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updates for 08.23.2011

14 new posts today

Overworked Slacker

We are opening up a brand new school. That's pretty crazy. I'm just saying. Everything feels really high intensity and every decision really matters, because no one has done this before. If we screw up, it's a huge disaster. If we do well, we create something great into the future. Noooooo pressure. Part of the intensity also comes from the fact that all of us on staff are pretty intense people. I left work at 8pm, after a 13-hour day, and a third of our staff was still there for me to say goodbye to. It's normal for people to be active on work email at 10pm. Most of us were at school on Saturday setting up classrooms, and I think people went on Sunday too. It's SO obvious that most of us were in TFA once upon a time. The school is oozing Type A personalities. On the one hand, I like this atmosphere. I've spent the last two years working these same hours all alone, and there is very little more depressing than regularly having the last car in the parking lot. Here, I have company and people to talk to long after work hours have ended. That is really, really nice. On the other hand, for all the time I spend at school, I still often feel like one of the least Type A people on staff. I work really hard, but I also know my limits and believe in taking time for myself. I don't settle for less than great work, but I also have no need for everything to be perfect. I'm happy to stop working in the interest of my sanity on a regular basis. I can't count how many times this year I've told someone, "It's good enough. Stop stressing. Go relax." I'm a better teacher when I'm a happier person, and I've already learned that the hard way more than once. Usually, an hour of fun in my life does more for my kids than an extra hour perfecting something. I know this sounds weird coming from someone who just admitted to a 13-hour Monday after working all day Saturday, but you haven't been to my school. You read my second paragraph and thought it was disgusting, but my colleagues read it and wondered how I didn't work on Sunday. Working longer hours serves to impress others rather than horrify them. I refuse to work on Friday or Saturday nights, and that's already been dubbed the "Ms. Mathinaz Philosophy" by a couple people. There's a big part of me that's worried my adamant need to keep a low stress level is going to make people look down on me here. Can you work seventy hour weeks and still be considered a slacker? Is it possible to peer-pressure me into packing up my belongings and moving right into my classroom? Luckily, I already talked through my concerns with a friend who recently left teaching. He pointed out that the "Work Hard, Play Hard" philosophy is fundamental in my life, and there's no sense in sacrificing my mental health and my good teaching days just because other people are working more. His words were, "You know what works for you. If it doesn't work for them, then clearly the school isn't a good fit." Amen. Since I think the school is a great fit, all I can really do is keep doing what I do and let them decide if they agree. I can handle that. Now, I'm off to the gym. :-)


Important is not a strong enough word.

In my sixth grade language class, we take time to talk about "purposeful vocabulary". To say teaching is "important" is hardly purposeful. No. Teaching is imperative. Crucial. Vital. We've decided, as a culture, to focus on creating "productive and functional members of society"; my district's mission statement boasts that we will "create world-class citizens" who are capable of anything. We have these glorious ideals of hard physical labor and genius scientists and multi-racial children being not color-blind, no, but aware and appreciative of one another's differences. But if those diverse melting-pot kids don't get educated, how will that ever happen? If we put 25 kids in a classroom that all look and speak and act the same, and no one teaches them anything but ethnocentric behaviors, these cultural expectations become a hysterically malicious joke. If we put students in a classroom and tell them to open a book and copy questions one through fifty-- that is not teaching. Maybe it's important to teach discipline, to teach tolerance of regularity and routine and people that don't understand or value creative thinking and problem-solving and foreign cultures, but that is not the vital teaching I'm talking about. Teaching in a public education system is important because it is how we tailor our mini-citizens to become the next rule-makers, the next cancer-curers, the next shocking entertainers. Without teaching everything is unnecessarily experiential, knowledge is isolated and hidden. Why watch kids burn their hands over and over again when we can just teach them that the stove is hot? This should not be nearly as difficult as it is to elaborate on but here: Teaching isn't important; teaching is the structure of human civilization. Our school teachers teach us content and maturity and following expectations. Our students teach us patience, tolerance, authenticity and humility. The thing that's so difficult about this is that teaching is so phenomenally broad, that despite this being hosted on a teaching blog and being responded to by passionate, largely non-traditional teachers, teaching is not all about public education. It's about gaining knowledge and experience and improving your life and the lives of others. Teaching is important because without it there is no learning, and without those two things there is no new knowledge, no eureka, no progress. I became an educator because of the experiences my education gave me. Because of the lessons I was taught by my teachers, sure, but more than that the lessons I learned from the universe, from my best friends, from my mother dying. I became an educator because of how much I value teaching and learning. Teaching now, in k-12 grades, is important because it is the foundation for how a human will choose to live his life, and the foundation for how --and if we're really not doing well if-- that person will choose to continue learning, and ultimately apply that learning to the society that we all share.


A big welcome to Milwaukee (?)

So, we thought this was both really bad and somewhat funny. Until someone let us know, Milwaukee was not showing up on the region list even though they're not a new region. Oops. Our bad. Problem solved! Hopefully we'll have some Milwaukee bloggers joining us soon.


sixth day

More positive than negative.  That's the new way I'm going to frame my days now: I'm going to add up all of the positive things about the day and stack them against the negative. + I'm so busy during the week that I have less time to be lonely and homesick + 2 1/2 of my classes went pretty well + I implemented some consequences today + I'm getting along really well with the other faculty members and I think I have a good reputation as a teacher + exercise, especially Zumba, is amazing.  and so good for the soul. + the 7th grade math teacher from last year gave me all of her powerpoints & SmartBoard notebooks for most of the year, PLUS I have a curriculum map and pacing guide, so my planning is minimal + I'm actually caught up on sleep, for once. + some of my classroom systems are working really well; my kids love the "splashes". + I'm LOVING the A/B block schedule.  I get to do the same thing two days in a row. - I have one class that's particularly chatty, and I have a hard time deciding whether to use individual or group consequences - differentiating instruction is HARD. - I was really lonely and homesick this weekend.  I think at this point, the less I think about my life, the better. - some of my classroom systems really aren't working - it's hard to catch new students up on my procedures and policies - it's hard to keep track of what I've told which class - I have no money.  I'm not exaggerating.  I just looked at my checking account and laughed.  My roommate and I are redeeming the food stamps we qualify for at the food pantry tomorrow night, and apparently some other teachers are having a canned food drive for us.  I never thought I'd be the beneficiary of food stamps or a canned food drive!  I don't get paid for another month, and this is just another stresser to add to the fun of the situation.  I really wish I had known just how tight money would be.  TFA kind of tells us that we might not get paid for awhile, and I thought I was prepared.  I had $5,000 when I left California, and now I have credit card debt.  So, future TFAers out there, prepare to not get paid till possibly the end of September. -I need to get to know the other teachers better, and actually spend time with them.  I need friends. I read something in a book last night that reminded me of my situation a little bit.

As Abram leaves Haran he embarks on a journey he has never made to a land he never has seen. He sets out, not because he can predict the role he is to play... but simply because of his personal experience, the spiritual experience of God speaking to him. There is no program he can detail; no insight into history with which he can support his decision; no model through which he can obtain a psychological identity. Spiritual experience has become a summons: It is God who directs. And the future is God's.                                                                                            -Brennan Manning
Not that I'm comparing myself to Abraham, but I can relate to going to a completely unknown place, not knowing anyone and barely understanding what I'm doing. Here's to week 2!

First Day; Round Two

Wow. What a first day. My students are fantastic. Not to say that my students last year weren't fantastic, they were. Last year, however, they just took some coaxing. My students this year have clearly had high expectations set for them and know the drill of what it means to be a good student. It felt very strange using some of the phrasing of what I've seen in TFA videos that I've always passed off as a mere pipe dream. Yet, today, when I used this I was blown away by my students response. Clearly, educating a student starts with an education on how to be a student, which needs to occur and be reinforced starting at a young age. I'm very excited about the possibilities for this year. I am also sad and nervous for my kids from last year. I worry that these students are not at schools that are any better than their old ones. I worry that they don't have teachers (including me) to look out for them. I worry that many of them didn't make it to a new school today. I know that it was the right decision to close our school. This is a trade up for most students in the long term. I also recognize that my students, the ones that are always passed over, will continue to receive the short end of the stick. Again, if you are interested in helping the cause, please consider donating to my project at the following site- http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=605415


"How do you spell education?"

My. First. Day. I guess I should start off with an e-apology for missing several weeks of posting! In my defense I just got my internet service up and running, and I moved, and started a new job, and have been getting lost in Miami, and planning for class, and decorating my room... But it's all finally come together. I teach 5th grade reading, writing, and social studies, and met my kids today - the class of 2023, I want to call them. (That date sounds so futuristic; it's when they should graduate from college.) It was a good day. The whole school focused on procedures and rules today so we can get off with a strong start in the management department. I have two classes but was with my homeroom for most of the day. The kids were on their first-day-of-school behavior, but that doesn't mean I don't have a good guess of who my troublemakers will be! There wasn't much real instruction between the paperwork and the school rules, but we talked about malleable intelligence ("Did you know? You can grow your brain like a muscle!!") and how reading is thinking. We read a back to school poem and "Dream Dust" by Langston Hughes... we'll be talking about dreams throughout the year, and how we can work toward them, so this was a nice little intro. I don't know my kids' academic levels beyond their test scores from last year's standardized tests (which are pretty telling in themselves), but there were a couple of heartbreaking moments from the beginning of the day: One student was writing his birthday on a survey that I gave them and asked me to spell 'September' for him. Another asked me how to spell 'education' and it was like one of those ridiculously transparent, symbolic moments in movies. This week we'll get real diagnostic data on the students' reading and phonics levels so that get right to work toward our goals. It was a good day. I regretted wearing heels but might wear them tomorrow anyway. I need to plan for tomorrow and write their names out on clothespins (behavior tracker) popsicle sticks (cold calling) file folders (parent contact info) and starry name plates (assigned seats). 179 days sounds like a horrifyingly large expanse of time, but also somehow seems like such a short amount of time left to get our work done. Back to it...


Go To Professional Development

As I'm plugging away at my new unit on safety (which will be awesome, by the way), I'm just reminded of how I got to this point after a year of trials and tears, and one of the most important things I think new teachers just HAVE to do is to seek professional development, all the time, every day. My plan for my first day of class only really solidified the day before when I was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I wouldn't have really done anything with science notebooks except for the fact that I attended the National Science Teacher Association conference in San Francisco last year, and my curriculum this year is coming directly from Achievement First, whose science teacher training I joined after asking Achievement First if I could crash their new teacher orientation during the summer. Notice that the important word is "seek." It is NOT enough to just take the professional development that your training program gives you. Instead, figure out what is most helpful to you (for me, it's reading books and attending seminars), what your goals are for the year (for me, it's differentiation, technology integration, project based learning, data-driven instruction, and inquiry based science), and go out and learn, explore, absorb as much as humanly possible. It will all pay off as those hours of thinking and development start connecting to each other. --- Good places to seek professional development: - www.twitter.com (follow #edchat and other chats like #4thchat or #scichat) - Network with educators you admire and ask them to introduce you to their mentors - Network with schools and school districts you admire (KIPP, Achievement First, etc.) and ask to join their professional development - Make your desire for professional development clear to your administration, and they'll remember you when opportunities come up - Any more? Please add in the comments section! Originally posted on sciencenvrsucks.wordpress.com


Rollin' with it

You know when you used to have parties when you were a kid and for like a week straight you would get so excited and prepare and then only one kid showed up? Yea that was me today. I was SET today. I had all of my copies made, my room was decorated, and then first period rolled around and only 2 kids showed up. And then second period rolled around and I didn’t have a single kid. And finally third period I only had 1. Grand total of 3 KIDS! 3! Not 4, not 6, but 3! And to be quite honest with you all I can do is laugh about it. It’s cool. I’m just rollin with it. During second period when I didn’t have anyone I cut up numbers to put into their class point baggies. It’s all going to be okay I know it. But out of those three kids I learned some pretty fancy words such as “traphouse”. Don’t ever use that word by the way – supposedly it means drughouse. But, I didn’t know that. My two kids in first period thought it would be quite funny to introduce me to this word once they figured out I had never been to my school before.Silly kids. Today when I was driving to school all I could think about was what the heck was I thinking a year ago when I thought this would be a good idea. I shed a few tears, but took a long sip of coffee and promised myself that today would be a good day and I would just have to be flexible. I’m friggin Gumby now though. J As soon as I walked into my school I remembered exactly why I put in my application a year ago. I knew at the time that the science education in this country was not up to par and in order to advance our country as a whole we would need to up this. What I didn’t realize is that out of the three kids that I had today not a single one of them can read. Okay let me rephrase. They try, but can’t even sound out words. They have gotten to the point that words like “expectations” are just a jumble of syllables and they refuse to sound it out because they are embarrased. It was a slap in the face today. Our country is not only failing in science, but gah lee these kids are in 10th grade and can barely read. That’s messed up. Anyways, all in all today was a good day. They’re just kids. And when I’m having a rough day this is what I’ll have to remember. All for the kids. In the Words of Journey, Don’t Stop Believin’


100% Student Engagement Is Possible

I'm having a hard time not doing cartwheels down the hallway right now. I don't know what order to spew all of this in; I don't even know all of the things I have to say. I'm REELING from the success of whole brain teaching in my classroom today. They LOVED it. They were smiling and laughing and they were all participating! I should probably go run  off some steam (good steam) before I write something I'm going to expect people to read and comprehend, but I'm too excited and I want to share EVERYTHING with you. MY FIRST DAY AS A NOT-FIRST YEAR TEACHER: - woke up at 5:00 am because I wanted to run before school. Stumbled to the bathroom wondering "WHY am I so tired?" - woke up again at 6:20, thinking HOLYGUACAMOLEI'MLATEI'MLATEI'MLATE. - showered & dressed while planning to make the 6:50 bus to get to school right before 8am. - looked at the clock again. It was not 6-something am. It was 8-something. Whoa. whoa. This is a whole different ballgame. School starts at 8:45. - cursed a little - called a teacher at my school; no answer. - called a cab. - Got to school riiiight before the last bell! Success #1. My lesson plan was a list of items, like a to-do list, with checkboxes. Quite as detailed, but not as structured as the ones I  wrote for Institute. It was PERFECT. I never forgot what was coming next, I never said, "what was I about to say?"... Everything transitioned smoothly and it was SO nice. Definitely going with that lesson plan structure from now on. I taught 4 periods today (1, 3, 5, 7). I started out by having them fill out just the address/name/phone number part of their survey and hand it in to practice handing in papers. We set up just the very basics of our binders. And THEN, none too soon (because usually at about this point kids would start talking while I was talking and swearing in conversation with each other), I explained the scoreboard at the front of the room. "We're going to play a game," I said. "It's me vs. you. If I win, I get to assign you more homework." (insert lip-smacking and general loud discontent from the class here) "BUT if you win, you get less  homework." My fifth period was all OVER it, asking all sorts of clarifying questions about how to win points and whether it was more problems or more assignments. I received the suggestion from every period that it should be "less homework" and "No homework." "The Class/Yes is the first way you earn points," I told them. "Have you done Class/yes before?" no. duh. I don't know why asking that question was so satisfying. I explained the Class/Yes, and lo and behold! They did it! I would have about five or six kids in every period sitting out contemptuously at this point, wondering whether their teacher was really going to be this childish, wondering whether it was worth it to be this silly in front of their peers. Thinking they would hold out and not let me tell them what to do. I let it go for now. I then explained that I'd read some interesting research over the summer that said students learn more when they talk more. The Class/Yes, I explained, was the beginning of how I was going to get them to speak in class almost as much as I did. Then I said I'd also read that students learn more when they move more, as well. And that this was another way they could earn points for their class. I used the five rules to show them what it would look like for me to do gestures, and to show them that they could earn more points if they gestured when prompted. The rules went really, really well. I probably spent almost five minutes with them, having them recite rules out of order at me with gestures. I gave them points for things done well, gave myself points when I saw people not participating, and BASKED IN THE GLORY of watching my students peer pressure each other into doing what I wanted them to do. I said, "So we know these two things about student learning. Talking and Moving help. We've known for a while that teaching something also helps you learn it." So then I introduced the Teach/OK and had them teach each other the five rules. It was fantastic to watch. At this point, I handed out the syllabus and went over it WBT-style. I'd mention the key points of one or two sections, then summarize and have them teach each other. I went overboard with the points in first period and really had to reel it in at the end--it was a little rocky learning the balance of giving/getting points. I got much better at it by seventh period, but they were SO on top of it that I really had to fish for something to give myself points for (the goal was to 'win' the first day so they all completed my student survey at home, along with getting the syllabus signature). We did a crossword puzzle I made online built from personal facts about me and a whole bunch of important stuff from the syllabus. Because I'm not a first year teacher, I knew when I made this crossword that I'd have to tell them how to spell "referral" and "interrupting" and "gestures." I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS YEAR. WE ARE GOING TO LEARN SO MUCH. If I can keep them at this place--if I can stay on top of Whole Brain Teaching and on top of doing all the things I'm not done with yet (long term plans, a bunch of systems materials in my classroom, tracking, and a cascade of other tantalizing but time-consuming and hard-to-prioritize items), I can HAVE THEM. One of my students asked about SAT prep with me of his own accord. The mood in my classroom was incredible. I wasn't fighting or arguing against anybody. Breathe. This is just the first day of school (and I get ANOTHER first day of school tomorrow, which I'll actually wake up in time to videotape for you all)--but Whole Brain Teaching has CHANGED EVERYTHING. P.S. The other thing that has changed everything? A multi-color ballpoint pen with a caribiner-clip that attaches to my lanyard. ROCKED MY WORLD. P.P.S.   .. .and HOLY oh my heavens. It may be that as a second year teacher I'm suddenly an explicit instructions badass, or it may be that seniors are just worlds different from sophomores--but either way, the kids I taught today followed more complicated instructions more correctly than any of the kids I taught all last year. I passed out a piece of notebook paper for them to use as their homework logs--and I felt a sense of impending doom as I drew the columns up on the board and told them to make their own log. Yes, this would have unraveled my classes last year, unless I'd planned out perfectly what to say and when and how much time to allow. But for my seniors... they did it! Correctly! Every one of them! And when I handed a couple of them my black markers to write their names on their binders since they weren't on my roster, they gave them back! I ended the day with exactly the same number of black markers that I started it with! Seniors are CRAZY-COOL!


Times, They Are A Changin’

First, I will take a moment to apologize for my brief hiatus from posting (I know, it’s only been two weeks), but two weeks ago was the first week teachers were back in the building and this past week I had kids for the first time this year, so it has been non-stop action since Monday morning at 8:00. Two weeks ago, we found out who returned to Central for the year and who was no longer part of our staff.  Due in large part to budget cuts and declining school and district enrollment, our school lost a number of teachers... <continue reading at North Park Street>


+s and Δs, part 2

Overheard during the all-corps kickoff BBQ M,TLD: "Yes, there was poop involved with my middle school." Somehow, I've come down with a case of severe acute writer's block. Fortunately, it's been a quiet and relatively uneventful week, so I don't have much to write about anyway, but those things that are worth mentioning will have to be in +s and Δs format. + I've had some excellent, albeit short, spurts of productivity this week, during which I've been able to finish my vision/big goals and management plan, as well as the long term plan and first unit plan for Algebra 2. This productivity has been due in large part to my discovery of a cafe in downtown Providence that is quaint and cozy, but not suffocatingly so; serves delicious coffee, cupcakes, and muffins; and usually stays pretty quiet, except for the owners' mellow cafe playlist. I've also made some new friends with the workers and regulars there, which is nice, since I'm new to the city and all. Δ As I implied above, these spurts of productivity are short-lived and merely punctuate long periods of lethargy and distractedness. I could have easily completed my long term plan and first unit plan for Math Lab by this point, not to mention started on arranging and decorating my classroom. Instead, I've spent hours browsing Facebook, various news outlets, and TeachForUs (a perfect example of too much of a good thing). This is an unacceptable waste of the planning time that I've been made a steward of, so as I enter this last free week before the semester begins, one passage that I will keep in mind is Proverbs 13:4 ("The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied."). + I've been making my way through Jim Elliot's biography, Shadow Of The Almighty, by his wife Elisabeth Elliot, and I recently started a more deeply theological book called Knowing God, by the British Canadian theologian J. I. Packer. Both have been profoundly inspiring; the former because of how singlemindedly and singleheartedly devoted Elliot was to serving God and building His kingdom, and the latter because of the powerful way in which it shows that the study of God is the only pursuit that simultaneously humbles, expands, and consoles the soul. I've also had some excellent conversations, including one over breakfast at 7:30 am (!) today, about the word of God and the ways in which it must touch every aspect of one's life. I pray that as I meditate on these things, I would learn to align my will with God's, because that's the only way I'll be able to truly transform lives (for the next two years, yes, but also far beyond). Δ It's no coincidence that as I learn more about the character and word of God, I am reminded over and over that this learning should not be the end in itself. J. I. Packer says it thusly: "One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him." Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Corinthians 8:2-3). Known by God, what a concept! And what does life look like for one who is known by Him? Paul makes this clear in his letter to the church in Galatia: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? ... For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 4:9, 5:13). Here's the thing: I can read all the commentaries and biblical exegeses and missionary biographies that I can get my hands on, but if it doesn't lead me to serve others "through love" (and often, it doesn't), then my soul is not right with God. That's a sobering thought. + I'm really starting to fall in love with this city. Having lived in only the suburbs of LA (and in New Haven, I guess) my entire life, it's quite a treat to see the ocean and pretty New England architecture everywhere I turn. Better yet, the people here—from the cashiers whom I've engaged in conversation at the grocery store, to the random people I've met on the street, to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of locals who showed up for "WaterFire's Salute to Rhode Island teachers"—have been so welcoming that I can't help but feel at home already. In fact, I'll make a shameless plug here: if you're a prospective 2012 corps member thinking about which regions to designate as preferences, trust me when I say that you'll have a tough time finding one as tight-knit or supportive as Rhode Island. Also, the corps is tiny, so you get lots of personal attention. Just saying. Δ As much as I love places like College Hill, Downtown Providence, and Edgewood, I need to remember that these are not the parts of town where my students come from. I also need to discard any preconceived notions that I have (or, in the language of the diversity competencies, suspend judgment) about poorer neighborhoods like Lower South Providence and the West End, and realize that they too have a rich and unique heritage and abundant opportunities for witness rather than feel anxious whenever I have to pass through them. I am reminded of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4). It's easy to forget, in grappling with the actual content of dialogue, that Jesus did not in fact have to pass through Samaria, which was considered unholy land and was general avoided by the Jews. Nor did he have to speak to the Samaritan woman, since Jews had "no dealings with Samaritans" at the time (4:9). Yet He did both of these things, and in doing so taught the woman about "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (4:14) and "worship in spirit and truth" (4:24). Shall I not follow the example of Jesus Christ? So with that said, here's to spending the upcoming week in true worship, offering up everything I get done (hopefully a lot) to the glory of God, both in my life and in others'. See you next weekend!


Looking for a whistle blower in New Orleans

I heard a rumor today which I can't confirm, but hope that this post helps confirm or deny it. New Orleans, though it is being hailed as a miracle district after the restructuring after Katrina, seems to be an unregulated mess of charter schools doing whatever they want. So the story I heard was that at a charter school they held their yearly open admissions lottery. Now, after the lottery is held the winners don't have to go there, but they have the 'choice' (as reformers like to say) so they meet with the school who explains to them what to expect. I've heard that this is an opportunity for the charters to counsel out a kid or family who don't seem like a good fit. One way to do this is to tell the family of a student with special needs that they don't have the support for that child. Perhaps that child needs to be in a class with just 12 kids, and they don't have a class like that -- oh, and can we have that lottery ticket back? But that's not the big story I heard. This story, if true, is truly sickening. What I heard is that the charter school was explaining the schools expectations to parents who were not very educated themselves and didn't really have their act together. They lived several miles from the school (another problem with choice) and the charter told the parent that if the student was late for school more than some number of times, the charter would call Child Protective Services and report the family. Of course this means that there could be the risk that the kids are taken into foster care. So, what do you say, are you ready to sign here ... And the family decided that maybe this school wasn't a good fit for their child. If any readers of this blog can give me any details about stories like this or other actions which, in my mind, warrant a shut down of an offending school, comment here or e-mail me at garyrubinstein the-at-symbol yahoo.com


If you are going to quit, quit now

The title of this post were the last words my School Director left my group at B.E.S.T Academy with in Atlanta.  Minutes before he had confessed that he had been having doubts about returning to his role in the classroom, about the movement, and about his ability to close this gap.  The summer, he said, had brought him back and gotten him ready to take a true leadership role in his school back in the Greater New Orleans region. This experience is hard.  The classroom portion is challenging on a day-to-day level but I find the real challenge in the planning outside of school, keeping up your relationships, staying human, and maintaining your vision for yourself.  My first few weeks have been more about survival than transformational change and I think that might be ok.  I look at the 2nd years who have taken me under their wings and helped me to plan out my next few weeks and see people that are (pardon the reference) "joyful and hardworking" in stark contrast to the stressed, upset, and doubting group of 1st years I count myself among. I know the motto "Ready on Day 1" is a common TFA catch phrase and I am constantly told that Now is the Time and Memphis is the place for real education reform.  The chance that this city could be a proof point for this whole movement is at the same time exhilarating and overwhelming.  I feel like some days I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and other days that I couldn't carry even the best group of students across the finish line.  But once again I think that this is ok, and normal for a teacher starting his 3rd week in a new environment. So for me it is still about survival but their are small signs, only glimmers at times that I am slowly making my way out of the darkness and into the light.  I can do this.  I know I can, but more importantly I know my kids can.  Whether they believe it or not right now is irrelevant, but your better believe they will believe it when they walk into school on TCAP day.  More important than that they will believe it as they leave my classroom and head into 7th (where they will see me again) or into 8th grade. I am not going anywhere, but at the same time I had someone very close to me leave and I can't fault them.  This experience is incredibly draining and even the smallest things can destroy classroom effectiveness.  So I will end as I began, with the wisdom of my school director.  Each corps member at B.E.S.T had to say the name of the students who they taught for and who would keep them going on the rough days.  I now have another name to teach for, not a student, but a more poignant name I will be hard pressed to find.


The person responsible for your experience is you.

I am bursting, absolutely bursting, with all the things I want to share via blog and screaming and writing thousands of letters. However, now that I am smothered in the bliss of a job that consumes my entire life, the only way I can remotely attempt to do that is, apparently, at 12:41 on a Sunday night. Or Monday morning, depending on how pessimistic you are. My back is aching, because I've been sitting at this same table the vast majority of the day. I woke up at 8am of my own accord, despite a comforting alarm set for nine, and for the first time in a while got out of bed without savoring an extra ten minutes under my glorious down comforter. I put on shoes and went for a four mile run, accidentally tromping through huge mud puddles in the cotton field behind Delta Memorial Hospital (not as large and glamorous as the name implies). It was an excellent run, and I shocked myself by running slightly less than 10 minute miles. Those mud puddles had me thinking I'd be running muuuch slower than usual. Then a shower, egg sandwich, and this table. Roughly 13 hours ago. I have finally started working, and I mean really working. And working with a driving force, with a purpose, with some end in mind that I actually understand. I am not sinking, oooooh no, not like last year. No, I am building a boat because I have myself and about 120 new kids that I need to navigate over these ridiculous waters to that other, huge, huge piece of land that is incredibly more beneficial, happy, and opportunistic than this tiny island of Southeast Arkansas we are currently stranded on. RIGHT? Do  you remember my water metaphors?! I am flipping out, basically. Emotionally, my brain is in overdrive. Now that I have some slight clarity of mind (again, just compared to last year), I intensely intensely feel what I am fighting for and against every single day. I am learning the major players and scoping my teammates. What are their strengths? How do I fit in? In the past two weeks I've become the chair of the sixth grade, brought a non-TFA teacher (my glorious wonderful fantastic Ms. New Reading Teacher) to ProSat (no kidding, she was all about it), learned how to plan reading with the new ELA pilot (broadening my skill base!), and friended about half of my students on facebook. I get daily comments from my kids about language being their favorite class. It makes me nervous. I don't want to be the favorite class. I don't want to be the favorite teacher. I want to be the inspiration that gets these kids to learn. I hope I can be meaner this week, or something. Yesterday, at ProSat, we saw a local marching band and heard two seniors speak. Both of their ACT scores were higher than mine. They are able to go to any university then want to. They floored me with their presentations. My favorite, roughly recalled, included an anecdote about the student standing before us (clean cut, button down and tie, articulate, scored the 33) and one of his childhood friends, who is currently in prison for stealing a car:

The only difference between him and I, is I have the faith. I believe that my education is the most important thing for my personal happiness later in life. I believe that college is where I have to go. But he is stuck in a trap, like so many of our friends. He only cares about instant gratification.
that is loosely, loosely recalled, but those words. Immediately I realized I want to teach my students long-term gratification. Long-term hard work. Hopefully I stand as an embodied example of that. A year, an entire year of sacrificed sanity and pain and feeling broken all the time because I knew the instant gratification of quitting is not worth losing the long term benefit of learning how to teach well, the benefit of students achieving. (Fingers crossed.) And right now, you could say, I'm avoiding instant gratification of sleep for the prolonged enjoyment of being able to recount my experience, to remember what I felt after just for days of teaching these kids, just two weeks of knowing Ms. New Reading Teacher and Mr. New Vice Principal, just one year of being a teacher. My favorite part of ProSat was the explanation of the CM - PD relationship. Our PD is now our "manager", whatever, same role. But it was amazing, and I fully support them doing this, to hear that our PD is not responsible for us being happy. Our PD is not responsible for making sure we don't hate TFA and hate our lives and hate what we've chosen to do. No. We are well beyond that. We were chosen to be TFA CMs because we are self starters, because we solve our own problems, because we are proactive and intelligent and logical. If we don't think our PD relationship is worthwhile, we must make it worthwhile. If we feel our teaching practices are not working, we must make sure we do everything humanly in our power to make sure our teaching practices start working. Oh Lord, some days I feel like the most blessed little Arkansas brunette walking on this earth.

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