updates for 08.01.2011
...is one of the concerns St Louis might be facing as the midwestern heatwave continues to pelt its unforgiving rays on the gateway to the west. With the school year soon to begin (August 15 for most districts in the area including St Louis Public), questions have been raised about measures available in school buildings to keep kids
I love my new town. But I've definitely seen a lot of things that are deeply unsettling to me. I have to realize, though, that: 1. I have absolutely no right to judge. 2. It's not my job to change these people. My job is my classroom, and that's what I can control. I can make my classroom a safe, inclusive environment. Through helping my kids learn how to think critically, I impact their lives, and they in turn will change society. That's it. That's my job. My energy here is better spent planning how I will make my classroom that safe, inclusive, challenging environment, instead of judging the people who have welcomed me so warmly into their community. But seriously, Southern hospitality is a real thing! I think this year is going to be amazing because this community is SO supportive of me and my work. Being here has definitely shattered all of the stereotypes I had/still have, and has reminded me that stereotypes oversimplify and dehumanize. My roommate and I were watching What About Bob? today, and when I finally stopped laughing my head off, I had this moment where I thought "Oh my gosh I'm going to be a teacher in 2 weeks! And what am I doing in Arkansas?!". Every once in awhile I realize just how surreal this all is. Then I look around at my newly-furnished living room and ever-present pile of teaching books and I realize that everything's going to be okay. Dr. Marvin had it right. Baby steps.
Since they started tracking the stats on the different teachforus blogs about two years ago, I was pleased that this blog was consistently in the top ten. Considering that this site is generally for CMs who are in their first or second years, the musings of forty-one year old one-time TFA hot shot who got exiled fifteen years ago and clawed my way back into the conversation through perseverance and speaking the truth should not be that popular. But the masses have spoken and according to the most recent post from Teachforus.org, this blog was the #1 most popular site from Jan 1st to July 1st 2011. I don't know if I should be proud or ashamed (don't you have anything better to do with your life -- you have a wife and two kids, don't you?), but I'm going to choose 'proud' and try to continue doing my best blogging for the next 6 month cycle. TFA can't be too thrilled that this site that often calls them out on their false claims, which they link to from their main site (let's see how long they continue to do that), could be so popular. I'm also thrilled that mathinaz (#2) and Drinking The Kool Aid (#3) are two of my favorite blogs here which I follow regularly. They're both math teachers like me, which is interesting. Anyway, feel free to use the comments to congratulate me and implore me to keep up the good work.
So much (and yet so little!) has happened in the past few weeks. I am currently sitting in my hotel room, my casa for the next three weeks, and I am so bored and restless and excited and motivated and anxious and tired and every other emotion you can think of. I have those moments where I ask myself what the #$%! I am doing here and how I managed to pick up my life (again!) and move so far from everyone and everything that means so much to me. When this happens, I think about my kids in Mississippi this summer and how much they inspired me and reminded me every day that the gap is real and that they don't deserve the shitty educations they are getting. I think of how lucky I was to have people to teach me to advocate for myself and my education, and I am here to be that someone for my students, to make them realize how intelligent, amazing, wonderful, resourceful and talented they are and that THEY are in control of their own destinies. I am here to learn from the veteran teachers that have lived the gap with their students, the real advocates for the kids of the Delta, people who love these kids and have fought for them long before TFA got here and will fight long after TFA CMs move on to the next stages of their lives. I am here to become a part of this community, to use my strengths to help my students learn and grow, as I grow and learn from them at the same time. Ok, enough of the cursi-fest. Here's a run-down of what has been happening since I last updated: 1) I bought a house. It's not the yellow house of my sueños, but it's adorable and it's going to be a great first home for me! Everyone freaks out when they find out that I BOUGHT a house, but there are plenty of TFAers coming into the area every year, so if I decide not to stay after my two year commitment, having a house here is still feasible. Closing is on August 26th, and I can't wait to move in! My roomie is from Georgia, and I am so lucky to have found an amazing person to live with for at least the next 2 years! 2) I went to Chicago for a weekend to visit a friend, and being in the city was definitely the break I needed! I went to a soccer game (Chicago Fire vs. Manchester United), and I loved being able to walk places and use public transportation! 3) I went to FL Orientation this past Monday, and it was so wonderful to hang out with fellow foreign language teachers! I got a lot of my lingering questions answered, and I was rejuvenated being in a room full of people who love languages as much as I do and have incredible experiences and passion to share with their students. We did some practicing implementing TPRS, and it was great to see other teachers teach and to get feedback from them. In true TFA style, a whole bunch of information was crammed into my brain in one day, but it was definitely the most helpful of all of my TFA professional development. Going through lesson plans, unit plans, assessments, and long term plans of current teachers made it even more real that I will be the leader of my classroom so soon! I am sifting through resources, and I feel a lot less overwhelmed than I anticipated. I'll keep you posted. 4) For the past week, I have spent a lot of time in my classroom. I have done a lot of cleaning, organizing and decorating, and I have done a good amount of planning, but there is so much to do that I get distracted easily and end up wandering aimlessly around doing piddly things instead of making progress on one thing at a time. Tomorrow, I plan to go in with a list in hand and start at the top of the list, not allowing myself to stray from the task at hand. I am so excited to get the room in order, but unless I make some sort of sense of the way I am doing it, it is going to take me forever! 5) For the past week, I have also watched more television than I have in MONTHS. Is there something wrong with having the Lifetime, BRAVO, and MTV lineups memorized? Fabulous. I didn't think so. So, I love the Delta, but there are so many things that I miss about home and about my pre-TFA life. I am starting a list here (that I will add to as my journey continues) of the things I miss about home and the things I love about the Delta :
After a whirlwind week, I found out on Wednesday that I'll be teaching 7th grade math. I got a call on Monday night from a high school to see if I wanted to interview there. I arranged to interview at 9:30 the next morning. When I woke up I had an email from another school asking to schedule an interview. I scheduled that one and headed out to the first. The school was looking for a high school math teacher but was not very familiar with TFA. They didn't quite understand how I was qualified to teach math (passed the math content praxis). The next interview was at a K-8 school that doesn't typically get corps members because they don't meet the poverty threshold. I loved that school and really wanted the job. In between those two interviews I got another call from a high school so I scheduled an interview for the next morning. I also got a call later from yet another school and scheduled an interview for the afternoon. That night I had a voice-mail from another principal. I didn't call her back until I was headed for my second interview on Wednesday. As soon as she picked up she started interviewing me while I was driving to another interview. I pulled into the parking lot and she offered me the job, which I accepted. I then had to call the principal whose parking lot I was in and cancel the interview 10 minutes before it was due to begin. I got back on the highway and headed to my school to sign the recommendation papers. So, in short, I had 3 in-person interviews, 1 phone interview which resulted in an offer, and 2 more interviews scheduled that I had to cancel. This all happened in less 48 hours. I spent Thursday and Friday at my school (which meant I wasn't at TFA orientation). I thought the time at school was really productive but I am a little lost about where I am in TFA-land. I need to get to work on unit 0, my big goal and my vision, and my procedures, my investment, my management. Lots to do this week. In non-TFA-world (well, aside from the fact that my weekend was spent with TFA people), I had a lot of Memphis fun this weekend. We went to the South Main Trolley Tour on Friday and got lots of free beer. Then we went to someone's apartment where we spent time on a rooftop deck. HLM and I decided to walk the 1.5 mile way home, which was pretty lovely and not as scary as you would expect at 12:30 am. On Saturday I went to the farmer's market and got some delicious stuff. Saturday night some corps members had a house party which was a lot of fun. There was church this morning and then some work-time. Tomorrow I'm going back to my school for in-service.
So... I haven't blogged in quite some time. In fact, I haven't blogged since the first days of institute. My reasoning: complete lack of sleep. So for this blog I will try to break up my institute experience by week trying to recall my thoughts at the time (now, of course I am a more rational person not completely driven by coffee). Week 1: Ok, so Phoenix was hotter then expected (coming from Texas I thought I would be immune to the climate experience of northerns, not the case, I now know what "It feels like I'm walking through a sauna" really means). Phew, we get an entire week of training before getting our students, my CS is engaging (after spending hours with my CS (shout-out to Ben) I understand just how amazingly lucky I was), my CMA is funny, my co-lab is unique but works amazingly well together (ONLY CO-LAB OF THE WEEK from PHX institute, holla), and my roommate is super cool. Really, my bus is the first to leave (an hour before the last bus). Really, really? I'm not riding in the bus but a car, meaning that I have to leave even earlier! Wow, it is extremely hard to teach negative numbers.... at least I'm not trying to teach colors (before institute I thought that elementary education had to be the easiest job in the world, but now I can sympathize with just how hard it is to break something down to teach it when it is something you know on a subconscious level). Note: at this time everything was still very distant and abstract. Everything I was learning I was grasping on to, but really couldn't apply it. And, me and my roommate were slightly frustrated with the TFA terms (We had a Room Norms sign in our dorm room. 1. No Uptalk 2. Sleep Relentlessly 3. Plan purposefully to allow for free time (NEVER happened!) 4. Drink coffee effectively 5. Big Goal: Be in bed by 11 pm (I think this happened 3 times maybe). Week 2: I already know my kids first and last name and call them as Ms. and Mr. I graded their math diagnostic and realize just how far behind my kids are. I realize at midnight on Thursday (after a debrief by my CMA) that our classroom culture has to change. Hyped up on coffee I make the class shout out the Nelson Mandela fear quote and "performed" my lesson on prime factorization (the first lesson I thought I did well enough executing). I keep hearing "You ARE TFA". I went running at 10 pm and it was still 105 outside. I discovered Dutch brothers coffee. I had a mere 3 beers on Friday night, but was SO tired that got me blackout drunk. Wow! I got so lucky to get stuck in a car to ride to school (every day was spice girls and N'sync karaoke, got to school with a smile even after only 2 hours of sleep the night before - Starbucks fridays - never loved Starbucks so much in my entire life!) Week 3: So so so tired. Schedule: Alarm 5 am. Roommate wake up: 5:15. Finish all the stuff I didn't the night before and get ready. Head down to get lunch and occasionally eat breakfast (mostly just grab a paper sack containing one cold bagel, a oj juice box, an sketchy cream cheese pack, and a coffee). Run to car for 6 am. Ride and hour to school singing. 7:30 students show up. AIH. 8:30 sessions. 10:50 teach math. 11:40 Watch Co-teacher teach math. 12:30 Say by to kids and run to sessions. Session, Session, Session. (Note: holy hell the BMC does work! How is that possible!). 4 Head back to the dorms. 4:45 take a 10 minute nap, talk to roommate about day, change. 5:30 meet someone (colab, cma, ....). Eat something. Work on everything to try to make it to the copy center by 10. Go back to dorm and do LP for 3 days from now. Make overheads and KP poster. Hopefully take a shower by midnight. Finish up new LP. Be in bed anywhere from midnight to 3 am. Repeat. Find out how little I know about the people I have spent every waking moment with (my colab). TFA is a master of making powerpoints. Week 4: 4th of JULY!!! Only 4 days with kids, but 1 day less of sleeplessness and LPs. What the hell, why is there a dust storm of the century outside? Started calling one of my low performers every night to tell him how smart he is and reinforcing malleable intelligence and how it relates to homework. Slowly, more and more of his homework gets done. My kids(and colab) realize how big of a Harry Potter nerd I am. Took an hour off to play water basketball/volleyball with my roommate - should have done that EVERY week! Week 5: Urgency! So glad to be almost done, but realize how much my student have learned and still need to learn. Learn that my students actually thought I was a good teacher. I swear these kids write and say things that are aligned to what TFA tells us they will. Its slightly frightening. All the things you think will never ever work (like singing "its a party multiplying mixed numbers" like mylie cyrus) have HUGE impacts on your kids. Touched by the words/action of a parents. Shocked by how big of an impact I had on my kids. "He (student) hasn't had a teacher that actually cared about him since he was in 5th grade. Now he tells me that he is doing his homework and knows he can be anything. You have completely changed how he sees school". Orientation (TFA CO): Kind of painful except for the Vision/Goal sessions and hearing from the Lt. Governor. New Staff Institute (District): Master teacher and planning for the first 3-6 weeks = Awesome. Morning sessions - repeat of TFA core values and ideas very very slowly. Random notes: Just found an awesome website to keep kids and parents informed on assignments, grades, calendar, etc (engrade.com). Vision: For my class to be on the same path as the best HS biology department in the state located less than 3 miles away AND for my class to love biology like I do. Reflection: I now realize how amazingly hard and rewarding these next two years will be. Wish I had my war buddies (co-lab). Longest post ever? Possibly. -Ms. R
Recently, I came across a spreadsheet that detailed some collegiate demographic data for current Teach For America St Louis corps members. No it’s not a dossier of juicy details about intimate personal lives or Facebook logins, rather it is merely a list of the colleges attended by current 2010 and 2011 corps members and their respective college majors. A few years ago, I learned about UW-Madison’s prowess in securing TFA placements for it’s graduates; UW has consistently ranked among the top ten producers of TFA corps members for a number of years now. Teach For America is often referred to in national media as an organization where “around 10 percent of
I hope this post reaches people in the 2012 applicant pool and corps as you are all preparing to make your commitment or to ship off to Institute. If it doesn't, I hope it brings some chuckles from my fellow survivors CMs as we now look behind us (incredibly enough) at the 5 weeks of training that we all have in common. Disclaimer: I am still a first year CM. In fact, I'm still 2 weeks from entering my own classroom. I don't claim to know everything or to have all of the answers to make a successful Institute experience for all of you. I also don't claim to have done everything right at Institute - this is just my take on this particular rite-of-passage from a still in-the-moment perspective.
I finally finished cleaning out my classroom! It is now completely clutter-free, and I can start to arrange and decorate to my heart's content. It's SUCH a relief to have that done, because I feel like I can really get started now. I'm also feeling better about this fall. The more prepared I become, the better I feel about it. Go figure :). I went to school yesterday and made copies of parent contact forms, pink slips for forgotten homework, "classbook" pages, student surveys, and parent surveys. Now I'm working on gluing little pockets to the classbook pages for each one's "wall". Kind of fun, but time-consuming, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day. But I'm glad that I have those things done so that when I get my curriculum map and pacing guide, hopefully I can plan the part where I actually teach math! I know the classroom culture/ investment stuff is important too, though. I'm STILL not caught up on sleep from Institute, and by around 7:30 each night I'm ready to go to bed. But I keep working because I enjoy the work, and I enjoy whatever movie I'm watching while I do the work! So I've been getting way too into whatever I'm working on and staying up way too late. TFA has us doing/turning in a Big Goal for our class, a Long-Term Plan for our curriculum, a "Culture of Achievement" plan, and a Management Plan. Those are done, but I'm not positive that what I'll actually implement what I wrote in those plans. I found myself just getting them done because I had a deadline with TFA, regardless of how things will actually get done in my classroom. That's probably not a good thing, so I'm going to go back and change them when I know more about my classes for this year. I'll see how things go, but if I enjoy teaching and my life here, then I'm definitely planning to stay beyond my two-year commitment. I think going into my first year with that mindset will help me this year; I hope to think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. I could see myself getting burned out and discouraged if I tried to "just get through it" as I would a temporary commitment. So I'm hoping this year to aim to be a good teacher and lay a solid foundation for the rest of my teaching career. I know I won't be amazing right away, and that making mistakes is how you learn. I'm going to ask my principal first, but I'm looking at getting free business cards printed up on through Vista Print, just to give to my students' parents. I've read that it's a good idea. Time to get ready for church!
Time is really flying now! All of TFA’s summer training is over, and I am officially in the hands of my school district and school. Early last week, our school district hosted its orientation. The orientation was wonderful—district leaders shared their mission and vision, along with a healthy dose of well-deserved district pride. An incredibly engaging and motivating keynote speaker rounded out the morning and challenged us to be dynamic teachers in our classrooms. After the speakers, a number of professional associations and vendors were available to discuss their products and services, while local media circulated the crowd grabbing quick interviews for their evening news shows. In the afternoon, our district department leaders gave presentations that were more specific to particular subject areas, noting resources and support systems in place to guide and support the district’s teachers. At the end of last week, our school hosted its new teacher orientation. Man, that place is dynamic! I could not be more excited about the vision and enthusiasm present in our school administration. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the team. The administration enthusiastically welcomed the new teachers (there were probably about twelve of us) and shared their vision of where they would like to see the school grow and develop in the upcoming year. We also learned logistics about our school day, human resources, and technology. One of the most exciting parts of the week was finally seeing my classroom: It’s perfect! I have some decorating to do, but it is an incredible space for learning. I also got some information about my eighth grade students and classes. I will be teaching five substantive social studies classes, as well as a homeroom and a CARE class. Each class has between twenty and twenty-five students and lasts forty-nine minutes. I am so very excited to meet the students. I am also spending a great deal of time these days reviewing resources available in my subject area, Georgia History. Unit plans and lesson plans are in the works! I’m thrilled to have the privilege of teaching such dynamic material—I am excited about the opportunities. In short, this past week has been a whirlwind, but a great one! Next week, we have pre-planning and our open house, and our students report to school for Day 1 on August 8. You can read all about it right here!
It's the last day of July, and although the midwest heatwave seems to still be sitting right outside my apartment, we're approaching the beginning of the school year for many districts, and that means all sorts of fun is coming up... school supply shopping, lesson planning and tracker-creating! For any of you who don't get enough data, I thought I'd share some of ours. First up, we have our most visited active blogs. The following list, in rank order, has 10 blogs which received the greatest number of visitors from January 1 to June 30.
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