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updates for 08.08.2011

9 new posts today

Ge to work!

On the eve of my first day of teaching, I can't believe how prepared and ready I am to change lives! I'm excited to meet all my new students, get to know them and their parents, and help them set goals that really push them to the highest level of rigor. I don't know how I got from feeling so overwhelmed in June when induction started to feeling so confident and positive today, but I can only hope that the lessons I've learned about ownership, relentlessness, and asset-based thinking will carry me through the tough times that are sure to surface this year. To all my colleagues who are about to embark on this incredible journey, remember that we were chosen for a reason, and we WILL be the best teachers our students have ever had! Let's get to work!


Why is teaching important?

As I was on the train the other day, I was chatting with a local (as I am wont to do), and the fact that I am beginning my career as a teacher next month came up. "But you seem so smart," she said, "why would you pick teaching when you can do something worthwhile?" I literally stared at her open-mouthed; my grandmother would have told me I looked like a cod fish. After a second of reminding myself that every moment is a teaching moment - yes, even this one - I marshaled a reply I hoped would convey the strong objections I had to her comment in a totally constructive way. "What could be MORE worthwhile than teaching?" was my response. "Take a moment and think about everything you have ever learned. Who was our first president?  How do you mix primary colors to create the rainbow? How to punctuate a sentence, how to construct well written paragraphs, where countries are in the world... I guarantee that everything you know, you learned from a teacher and it was probably in school." She fired back with the oft-repeated phrase that students tend to rely on - but when will we ever need to know this in real life? Every skill that we have is a learned behavior. Can you count money? That's a second grade skill. Can you figure out how much soil to buy for your garden? That's a sixth grade skill. Can you drive and follow traffic signals and regulations? That's a high school skill.  It's regrettably true that some teachers don't obviously make the connection of the everyday value of the knowledge they teach but the reality is that every person in every job is using something they've been taught in order to be successful. I earned quite a bit of criticism with my decision to teach post-college rather than pursue a doctorate or move into the corporate world. Folks kept telling me, just like that lady on the train, to do something important. I argue that preparing our next generation is THE highest calling. The students in my classroom come from homes less privileged than the suburb I was fortunate enough to be raised in - they can't count on dinner every night or two parents checking on their homework, however, they deserve an excellent education. They deserve the open doors that education will offer them. They deserve the opportunity to present a resume with pride somewhere down the line in which the name of their college or university commands instant respect from the recipient. We nationally value higher education, therefore, we must allow our students access to a superb foundational education so they are prepared for that higher institution. Teaching is going to be the most challenging, draining, demanding work I have ever done - I can't wait. Our children are our future. We are going to be depending on them to create medications, grow sustainable food, and administer the global economy - why wouldn't we give them our very best?



Dear 7th Graders, It's hard to know who is going to bed more nervous tonight: you, brand new middle schoolers who are starting an adventure into secondary school tomorrow; or me, 2nd year teacher venturing into a new school, new classroom, and new grade level. I don't know about you, but I don't think I'll be getting much sleep tonight. I had an awesome summer. I won't lie and say that I was ready for it to end...I would have been happy for it to have gone on for another few months, but I know there is work to be done. In my mind, I'm envisioning all of you as small (a lot smaller than my high schoolers last year) and open to the possibilities that learning (and English, specifically) can offer you. I think about us going to the library, about all of you devouring books in class, about all of us jumping around getting excited for the ISTEP in 120 school days. I hope that you have the enthusiasm that I am so desperately wishing for. But even if you don't, I will teach you. I will do my best to keep my frustration with you at a minimum, when I know the issues are so much bigger than you. I will advocate for you in a system that has plenty of problems. I will reach out to your parents to tell them how wonderful you are, not just to tell them that you're being a pain. I have so much growing to do, but I hope that we can help each other grow this year. Tomorrow you'll see a video of some of my students from last year. I watched it earlier today and got nostalgic for them all. The truth is, I love you already (even though I may never grow to like some of you). I will do my best for you. I will be your teacher. Love, Ms. H


okay, now's the time for advice.

If you could go back to a week before your first year of teaching, what would you be doing during that last week? What's the baseline of stuff I should have done before school starts?


Cultural Learning Begins

Today I saw where the world began. At least according to Navajo beliefs. Some of my friends are placed in Crownpoint, a small town about an hour outside of Gallup, and the Navajo Language and Culture teacher from the elementary school up there offered to take as many people as were interested on a hike to help us understand Navajo culture better. How can you say no to an offer like that? We went to Crow Canyon, about 2 ½ hours outside of Crownpoint, almost in the middle of the four sacred peaks. It’s just over the mesa from Chaco Canyon, famous ruin of the Anasazi. According to our teacher, Chaco Canyon was the bustling metropolis of the area back when the Navajo and the Anasazi lived there (side note: white history says that the Anasazi predated the Navajo; Navajo history says they coexisted). In a tangential story, the Navajo people used to gamble in Chaco, and they eventually lost everything—livestock, weapons, goods, even people into slavery. But the deities came to a Navajo boy and told him that they would teach him how to win at gambling (side note: deities are called gods in English, but they weren’t seen in a hierarchical way by the Navajo, more like other beings that also existed in the world than supreme rulers). So they did, and he won back all the things his people had lost for them. But the deities warned that they would rescue the people from their gambling only one time, and the next time they would have to live with what they lost. Our teacher linked this to the Navajo casino, saying that people are torn about whether it’s a good idea. Who knows what might be lost this time—money, but also culture, stories and history as the Navajo way of life mixes with the Anglo. All along the canyon is rock art, places where ancient Navajo carved pictures and stories into stone. More subtle and harder to see (I don’t think we would have seen them at all if they weren’t pointed out to us) are the pueblitos, ruins of defensive posts where people would see intruders coming up the canyon and take off running to the next post to spread the word (side note: the Navajo were traditionally runners, and would run in this way from place to place; more traditional Navajo still run to the east every morning, for reasons I will get to, though as people settled into sedentary “modern” lifestyles heart disease, diabetes, and alcoholism have run rampant which contributes to some of the awful statistics about Native health problems). The posts were small, camouflaged, and hard to spot (which means they probably served their purpose). But the rock art was really interesting. Some of it had old Spanish words written, the influence of the Spaniards who invaded the area. Some had swastika-like symbols, because traditionally that symbol has meant wind in Navajo art. Some had deities atop mountainlike shapes. One had a whole story told, written from right to left and bottom to top, showing the sun rising, many people walking and wandering, a sort of deity on a rocky structure, then animals and a hunting scene. You might have noticed how many side notes there are in this post. This was one of the things our teacher was trying to teach us about: learning for our kids traditionally starts with the earth, at the bottom, but then it moves cyclically. First comes the big picture, working into the smaller details. There is a whole system having to do with the four directions. It’s hard to remember all of it, but I think it’s like this: South is about planning, laying out how one’s path should go and where the journey leads. West is doing, actually traveling along that path and growing. North is studying, reflecting on that journey, how it went, what it meant. East is acting, deciding what to do right now, in the moment, for today. So if you take kids who have grown up with this cyclical, general-to-specific, everything-in-its-own-time kind of way of learning and plunk them down in a western education with rules and process and linear thinking, they have a hard time figuring it out and it’s confusing to them, just like it was confusing for me to think about all I learned today and tell it like a story that would make sense as a blog post. And in the end, my finished product is more like what I know than how I learned. Think about that in terms of a student's essay: if it looks more like a cyclical story, it’s going to look disorganized to a Billigana audience (side note: Billigana, which has lots of spellings but I think that’s a correct one, means “those we struggle with” in Navajo, and refers to a person of any race/ethnicity besides Navajo). What’s kind of interesting about this four-direction system is that Gallup-McKinley County Schools has a mandated program called PDSA, standing for Plan, Do, Study, Act, which is a planning and overviewing system we are supposed to use with the kids. Basically, we do one for the whole class every week and each student does their own, making a plan, doing it, then seeing how it went, assessing what worked or didn’t, and deciding what to keep or do differently. The problem is that every teacher I’ve met from my school says they don’t understand how to do the PDSA, and that every official person who comes into your classroom will say you are doing it wrong but when you change it to what that person says, someone else will say that new way is wrong. So, on the plus side, we have an instructional technique that is concretely rooted in Navajo culture to make more sense to our students. On the minus side, the non-Navajo teachers can’t get our minds around the system. Tough question: if we can’t get our minds around this one piece of their learning style, how are we expecting them to understand every piece of ours? It’s a hard question that I don’t have an answer to, but it’s one that I’m understanding the magnitude and basis of a little more, thanks to our teacher today.


School starts tomorrow!

I'm anxious as a little kindergartener. I'm so excited to see their smiling faces tomorrow! It's gonna be great! :) (No, but really, I'm very nervous!!)



I realize I was not good at keeping up my blog last year.  I wanted to, I really did.  But, I would get home late every night, and all I could do was eat, shower, sleep.  I was drained, to say the least. As I think back to my teaching last school year, my throat clenches with anxiety.  It was a real, real tough year.  There are so many things I am going to do differently this year.  Instead of worrying about having a objective-driven lesson play perfectly laid out with all my handouts created after I am done teaching every day, I am going to think about one thing that went well, and one thing that could have gone better.  Then, I am going to contemplate how to solve that one problem, and how to replicate what went well.  I have realized that taking time to figure out how to engage my students is more important sometimes then having an I do-we do-you do lesson plan.  I also recognize now that management is important, but it is not going to be flawless after the first week, or two weeks, or probably month.  In fact, there probably always will be one kid who interrupts or does something worthy of a consequence.  Management, I have come to realize is something that evolves as I teach.  It is not something that I need to nail down before I start teaching. Keeping all these pieces in mind, I am excited to have another shot at making some awesome gains with my new students this year.  However, it is slightly nerve-racking that I still do not know exactly what I am teaching.  I know I will be teaching Special Education at a school called Lewis and Clark, which serves kids prek-6th grade.  But, I do not know if I will be teaching 4 year olds, or 13 year olds.  I do not know if I will be doing math, or reading.  I do not know if I will be working as an inclusion teacher, or a self-contained teacher.  I also was recently told I may be the Special Education coordinator.  There are just so many variables. Because of all these variables, I have yet to do much planning.  I am relaxing for now as I wait for more information on my upcoming role.  I plan to update my blog on at least a weekly basis this year.  I think I am organized enough to do that now :).


On the eve of my first day of school...

To be honest. I can't really think straight, but I will try. Last week, I spent the week at my school preparing the classroom and learning about our new State of the Art Curriculum. This curriculum my friends, is going to be life-changing for me as a teacher and for my students. I can't even begin to explain the components but the biggest and best part is that my students will be practicing self-regulation and imaginitive play all year long. These two components are HUGE for 4 year olds. On Friday, I met 12 of my new babies! I can't believe how big they are! They are going to turn my world upside down, I just know it! My coteacher and I are just beyond excited for tomorrow and showing the children what opportunities they have ahead of them! On Saturday, I had TAL training all day because I wasn't able to do Orientation because of my schools start date. That was a very long day but I have about half my vision drafted so that is good. I got home at 6 and there was a giant thunderstorm coming (Praise God for Rain) BUUUUUUTTT I haven't had power since 6:15pm last night because this storm took out most of our power lines and trees in my neighborhood. This makes everything in general more difficult but I especially have had issues because I apparently can't remember everything that uses electricity. haha I showered but had nothing to dry my hair. I turned on my computer but had no internet. I used my phone but then quickly realized I had no way to charge it. So my dog and I did a lot of laying, sleeping, and using the flashlight to check the air conditioner to see the temp in the house (81 degrees when I left to come find a source of electricity). SO, I am going to be positive. I get 4 more hours in my classroom this afternoon to make last minute touches. I believe it will be air conditioned and in the least, I can charge my phone while I am there! haha Off to get some work done!


BOSU balls and mattresses

Moving across the country to a place you've never been before, starting a job you've never done before, and living in a community where you don't know anybody is a bit like standing on a BOSU exercise ball.  Since the photo uploader thingy isn't working, all I can do is describe what a BOSU ball looks like.  Or you can google "BOSU ball" and see for yourself. Your choice.  A BOSU ball is basically an exercise ball cut in half, with a plastic base.  So you can stand on it, sit on it, whatever. The idea behind the BOSU ball is that it creates an unstable surface, and exercising on that unstable surface makes the exercise that much harder and in turn makes your muscles that much stronger.  This TFA experience has been like standing on a BOSU ball:  it's unstable and difficult but it will make me stronger.  Teaching in this new, completely different environment will make me a stronger teacher, I think. I was an English major.  I deal in metaphors.  I can't help myself :). Now that I'm getting settled in to my town, TFA is seeming more and more invasive. My district and community have been SO incredibly supportive that all of the hoops I have to jump through for TFA during the school year seem annoying, not helpful.  We have ICE group meetings on Tuesday nights here in t0wn, and "Pro-Sat"s (professional development Saturdays) once a month at Delta State, 2 hours away. Personally, I'd rather spend my Tuesday nights getting to know people in the community and doing WORK.  And I'm going to be fussy about losing a Saturday every month.  Also, I'm STILL sleep-deprived from Institute, 3 weeks later.  That's not good, TFA.  I've been working really hard in the last 3 weeks, I know, but it's still really hard to get out of bed in the morning, and I feel like I could sleep in till noon every day.  If you know me, you know how insane that is; normally for me, sleeping in till 8 is outrageous. TFA got me here; I need to be grateful. TFA got me here; I need to be grateful. TFA got me here; I need to be grateful. TFA got me here; I need to be grateful. I keep repeating that to myself. Also, I knew this whole thing would be expensive, but not THIS expensive.  I'm not fond of credit card debt, and I'm going into debt because I don't get paid till the end of September. I had $5,000 when I left California, plus $1800 in transitional loans. Now I have enough left to cover my bills for August and September, but not much more.  So anything extra like food and clothing is going on the credit cards. It's stressful and I don't like it, but I know it's part of the deal. On the bright side, I now have a bed frame AND mattress AND box spring!  Beds are expensive, but this was one non-negotiable for me before school starts.  With our living room furniture, our house is really starting to feel like home.  As soon as we get an air conditioner for our living room, things will be much better. I'm starting to feel much better about the school year starting.  By "much better", I mean not completely panicked.  It's more like numb.  I'm not sure exactly how I'm supposed to be feeling right now, or how much I should have finished for the school year. Very few things are comfortable or familiar right now, and I miss that.  I guess that's part of starting any new job, but I miss feeling like I know what I'm doing.  I don't.  At least I know that I don't have a clue, though; as I've said before, one of the dangers of TFA is that it makes you feel overconfident going in to the school year and then you get clobbered.  I don't feel overconfident, or even confident.  I think that I'm as well-prepared as I can be given my situation, and I have to take comfort in that. My classroom is really coming along.  I have a friend from home who happens to be a teacher visiting me right now, and she did my bulletin boards for me and helped me make decisions about furniture placement, etc.  I still have to clean and arrange the desks, organize my desk, and laminate/put up my posters, but my classroom looks much better than it did a week ago. My school is switching to block schedule this year, and I have a general idea of how that will work, but I don't know how many classes I'll have or how many students will be in those classes.  I have new teacher orientation tomorrow and district training all this week, so I'm sure I'll find all that out.  I just don't want to somehow miss information that everyone else has. I'm sure I'll have more to write after I have some of my district training and have some substantial information about what my school year will look like.  And when it cools off, I'll hopefully have more brainpower.  It's been between 103 and 113 degrees every day this last week, and when it's this hot I'm not pithy or clever. That's all for now.  Off to church!


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