickly and there is much to do!

Big Changes

This girl has some big changes in sight. After 4 years at my placement school, I decided it was time for a change.  What did I want?  I wanted to work somewhere where everyone was on the same page.  Where I could get back to loving my work because everyone I work with honestly wants to move students forward.  Everyone wants to close the achievement gap.  More specifically, everyone wants every student to go to college. So I took a giant leap and found a job in Boston. I die of joy when I think about my new job.  It fell into my lap (dear charter networks, thanks for sharing information with each other) and I flew into Beantown for a 3rd interview 2 days before my moving truck came for my Phoenix stuff.  I fell in love with the people.  The school.  The job.  So I took it.  (A completely separate story about where I was when I made that decision). As I was discussing this move with my friends, I told them the truth.  Yes, I was excited.  Yes, I cannot wait to move mountains.  But, I'm SO intimidated.  The teachers that I will be teaching with come from great schools, great no excuses charters, and have done phenomenal things. Little old me, public school teacher for 4 years, working my butt off and moving kids, is intimidated.  Yes, I know I can do it.  Yes, I know that I was chosen because I am on par with these teachers.  But, my fear deep down is that I was great because I was surrounded by mediocrity.  I hope I can now do this when surrounded by excellence.


Cupid Shuffling

I am learning how to incorporate "brain breaks" into my teaching. The idea is that instead of fighting to keep kids silent and still for an entire class period, you give them quick (usually less than 2 minutes) opportunities to have fun and be active. If you intersperse a couple of brain breaks into a lesson, it's supposed to refocus them when they start to zone out and help them perk up and learn better. My new school is big on brain breaks, and they did them for us frequently during training. They used YouTube clips to lead us in everything from Tai Bo to Wii Dance moves. Everyone hopped up, they put on the video and we followed, and a minute into it the video stopped and everyone sat down and got back to work. It worked to get my attention back on track and made sitting for long stretches much more tolerable, so I'm totally willing to try it with my kids and see what happens. I spent a couple of days low on ideas and testing out brain breaks that I didn't really like. It wasn't until Day 3 that I spent awhile trying to think of something that fit my personality and finally came up with it: the Cupid Shuffle. If you don't know it, it's currently a really popular get-the-dance-floor-started song because it's both fun and super easy to learn the basic step. It's like the new Macarena. The kids would know it enough to think it was cool but most of them would probably never have danced it to it before. Jackpot. So I go into class, do the Do Now and check homework, and then spend 2 minutes teaching the steps to Cupid Shuffle. Then I teach how to round numbers, do some practice problems, and then put on part of the video and got the kids up to actually dance. One minute, and then back in their seats do work more. It worked fabulously and the kids loved it. Second period, I did the same thing again. The only difference was that my new principal picked the one minute to walk into my classroom when all my kids were up and dancing. Internally, I panicked. No matter how often the school encouraged me to do brain breaks, I still have the idea deeply entrenched that students should be quiet and learning when an administrator walks in the door. This was still the first week of work, I'm desperately trying to be the teacher I am on my resume, and all I want is to impress this man. Of course he would walk in when all my kids are dancing to a music video and there's no mathematics in sight. But instead of freaking out at me, he entered the room and started grinning. He grabbed speakers from a corner and helped plug them into my computer, which I'd already thought was loud enough. With the music now blasting, he joined my kids and gamely tried to learn the steps with them. He left when the music ended, clearly trusting that I was now going to get back to the math. It was awesome.


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