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updates for 07.18.2011

6 new posts today

yellow conference room on lock

In 5 short, sweet days, Institute will be over. In three short days, the resource room will close. The copy center will be gone. I'll be back to my own bed and my own desk. I'll see my non-TFA friends and hit the beach. I'll get to walk around barefoot and shower whenever I like. I'll go out on a Tuesday night. I'll have conversations without acronyms. I'll pop a bag of popcorn and watch a movie. I'll cook on my stove. I'll read books for pleasure. I'll help my roommate create delicious dinners. I'll drive down Lake Shore with the windows down and the radio up. I'll wear jeans and tank tops. I'll wash my clothes for free. I'll stop checking my email every ten minutes. I'll stop going to hour long sessions. I'll stop lesson planning. I won't be riding a smelly school bus. I'll stop going up and down three flights of stairs every time I go from my CMA room to my classroom. I won't be monitoring bathrooms or cajoling children to pick their heads up off of desks. I'll stop riding the green line. I won't stake out the blue, brown or yellow conference room and subtly move in when only one person is left in it. I won't be with my new family every night. I won't laugh until I cry as we talk about Montise the snake and the hit dance craze the Dorob. I won't talk about diversity and educational philosophy in one breath and then make dirty jokes about the CMIM and our corps group in the next. I won't have the pleasure of sharing lesson plans with others and getting feedback on my own. I won't have the support network I need. I won't be making plans for the rooftop patio and I won't be cheering for people as I sit in the room while they get hired. I won't be surrounded by fantastically motivated, intelligent, dedicated people every day. Call me crazy, and I'll fully agree. I don't know if I'm ready to leave Institute.


Do you speak TFA?

I'm legitimately concerned that when Chicago Institute is over in a week and corps members are released back into the "real world," most of us will have trouble interacting with normal (non-TFA) people. The reason for my concern is that probably every single one of the conversations I've had with other corps members during the past 4 weeks has included some combination of strange acronyms, Teaching as Leadership terms and, of course, behavioral narration. If my institute experience has taught me anything, it is how to behavioral narrate like a champ, at all hours of the day.  For some reason it never gets old to behavioral narrate each other in the cafeteria at dinner, while lesson planning in the dorm lounges, when going out the weekends, etc. Last night at the movie theater, another corps member commented that the usher gave great 'explicit instructions' about the emergency exits. It's funny to us now, but I have a feeling that extended sleep deprivation probably has a lot to do with that...and also that random people in the grocery store will not appreciate my running commentary on their positive behavior. As far as acronyms go, I definitely need to drop a few from my vocabulary after this week. I'll be home the week after next and probably answering lots of questions about my summer. Throwing around terms like "CMA," "TAL," "WIDTWAW" and obviously "CMIM" are not going to get me very far. (Especially "CMIM"). On the flipside, it really is an awesome thing to be constantly surrounded by extremely motivated, talented and generally intimidating people all working toward the same goal and living the same experiences every day. The fact that we can spend hours dissecting our students' behavior and achievements is really pretty cool in itself. I hope that when we're teaching in our regions we can still have some sense of that type of community. ------------- On a different note, though also related to TFA-speak, my school group had a contest Friday afternoon to come up with the best school chant. My CMA group absolutely killed it, but was unfortunately disqualified (it was totally rigged). Here's an excerpt from Tik Tok by Ke$ha (the TFA remix): Wake up in the morning feeling real pretty Grab my lunch, early bus, I'm gonna teach this city Before I leave, grab my CMIM and my big backpack When we leave for (school name) we ain't comin back I'm talkin students all in rows, rows Kids keep me on my toes, toes Mid-day bus ride blows, blows Teachin just like Abby Wishing we had more TP Tryna get a little bit scrappyyyy Don't stop, Wendy Kopp All the knowledge that I drop Tonight, imma write lesson plans til sunlight Tik tok on the clock But achievement never stops, no


Round 0

Who knew that moving would be so much work?! Living without hot water and internet is more difficult than I thought... it reminds me of the days I lived in India! At least I have some furniture and food now! In terms of TFA work, I'm working on drafting a vision and big goals for my second graders. It's difficult trying to imagine what is going to be daunting yet feasible for a group of kids I have yet to meet. I think I want all of them to enter a writing competition by the end of the year. I also want to meet with each child's guardian(s) to talk about the options for their educational future. I want to see ridiculous reading growth... I'm tempted to push for 2 years of growth, but I don't know how realistic that is. In math I want a class average of 80% mastery on the prioritized standards with no child earning less than 70% on average. In social studies I want kids to know more about their community and local history of their neighborhood, Atlanta, and the state of Georgia. I guess that means I have a lot of learning to do, too!! In science I'm not really sure what kids are supposed to know in second grade, but I know that the wonders of the natural world and local ecology will be prioritized. I'm feeling more and more scared as the time between me and my new class dwindles. Everyone says that we were chosen because we have the ability to be successful, but I just don't feel ready. I guess I never will be, though. A speaker the other day said some days you just fake it 'til you make it, and if you don't let that sense of urgency and confidence decline, the kids will still work hard even if you're not 100% sure that the path you laid out will work. I have a tendency to say "I hope" or "I want" instead of "I will" or "we will," and I think I need to take a more proactive stance when thinking about the next two years. My class will make 2 years of reading growth. I will put my kids on a different life trajectory.


12 More Days!!

I have been a slacker writing on here! Lot’s has happened since the last time I posted. I have been teaching Kindergarten in a charter school here in Southern LA. It has been quite the experience. I have had a couple of breakdowns where I am thinking why did I even do this? In the long run I know I was meant to do this, but its hard being away from my family and trying to grow up too. All of my students speak Spanish and this is where I could really kick in my Spanish AP skills haha. Most of them are super sweet. There are a couple of trouble makers though who have given me a run for my money. I got really burnt a couple of weekends ago and when I came back that following week, a couple of kids asked me what was wrong with my skin. When I told them I got burnt they looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Miss Hall, what does getting burnt mean?” Oh how I wish I didn’t know what it meant to get burnt. Not that I am counting or anything but…12 MORE DAYS!! I am so ready to come home. I know that sounds crazy, LA sounds way better right? No, not at all. Public transportation is terrible and I have yet to see anything exciting besides going to the beach twice. I would much rather be back in good old Indiana! I fly in on the 30th and then we head to Kansas City on the 31st to get me moved in, and my training for my school starts on August 1st! No time to breathe, but hey, I have a job! I am still hunting for an apartment and I am cutting it pretty close to trying to find one. Hopefully I will find one sooner or later. Love, Kate


Round 0

Institute is over. I'm definitely way better at teaching than I was before I started institute, but I still don't feel as prepared as I could be for the year to start. The last week of institute, students were taking their standardized tests, so I didn't really get to teach much that week. Between this and the fact that no one teaches during the first week of institute, I really only got 3 weeks of time in the classroom. I know that TFA gets lots of criticism for only providing five weeks of training before school starts in the fall, so just three weeks of actual teaching time seems very short. There are lots of skills I still needs quite a bit more practice with, but I guess that will just have to happen after school starts. Now that institute is over, we are now in the middle of Round 0, where all of the new Atlanta corps members come together for several days to start working with each other and our "manager of teacher leadership development" to start planning for the first few days and weeks of the school year. Everything about the school year quickly starts becoming less abstract (particularly when considering that the first day of school is three weeks from tomorrow!). So far, in Round 0, we have started working on our visions and goals for our classes and students this year: what will it look like if the students have had a transformational learning experience in my class? Here's a draft of my vision. Let me know what I should add or change....

In my class, students will
  • Develop the mindset that math can be used to model the real world and that converting real world information to math symbols allows us to better understand the world and make predictions about how things work.
  • Develop fluency and automaticity at carrying out the basic skills and procedures that form the building blocks for understanding deeper mathematical concepts. Students will be confident and efficient enough at using these mathematical tools to be able to apply these tools to future topics in mathematics, science, and daily life (without any slow-downs due to these basic math skills). Additionally, not only will they develop this fluency, but they will also be aware of why it is important and aware of the degree to which they have developed this fluency.
  • Develop a deep understanding of the topics covered in this class. This includes (but is not limited to)....
    • An understanding of WHY a particular concept is important or helpful.
    • An understanding of WHY these particular methods and techniques work.
    • An understanding of how a particular concept relates to other previously-encountered concepts (in math and in other fields).
    • An ability to distinguish situations for which a particular concept applies from situations for which a particular concept does not apply.
  • Develop the ability to self-assess the degree to which they understand something.
  • Develop the ability and willingness to ask thoughtful questions to fill in self-identified gaps in understanding OR to push this understanding further, make new connections with other concepts, etc.
  • Develop the mindset that math achievement is dependent on effort, not solely on predetermined personal “math ability.”
  • Develop the ability to hear or read a complex mathematical argument, internalize it, and apply these ideas to related problems.
  • Develop the ability to work together with other students to explore and understand a new mathematical concept, argument, or technique.
  • Develop the ability to use known mathematical ideas or procedures and apply them in a new way.
  • Develop the ability to explain complex mathematical ideas both orally and in written form in a way that is both rigorous and clear to their audience.
  • Develop their number sense and ability to estimate.
  • Develop the ability to assess their own solutions to problems to decide whether their solutions make sense.
  • Develop an increased sense of confidence in their ability to think about math and to solve problems related to math.
  • Develop a sense of mathematical curiosity.
  • Develop the mindset that success in mathematics opens doors academically and professionally.


Institute is, as of Friday night, over.  There are so many things to say -- I don't even know where to start. First of all, what's next?  I have Orientation from 12-7 today then 10-6 tomorrow.  It looks like it'll be pretty pointless, but I keep telling myself that I'm getting grad school credit for it.  At 6 o'clock tomorrow night, after Orientation is over, I'm packing up my car and moving to my little town in Arkansas for good! Second of all, what just happened to me?  Suddenly it's July 17 and I have blisters on my feet, a head cold, pasty skin, muscles that haven't been exercised in weeks, and a head stuffed full of ideas for next year.  My body isn't very happy with me right now, but I think it understands that I've been through a metaphorical clothes wringer, and I think it'll forgive me once I start eating real food and exercising again. A metaphor for Institute: But, in all honesty, Institute wasn't really that bad.  It wasn't hell.  I wasn't miserable the whole time, and it definitely wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done.  It did feel a bit like boot camp, but it's definitely doable if not sustainable. I feel slightly more prepared for the fall, but I keep telling myself that I'm not as prepared as TFA has been telling me I am.  I have a lot of ideas, and I learned a lot from teaching this summer, but MOST of what I know about teaching I've learned from books, not from Institute.  Institute is very inefficient.  I know that planning logistics for 500+ people isn't easy, but I feel like I wasted a lot of time and unnecessarily lost sleep over silly scheduling things and pointless sessions. On the other hand, I loved a lot of things about Institute.  I loved the Institute staff -- it's crazy that there were literally dozens of people whose entire job was to make our lives easier, and they were all SO nice and SO helpful.  I loved my kids, even though they drove me nuts, and I'll never forget them. And I did eventually adjust to the insane schedule, even though I *never* enjoyed waking up at 4. Let's talk about humility.  There were quite a few contradictions in all of the Kool-Aid I drank this summer, and the pride/humility dichotomy is one of them.  TFA tells us that we have to go into our communities/ schools with HUMILITY.  But then they tell us that we're amazing and show us all of these videos and case studies of teachers who had perfect first years and taught their students basket-weaving at lunch in addition to making them grow 8 years in reading.  I think that the result is a lot of pride and borderline arrogance, based on what I've seen in myself and in my peers. As TFA-ers, we tend to think we know better than everyone else, and there's this archetype we have of the savior teacher coming into a backwards community with outdated, ineffective methods and turning everything around.  That's simply not true.  Especially with regards to administrators.  We had a session last week on working with administrators, and some of the responses in our discussions genuinely scared me.  No matter how incompetent we as baby teachers might think an administrator is, we can't deny that he/she has been in the trenches of education for longer than we've been alive, in most cases.  We have ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT to pass judgment on the way our schools/districts run, at least not until we've earned the right to have an opinion about it.  And 5 weeks of drinking Kool-Aid and teaching for 1 hour a day doesn't earn us that right. We all worked very hard this summer, and some of us were very successful at teaching summer school.  I think the danger of that is that success in teaching summer school will not necessarily translate to success in the fall. A lot of people think that teaching at Institute is harder than teaching in the fall, which simply can't be true.  Not that I know firsthand. Another thing.  TFA is VERY data-driven, and they tell us all summer that numbers don't lie.  And I can only speak for the people I've talked to, but based on our data this summer, we weren't all that successful.  Only 3 out of our 8 students met their growth goals for the summer.  But then this last week they started telling us how amazingly successful we were, when by their own standards we weren't.  They either need to be realistic from the start and not lie to us about what success means, or tell us how to be more effective. Enough ranting now.  I really don't know what I'm talking about -- it's just that a lot of what TFA has been telling me in the last few weeks hasn't sat right with me, and I needed to put it out there. In other news, I'm SO incredibly excited to be moving!  I love my little town from what I've seen of it so far, I love my roommate, and I love our house.  I think it'll be good. This week will be filled with catching up with friends and family, sleeping, feeling like a human again, and countless trips to Walmart and Sonic. I also have this NEED to go see Harry Potter, but I can't yet.  I don't think my little heart can take it -- when I finished the 7th book, I sobbed for hours (no joke) and was all emotionally tweaked (in a good way) for days.  HP has waaaaaay too much power over my emotions, and I have to be very careful with it.  But it's wonderful.  The nearest movie theatre to my little town is in Louisiana, and that might be a good field trip to take once I get my feet under me again.


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