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updates for 08.15.2011

13 new posts today

They want to LEARN

This week was my first week as a full-time teacher; and let me tell you, it was EXHAUSTING!! The very first day I came home and had a drink in broad daylight and passed out around 8:30 only to wake up at 5 am the next morning. I havent been that tired in FOREVER! I dont know what it is about teaching that drains every bit of energy out of you, but goodness, It's really tiring. From day one, my students thought they could start acting up in my classroom. They tried me. HARD. It didnt help that I look like an 8th grader myself. To top it off, I had to stay with my first period the entire day. Talk about wanting to pull out the "board of education" and really paddle somebody's child (yes, in MS they still paddle children in school). I even had to write up somebody already. Day one! From the looks of things that day, I knew it was going to be a looooooong year! But I survived!! By day 3, the students knew what was coming and understood classroom procedures. They knew they were required to come in silently, write silently and remain in their seats unless otherwise instructed. I still have a couple of them who want to test me, but overall, they're getting the hang of it. On a much brighter note, I already started knowing them on a personal level. It's amazing how honest students are...even the moody teenagers. In their writing, they told me about their dreams, their goals, how they plan on getting there and how I can help them. Surprisingly, most of them ASKED me to be hard on them! They knew they had issues with talking in class or following the wrong crowd, so they wanted me to advise them as well as remind them when they are getting distracted. WOW!! SUCH HONESTY!! Imagine if adults handled problems the same way. The world would be a much better place!! Some of the activities we did in class required them to be completely vulnerable in front of their peers. Some had to admit that they went days without eating because their families couldnt afford it. Others admitted they used to be embarrassed about their clothes or homes. Not easy subjects to broach, but they did it with grace. I'm so proud. By day 2, I was already known as the mean teacher most students could not stand, simply because I was new; but that did not bother me. I was actually happy about that. I knew sooner or later, they would come around. By day 4, there were students that I didnt even know coming by my class asking if they could join. Apparently my students went out and told their friends all about the fun they have in my class and the discussions we have. We talk about everything. Politics, society, stereotypes, attitudes, growing...you name it, we've probably discussed it. Did I mention I'm teaching math? Anyways, they love coming to class now and it's only week one! But the most touching thing I heard this week was said on Friday by one of my male students. After our activity of "mimic me," he said, "that's what I love about this class. Learning AND having fun." Gasp. A silent, internal tear. I must be doing something right, cause he didnt even say that to me. He was thinking aloud. My heart swells with joy!! It's amazing how 42 little rascals can turn your whole world upside down. Nothing matters anymore! All I care about is those individuals whom I have the honor and pleasure of impacting everyday. Shaping their little minds and pushing them to think outside the scope of my classroom. I've never been so happy, so fulfilled, so complete!! Words simply cannot explain the euphoria I'm experiencing. Teaching was not even something I ever envisioned doing, but now that I'm doing it, I love it! I am very sure that this is where I supposed to be. I guess this is what happens to mothers once they see that first child come out. Priorities change. Perspectives shift. The world becomes very small because they know they will go to the ends of the world for their little one. I'm feeling the same way. Except I will do that for 42 of them. My babies, my inspiration, my reason for waking up early and sleeping late. I'm in love!!


One Week Until Showtime

Hello world, Yet again, I need to apologize for my lack of updates. While I wish I could say that the time spent between now and my last post included only relaxation and mental freedom from teaching, that has not been the case. Nonetheless, I will shed some light about what I have been doing the past month or so: I turned 22. I finally got to see the boo (7 weeks is a long time.) I accumulated over 90 books from my Amazon Wish List and beloved family members and friends who now have grown children. I have received over 180 packages from colleges and universities throughout the country. (The banners I have received will be a center for my kiddos to practice shapes, colors, letters; additionally, it will help ingrain the reality of them being the college graduating class of 2028). Yes, 2028. I have finalized my classroom theme: Kinderville. It will be an exploration of our community and our unique value/roles we offer to our community. IM SO PUMPED TO CULTIVATE COMMUNITY ACTIVISM AND SERVICE AMONGST MY KINDERGARTENERS. um...other than that I've been relaxing :) But really, I am very excited (yet apprehensive and nervous) for my first year of teaching. As crazy as it may sound, I am ready for the plunge instead of just constantly hearing about how tough and tiring it will be. Despite my excitement, it is surreal thinking about how my first day of college (whaddup UNC) and how I reveled in the fact that I would never again have the quintessential "first day of school" experience. womp. It's all good though, I'm pumped knowing I get to set the tone for my students, their families, and myself. This privilege is something I take very seriously and feel blessed to have. Although I've spent the last couple of posts apologizing for my lack of posts, I will do my best to keep my readers (if they exist) in the loop. Honestly, I will because words cannot express how valuable this place was for me when considering if TFA was the right decision for me. If you ever wanna talk, hit a brother up. Also, shoutout to my boy/mentor/bff/role model D.N. who was in HuffPo today! Check out the article-I see you TFA San Antonio!


Week 1 of Kindergarten (SparkNotes Version)

Important accomplishments we made in the first week of Kindergarten: -No crying on the first day. One girl cried on T, W, and Th but by Friday she said she wasn't scared and wasn't going to cry anymore. -All students got onto their correct bus every day. -Learned rules for markers, glue sticks, and scissors. -Understand and appreciate behavior management system/rules. Things we are still working on: -Raising our hands when we want to talk. -Speaking at an appropriate volume. -Doing anything in a reasonable amount of time (15 minutes is NOT a reasonable amount of time for a bathroom break). Things I learned: -I am much more patient with children than with adults. -I can maintain a straight face and give a consequence even when I really just want to laugh (I was worried about this!). -Sleep is a thing of my past. -24 kindergarteners is too many kindergarteners. -If you don't give a 5 year old something to do, they will find something to do, and it will never, ever, be something you want them to be doing. -I got all the cutest kids in the school. -There is never enough coffee. -There is one moment of every day that is just so incredibly wonderful it makes all of the other not-so-wonderful moments worth it.


Tomorrow is the first day of school...

Tomorrow I get kiddos. Tomorrow 16 (maybe? Maybe more? Probably less) 8-10-year-olds will walk through my classroom door expecting me to teach them something. Dear God, I hope I don't screw this up. I just tried to call them all to introduce myself and tell their parents about a Family Night we're having on Thursday, but out of 16 of them, I only got through to 2 and left messages for 2 more. Every other number was either disconnected or just rang forever. I have heard of parent contact being a really difficult thing in our region, because kids move around a lot and families sometimes live without electricity or phone, but I hadn't thought that 75% of my kids' parents would be unreachable by phone. Hopefully the parent survey I'm sending home tomorrow will help with that. The parents I did reach sounded excited that I was calling, though. Calling every student made me take a closer look at the Demographics page on their online student info. So many of my students have parents with different last names than theirs (foster kids? living with extended family?), or parents who don't live together, or parents who are unemployed, or whole father information sections that are just left blank. Most of them live between 20 minutes and an hour away on the reservation, which means they'll be waking up super early every morning just to get to school. The sheer number of disconnected phones speaks to the poverty, or to the frequent moving. It makes me realize a couple things. One: how incredibly lucky I was to grow up in a home with both my parents, electricity, meals, and running water. And two: how very many things are standing against my kids right now. But at the same time, I'm so excited to meet them and so determined to teach them. I've looked at their little faces on the online student pages (which are from 3rd grade photo day...they're pretty darn cute) and written their names on folders and desks (which was silly, since by all accounts the list I have will NOT be the same kids I end up with). I love them already. But loving them isn't enough. I have to push them, inspire them, motivate them, teach them. And I am more than a little lost on how exactly I'm going to do that. Here we go...


First Day of School: Overcoming Reservations

I'm teaching at Brookside Day and Charter School in Kansas City, MO, and have the privilege of working with 57 extraordinary students and their families. Brookside hosted a "Meet the Teacher" night last Friday, and while I was happy to have met many sets of parents, I was even more ecstatic about the enthusiasm they displayed for their child's educational success. I was more than happy to answer all of their questions, and was pleased to let them know that we would all be working together to help their child achieve educational excellence. Despite this admittedly positive experience, I go into tomorrow--like many of us--with more than a few reservations ranging from concerns about how receptive my students will be to my lessons, to how I'm going to make sure to get them to lunch on time. And this is only natural, as it is my first time on my own as a teacher, in my own classroom, with my own students, and while I have done a lot of preparation, it is tough to be fearless; and having talked to my fellow corps members and other teachers, I know I am not alone in these feelings. It is important to remember however that we have a strong and talented group of individuals supporting us, which includes our fellow corps members, Teach For America staff and administrators, and our school administration. Indeed, while the outcome of tomorrow's and subsequent days' lessons are up in the air, it is comforting to know that we are not in this alone. What's more is that we have our institute experiences to guide us. I wasn't feeling my best on a certain day a couple weeks ago, but after a period of self-reflection and remembering the amazing time I had at LA Institute I started smiling again. In particular, I thought about one of the students in my summer school class, who, after diagnosing among the lowest in the class, had among the highest growths out of all the students.  What makes this student's success even more amazing is that he was working on enrichment material for 7th grade and was in a class that had among the highest mid-term growths across all of the LA schools in which TFA was placed. When I showed this student his results, he wouldn't believe it at first, asking me if he actually accomplished that. When I assured him that this was his work, and his growth, a broad smile swept across his face and he skipped around the rest of his last day in summer school.  This story reminded me of the joy that I felt every single day teaching my students in LA, and promised me that same joy during my time in Kansas City. I am lucky to be a part of  Teach For America, to be a teacher at an amazing school in Kansas City, and to have spent my summer in Los Angeles with an extraordinary bunch of students. I will take experiences from each of these facets of my life into my first day of teaching, both as tools to overcome my fears and reminders that I am not alone in the fight to close the achievement gap. You should do the same.


What A Difference A Year Makes! (Knock on Wood)

So far, so good! School has been in session for a week and my first five days are already in my semi-unofficial Top 15 list of best days. Yes, it’s been that good (knock on wood). I’m not really sure what the major reason is for the drastic change in my first week so far but I’m really enjoying myself, my students, and my school environment at the moment. I’m hoping, praying and planning that we can maintain this positive momentum. Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton. Besides everything feeling generally more natural to me, there are a few key differences between this year and last year: 1.) Our kids received schedules on the first day. Last year, I basically babysat the same 20-25 students for over a week to start out the year. I won’t dwell on that experience at this time, but let’s just say it drained my energy and sternness… 2.) I have resources such as a curriculum, books (albeit a class set), two LCD projectors, people to plan with etc. Last year, the science curriculum was new and I had to reinvent the wheel often, which was frustrating to say the least. We’re still working out the kinks but it’s an improvement. 3.) my kids have materials. Last year, it was an everyday struggle to get paper and pencils on my students desks, but this year they’ve been bringing ME stuff (tissues, copy paper, markers for extra credit). I set this expectation early but I’ve been so impressed that I’ve only had to loan out three golf pencils. Next week will be a struggle since I’m requiring binders, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised. 4.) My AC works! I used to spend my planning period mopping up my floor because my AC stopped working after the morning. I literally arranged my tables based on the flow of the water across the floor! This year, I’m fortunate to be able to teach in a room cooler than 95 degrees (knock on wood). 5.) my kids don’t antagonize me because I went to Harvard and actually look up to me because of that. To be fair, I wasn’t very open about myself last year, so I think we’re doing a better job of building a culture of trust this year. Over 75% of my students have already returned student and parent surveys! 6.) My classroom looks like a science classroom. I was switched the day before classes started last year and my frustration combined with my lack of natural interior decorating skills led to my classroom looking like a hot mess for half the year. It’s still not perfect, but it’s more conducive to learning now. Kudos to my female colleagues for their inspiration and advice! 7.) Fights! I broke up a cafeteria fight on the 2nd day of school last year and it was ugly as my clipboard flew all over the place and I didn’t yet know the art of breaking up a fight. Let’s just say that after last year, I’m about as well-seasoned as a breadstick from the Olive Garden (yum!). This time, when I broke up a first week scuffle it was better because I gained some “street cred” from my students when they saw how quickly I ran across the cafeteria to get to the fight as the only male teacher in the immediate area. I’d much rather have my kids calling me “track star” than have them thinking I’m a wealthy nerd until January like last year… Overall, we’ve done well so far, but it’s too early to tell what will happen. Regardless, I’m looking forward to working with the strong women on my hall to keep things on lock, and make sure we’re cultivating strong students in the weeks to come! In the words of my principal, “what a difference a year makes!”


Keeping up with the Joneses

And we're officially back in business! Metro Nashville schools welcomed back almost 80,000 students on Thursday for the first day of school (albeit a half one at that). The week leading up to it was a blur of faculty meetings and room preparation, so much so that on Wednesday night I felt that familar "uh oh, what's tomorrow going to be like feeling?" that had disappeared over the summer. Even as a second year teacher, there's a lot to keep track of. We have grown in size yet again! In the 2009-2010 school year, my school had about 260 kids enrolled. Last year, we hovered +/- about 10 from 500 for most of the year. On the first day of school this year, we had 650 students in the building with another 50 or so on the roll but who were not present (many people don't seem to understand that that first half day is so critical). The building itself looks the same, but the people within it look a bit different. Changes thus far... A new principal. I cannot begin to describe how excited I am to be working under her. I think every conversation we had as a staff managed to find its way back to "How can we best help the students? What do we as teachers need to accomplish this?" An assistant principal! Numbers, not need, determine whether or not a school has an AP. Not only am I glad that responsibilities can be shared, I also have really enjoyed all my interactions with my AP Coaches--Last year, we had a Reading Coach. This year, we have a (new) Reading Coach, a Numeracy Coach, AND three additional Coaches on leave from their schools to come and provide support to the 46 untenured teachers. Inclusion -- this year, I will be co-teaching for 2 hours a day with our ELL teacher. I will also have another hour of the day where an Exceptional Ed teacher will be in the room. For someone who felt really alone in my room last year, the door this year is going to be pretty open with inclusion and 6 official observations. New staff! - We've grown in student enrollment to the point where we have 6 teachers on each grade level. It's been a challenge to try and remember names, faces, and assigned positions as we've welcomed people into the building over the course of the summer. It will be confusing -- we now have several Smiths and confusing number of Joneses working in the building (at least 4...) I'm a bit nervous about this upcoming year because I know I will be challenged to push myself to make my kids more successful. Adding several experienced teachers to my team has made me really see how much work I have to do to become a better teacher. However, this year I feel prepped with the tools at my school to make those changes. After a shoddy relationship with my PD this past year, I look forward to a much more effective and supportive relationship with my new MTLD (Talk about overwhelming changes. My school had a ton, and then TFA went and changed things on me!) I'll save my thoughts on my new kids until I meet all of them on Monday, but here's a preview. I have a feeling I will very quickly be obsessed with them :)


Boring content?

I just read this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/to-students-its-all-about-the-boring-content/2011/08/14/gIQAjvzAFJ_blog.html I would agree with the author that, when trying to improve schooling, it is necessary but not sufficient to focus on the "who," the "where," and the "how" and, indeed, that it is also important to consider the "what" (the actual content being taught).  I think sometimes schools forget the original reasons why people thought it would be important to teach people certain things in the first place. Indeed, this sometimes means that there are things that are taught as part of a typical math curriculum that probably don't really need to be there. However, there are also lots of things that actually are there for good reason, but are just presented in a way that doesn't let their value come through (this actually goes back to the "who," "where," and "how" that the author of that article referred to). Then again, lots of what happens in math classes really seems to be designed to get students to eventually be able to understand calculus (which lots of people never actually take). Maybe we could cut out some of Algebra II/pre-calc and teach statistics, basic game theory, basic graph theory, and logic instead. (Don't get me wrong, calculus is clearly important, but not necessarily more important than all of those other interesting things). I'd guess that the vast majority of people who have taken math through high school or college have the false assumption that proofs only exist in geometry class. If you have some time, read this: http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf So, yes, some content is actually boring and unnecessary, just as the author of the original article claims. However, I think most of what people would claim is boring and unnecessary is actually just framed in a way that masks the interestingness. For example, the textbook problem given in the article asks students to use the distributive property to calculate 5 x 215 without using the 2-button on a calculator. Ok, split up the 215 into two pieces such as 100 and 115, then multiply each of those by 5 and add them together. I think a better way of asking that question is to cut out the part about the distributive property and instead just ask: "How can we multiply 5 x 215 without using the 2-button?" With some experience, number sense, and guidance from the teacher, students might come up with this method (or some entirely different method, which could also be pretty cool). If they come up with this method, then they can think about why it works (and convince themselves that it actually does) and then actually go through and calculate and see if they get the same answer as they would when just multiplying 5 x 215. Then, with some guidance, they can try to formalize this trick they just created:  5 x 215 = 5 x (100 + 115) = 5 x 100 + 5 x 115. And then, guess what, wow, that works with variables, too! Now, we've just learned 1/3 of algebra! The point the original article misses is that a topic doesn't need to be readily applicable to a student's life to be interesting or valuable. Along these lines, I'm a big fan of Dan Meyer's work. Among other things, he argues that a math problem is most engaging (and thus most valuable) when the math question posed is obvious based on the context of the problem (that is, you could delete the last sentence of the word problem where it actually asks the question, but still know what you need to figure out) and then the answer should be checkable in a satisfying way that doesn't just involve checking the answer in the back of the book. For example: http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?p=8483 (the rest of the stuff he posts to his blog is also pretty cool, too). Here's his TED talk, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlvKWEvKSi8 On the other hand, the author's point about new teachers not having time to actually do the work to improve content is well-taken. There are so many other things I need to be figuring out how to do as a new teacher. Depending on existing text-book stuff (not all of which is bad) is entirely necessary, particularly for a first-year teacher. The trick is just remembering that there is math beyond the textbook and not just getting in the habit of depending on that forever....


Turnarounds and divine education

Overheard during WaterFire, upon observing CMs with unlit torches Random person: "Well, if they can't handle fire, they definitely can't handle the students." The past week has been fairly uneventful compared to Induction, Institute, and the first week of F8W, which affords the perfect opportunity to finally provide some context for my school and teaching position this year. I'll be teaching Algebra 2 and "Math Lab" at a high school in Lower South Providence, a neighborhood that is notorious for its deterioration, large population of poor minorities, and physical isolation from the rest of the city. As of 1990, the most recent data I could find, more than half the population of 5,065 was African-American and about one-third was Hispanic. (Based on anecdotal evidence, these statistics have probably switched in the past twenty years.) More than one in four residents did not speak English well or at all, and less than half of the residents age 25 or older had completed high school. Perhaps most strikingly, Lower South Providence had a 20% unemployment rate, more than twice the citywide rate of 9%. (Source: Providence Neighborhood Profiles.) The statistics at my school are no less discouraging, though obviously, I don't believe that geography is necessarily destiny. In 2010, on the math portion of the state-wide assessment, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), fewer than 3% of the students at the school scored "Proficient" or higher, and most students scored "Substantially Below Proficient," the lowest possible category. Of the students, 82% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 19% have Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and 13% have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). (Source: School Reform Plan.) My school is one of six "turnaround" schools across the state, and the only high school indicated as such in Providence. These are schools that were designated by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in 2010 as "persistently low-achieving" and mandated to undertake one of four possible school reform plans: turnaround, restart, closure, or transformation, the last of which applies to my particular school. However, though the statistics are daunting, I am encouraged and excited to begin teaching this year because of the positive culture, sense of possibility, and student-centeredness that I've found to be almost ubiquitous among the faculty and staff at my school. Furthermore, the 32-page transformation plan, far from being vague and unhelpfully critical as I (unfairly) expected, contains very explicit goals that reference the data, a clear roadmap for meeting those goals, and a number of quantitative and qualitative metrics to indicate progress toward those goals. Specific elements of the transformation plan, which was drafted last year and is being implemented this year, include the following:

  • Replacement of the principal. The new principal is possibly the most open-minded, devoted, and hard-working principal I have ever encountered—she was at school and picked up my housemate's call on a Saturday afternoon—and her emphasis on data-driven decision makes me feel warm and tingly.
  • Rigorous evaluations that include rewards for increasing student achievement and removal of those who do not improve their professional practice. I'm not sure exactly what this will look like yet, but I do know that it will involve accountability to data and a fair distribution of leadership responsibilities.
  • Increased learning time. Compared to the district, we have three additional days in the school year and one additional hour of instruction per day, not to mention block scheduling and extra professional development.
  • Ongoing community engagement. Again, I'm not sure what this will look like yet, but based on what I've heard from the principal and faculty so far, the school is moving in the right direction with regard to reaching out to parents with surveys and information about school offerings.
One last note: it has been pointed out to me that my blog and opinions sometimes make me sound like a naive ignoramus who drinks TFA kool-aid as if it were the elixir of life. To be clear, I do know that any system, framework, organization, or plan is bound to be flawed, just as I, as an individual, am flawed. Nevertheless, being mindful and confident that I am not here (as a teacher, as a corps member, etc.)  by accident, but rather by the ineffable grace and sovereignty of God, one of the principles that I resolve to live by is Romans 13:1-5—to be subject to the "governing authorities" and do what is right, as a matter of submission but especially as a matter of conscience. Often, this amounts to giving TFA, my school, and the people I work under the "benefit of the doubt," but it's really about much more than that—it's about being confident that "in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). ————— I've been thinking a lot recently about why I've been called to be a teacher, when I could probably be doing equally meaningful work like fighting homelessness, serving in the mission fields, encouraging and relocating refugees, etc. I referenced Isaiah 58:6-10 in my first post, but the exhortations in that passage could just as easily be applied to any of the above enterprises. This past week, God was gracious to edify me through the words of John Piper (one of my favorite pastors) in his article, Back to School: A Biblical Perspective. I'll spare you any extensive paraphrasing, but the main idea is that the business of education is God's business; for who could want us to understand and appreciate knowledge more than the God of the universe, the Creator of quantum mechanics and active galactic nuclei, the Maker of the rules of logic, the One who declares that every tongue will confess that He is Lord? The education of children is a weighty and glorious responsibility, and I pray that I will never take it for granted. In related news, having more free time to spend in prayer, praise, meditation, and especially the word has been such a blessing this past week. Acknowledging that there is no room to grow complacent, I can nevertheless say that I think I'm beginning to understand the sentiments of the psalmist in his description of the word of God as "more precious than gold" and "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 19:10), or the hymnist in his proclamation that "every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before." As I get settled into life here in Providence, as plans are created, executed, and reflected upon, and as the semester begins, bringing with it moments of joy, discouragement, and turbulence, I pray the prayer of Jim Elliot, the late and well-known missionary: "Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus."

"I call that one My Long Day"

Yesterday I attended my girlfriend's grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary. Kathryn, my girlfriend, had been asked to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," by her Mother and had invited me to listen to her sing and celebrate the event with her family. I was excited to attend, as Kathryn had never once mentioned she had a singing voice before. The opportunity was additionally improved by the fact that I would get to see her, which is a rare opportunity indeed, since she now studies in St. Louis, while I teach in San Antonio. We arrived at the church in Georgetown, Texas, right before lunch time. I had meet her immediate family before, but this was my first time to meet her extended family, and in particular, her grandparents. I was nervous about meeting both of them as I had no idea what I would talk about or say. I thought that the generational gap between us would undoubtedly lead them to ask about my current work in life, and what I had planned for the future. I of course could ask them about their 60 years of marriage, just as everyone else who was attending today could. Those would be perfectly fine topics, but I was afriad that would not sustain any real conversation, which was important to me as I had never had many chances to truly speak with own grandparents while they were alive. Lunch was prepared and ready shortly after our arrival. Since Kathryn and I had made a date of brunch earlier that morning, we stood back to let the rest of the family sit down for their meal prior to pulling up a chair. When we did finally sit, Kathryn chose the final empty seat at the table, right next to her Grandfather. Moments later, she was pulled away to practice her song. Her Grandfather had been in conversation with her about her current adventures in St. Louis, and with her abrupt departure I found myself no longer listening, and instead the sole proprietor of the conversation thread. I immediately reverted to my plan, and congratulated him on his wedding. He in turn me about my name, and when I responded that it was British in origin, he started down a path I could have never anticipated. I loved his story, and here I do my best to capture what I can remember in full: "Oh! British. I knew a Brit once. I think he ended up as a clown in a children's hospital after the war." He pulled off his hat, and showed me a pin fastened neatly in the center. "This is the Ozarks pin. It was my regiment during the war. Did you ever hear that I was a POW in World War Two? It was  quite a day, I can tell you that. It was a long story, and I don't think there will be time to tell the story but oh,..... well." "We had just taken a  Belgian town and had pushed the Germans towards the hills. I was with the [heavy gunner?] and my lieutenant had ordered us up a hill to capture some Germans who wanted to surrender. We walked up the hill and got the fellas, and brought them back. I had been wounded during the fight..." He never explained if it was while capturing the Germans or in the town. "...and it was a pain in the butt! Thats no pun there, although it is a good one. I had been shot in the buttocks, which is your largest target when you are lying down, haha! My lieutenant told me to go back to town and get 'er patched up. Now one of my buddies swears to this day that the lieutenant told me to take the right fork on the road back into town, but I'm still not sure. You can guess what happened right? Well, I took the left fork, and I was in a hurry, and suddenly I found myself in the woods outside of town walking through a bunch of foxholes. I would have kept going, except a German threw a potato masher at me as I walked by, which luckily I managed to duck. After that I tried to get out of there, but there were a couple of them and they shot me through the left shoulder which put me on the ground. When they walked up to me they looked at me, and finally bandaged me. Now I was never mistreated. They walked me back to their base and I got put up in front of the German [Commander?] and he started asking me questions. "Are there polish in your company?" I told him I was a private and wouldn't know that sort of thing. They were very concerned about the polish, because they kept asking me about them. I stood for a while and finally the German asked what I needed. I pointed to my butt, and asked for water, which gave all of them a good laugh. I got my water though, and put up in a [barn?] and later had to talk to a German who spoke excellent English, but since I was a private and didn't really know anything, they shiped me off to a POW camp. I call that one My Long Day. I'm writing them down, and I've got several more if we have time later." I could not believe my luck. I felt an immense amount of gratitude towards this man for sharing his story so quickly after meeting me. His telling is of course much better (and funnier) then my rewriting, but I felt a need to record it as freshly as I could. Often do I wish I could speak to my grandparents and ask them about their past adventures. When I think of such things I realize that I now am writing my own story, and at the spry young age of 24 comes upon me next month, there is much in life I can do and should plan to do before I am the one at the table, telling my story to a man just beginning his life's journey.


Is this thing on?

To all my soon-to-be devoted followers: Hi. My name's Dan Tollefson, and I fit the stereotypical first-year TFA corps member mold quite nicely. I'm a 22-year-old recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. There I studied English Literature and sat through a total of zero education courses. Everything I learned about the field and practice of education comes from the media, my TFA summer institute experience and my first two weeks of professional development with my school. In short, I'm overwhelmed and unprepared. But I'm learning—a lot. In this post I hope to describe my time at the Chicago institute, what I learned, where I messed up and everything that scares me going forward. Let's take it from the top: Chicago Induction week. Honestly, it's tough to remember, and it has only been two months. Before even moving in to my Illinois Institute of Technology dorm room, I arrived two days early to Chicago to attend a round of interviews. Since I applied to TFA during the last deadline, I had a lot of catching up to do: Namely, getting a job. Let's just say those interviews didn't go so well. All of my answers were based off the six TAL (Teaching as Leadership) principles: Big goals (high expectations), invest students and families, planning purposefully (backwards design), executing effectively (I had no idea what this meant), continuously increasing effectiveness and working relentlessly. Basically I had no experience teaching and all of these potential employers knew it. It was rough. Two days later I was getting to know the city of Chicago and TFA's broader philosophic mission in what can only be described as the longest pep rally of all time. It was fun—possibly pointless at times—but it left me feeling hopeful about the journey to come. And then, institute. I don't quite remember what mental picture I had of TFA, but institute wasn't it. I sat through long hours of literacy, curriculum, planning and diversity sessions. I was fortunate enough to have a great curriculum specialist, but everything else seemed like a wash. I learned a lot about classroom management and daily lesson plans, but little about execution and unit planning (what has since appeared as the crux of what I do as a teacher). I did learn that teaching is like filling two roles: the coach and the player. You develop strategies, techniques and game plans before putting them into practice. It's not easy. And like most critics of TFA's summer institute, I agree that my face time in front of the class was too short. In total, I was the lead teacher for about 19 hours. I lead a lot of group and one-on-one tutoring in addition to my lessons, but the planning and execution during that time was drastically different. The best part of institute was my students. At first I was hesitant to let my guard down, but by the end of the fourth week, I really did love them. I was teaching 3rd graders who had all failed both the math and reading portions of the ISAT (Illinois' standardized test), and if they didn't pass it at the end of the summer, they would be forced to repeat 3rd grade. Every day was a challenge academically, but every day made me smile. These kids make the whole process a lot more satisfying, and I try to keep them in my mind whenever I'm feeling bogged down. But institute isn't just about the kids. All through the summer I was attending interviews—either on the phone or in person. In total I probably had about 7 in-person interviews if you include TFA's interview day, which essentially is a job fair. Between teaching, sessions and lesson planning, I barely had time to prepare for interviews (they were usually arranged late the night before). On top of all that, I had to find a place to live and take my Illinois Basic Skills and Elementary education tests. I was all over the place. I didn't get hired until the very last day of institute. I actually got the phone call during closing ceremonies, which was a huge relief, since the prospect of unemployment had been looming large. It was quite a blessing, since my school is less than two miles away from my apartment. In sum, institute was crazy. I learned a lot, but obviously not enough. Since then my connection with TFA has been limited to two meetings with my MTLD (long way of saying advisor), and that's about it. If you were to ask me right now to describe TFA in one sentence, I would tell you "TFA is a glorified middleman." They fill vacancies in low-income schools with fresh, naive college-grads. But I won't dwell on that too much—I have a great advisor who's taught 7th grade ELA, and that will hopefully prove valuable to my own growth as a teacher. Right now I'm in the midst of four weeks of professional development at my charter school, which I hope to delve into in a later post. Until then, thanks for stopping by.


One Week Down

Time is flying!  It is hard for me to believe that the first week of school is over! I spent the week before school started setting up my classroom, and I have been pleased with the results.  I also spent a great deal of time preparing my lesson plans.  Sometimes, it seems like I could lesson plan forever, and still not be as far ahead as I would like to be! The administration and other teachers at my school have been wonderful.  Everyone has been more than welcoming and incredibly helpful.  I really feel like part of a team.  I am particularly fond of the great teachers in my department, and I am confident that I will learn a great deal from them this year.  I feel very fortunate to have this kind of support. Well, school started last week, and it is hard to believe that the first week is already over.  The students are incredible.  Bright, energetic, excited, and fun!  I probably have about 130 students total, and I am really enjoying getting to know them.  They are so interesting and have the most unique personalities.  I know it is going to be a fun year. All of my students are writing daily in interactive journals.  Although I clearly underestimated the time it would take to read and respond to the journals in the way that I want to, I am so glad we are doing it.  It has been invaluable in helping me get to know my students in a short period of time.  I am learning about their families, how they think, and their dreams for the future.  As the year progresses, we will be shifting from personal topics to world events, which I hope will help me see how they think of the world and allow me to encourage critical thinking, reading and writing.  So far, it is one of my favorite parts of my class culture.  And honestly, the students are embracing the practice much more than I thought they would.  Most are putting forth a great effort.  I have some great thinkers and thoughtful writers! I capped off the first week of school at a scrimmage football game last night that was loads of fun!  Our school does not have a team, but there is a community league in which a number of our students play.  It was great to see some of our students and teachers outside of the school.  We lost the game, but we’ll get ‘em next week! Life is moving quickly these days, but I hope to update soon.  Time to go grade some papers and get moving on some lesson planning!


Room 205

My classroom is finally ready to go! We got about 2 and 1/2 days to work on it this past week and the administration opened up the school today to let us put on some finishing touches. I decided that I wouldn't necessarily have a super-set theme, but during sessions someone suggested something really cool (or so I thought). We were discussing academic rigor and a fellow TFA-er was talking about encouraging students to "1-up" their answers. Given that I loved Super Mario as a kid, I figured I would run with the idea; I'm planning on giving students a 1-up mushroom when they give well-thought out responses that represent the kind of rigor that we're aiming for in our classroom. Every week I'll collect the mushrooms and have a mini-raffle sort of thing where students have the chance to win prizes, probably something like school supplies. With the 1-up mushroom on my mind, I decided too to have a wall for our "Super Star Scientists." Students who score 83% on a Unit Test or improve by 8% on a Unit Test will have a polaroid picture of them taken and put on the SSS wall. Given that my students high-schoolers, I'm not sure how well the Super Mario theme will be received, but hopefully I won't get too much grief about it.. Needless to say, I'm excited for Monday, but also slightly terrified. I had a great experience with my students during summer school in LA, but in some ways, that greatness is the source of my fear. I didn't really have behavioral issues, so I feel totally ill-prepared to handle them should they come up. I've included a couple of pictures from my classroom.. Here they is: This was an idea given to me by a fellow TFA-er teaching chemistry at Lincoln High School (thanks, Leah!) If you read my previous post, you know about my run in with the rocks; the teacher who I inherited the classroom from was a complete hoarder, who lucky for me, had a thing for rocks. I threw most of them away, seeing as how they were as big as my head and pretty useless to me in biology or chemistry. Some of the rocks were too pretty to throw out, so I created a Rock Zoo with them instead! I hope that you enjoyed the virtual tour of Room 205! Miss you all back home! From KC, Christine


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