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updates for 09.20.2011

5 new posts today


That's how winning is done!

9/19 One of my good friends told me last year, during one of our reflective convos about our first year teaching, that the universe provides what we need when we need it. Today, I needed something positive to fire me up about the week. I got it! I had two separate entities come in and observe me. Both found areas for improvement (which I was SUPER ecstatic about because last year I felt like people didn't give me concrete advice), but they also said I'm where I need to be and that they loved my classroom. Which, for the most part, I'm loving my classroom too, so I was glad that people agreed :) Later tonight, I got an email with a link to one of those inspirational, a little corny, videos. They had the "you are powerful beyond measure" part, but then the Rocky Balboa speech. And I just replayed it several times because it was exactly what I needed to hear. I just read an NY times article yesterday about how students who persevere through college don't necessarily have the highest GPAs, but they have the highest ability to comeback from failure. It was really fascinating: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 And Rocky says essentially the same thing - It ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. I can't wait to show it to my students, probably in October, maybe before our first benchmark. They are seriously amazing, and I am constantly astounded by how many of them are dealing with things I couldn't even have imagined as a 7th grader. My worst day was just not having many friends or being mad at my brother. Their worst days, as I'm finding out from parent communication, are parents in Houston and in Mexico in the hospital, dad's walking out with newborn babies in the home, parents not sure where the next meal is coming from. My students are a little crazier than last year, but I would be too if I came from what they came from. We just have to harness that energy, that resilience, and turn it from defiance or apathy into a drive to push themselves further. I called failing parents today, I have a new policy for failing quizzes, and I'm heading in tomorrow ready to nip calling out in the bud. Funny moments from today: ---It was national talk like a pirate day, so I wore my eye patch, and a few students remembered to bring theirs. One of my observers asked a male student why he was wearing an eyepatch, and he was like, "it's pirate day." Observer: oh, so you don't wear an earring every day. student (laughing): no, definitely not --one student let out a HUGE, snot-filled sneeze during silent reading. The boys around him remained polite, and one, choking back laughter, asked if he would like him to get him some hand sanitizer. I'm behind the group, cracking up, as the student turns around saying, "miss, i remembered to cover my mouth!" I'm sure it's a be there thing, but to see these boys trying to be polite and courteous but still being boys with outrageous sneezes, it's just funny. --we wrote our HOOKS today, introductions to personal narratives. I just read one class, but I was SOOOOOOOOO excited. They're already getting into it, and while there's still a long ways to go, that creative element of trying to write something engaging is already there, and that's half the battle. I mean, let's be honest, unless you major in English, who really remembers all the comma rules. It's the creativity that will serve them later. Ok, sleep and tomorrow, renewed enthusiasm and expectations!!

 


Happiness.

During the last five weeks, I probably said "I want to quit" 200 to 5000 times. I was tired, depressed and unhappy with my decision to join TFA and Kansas City. But, something changed. On Thursday night, I left school around 7pm, and for the first time I felt happy walking to my car. This happiness continued throughout Friday, even though last week Thursday/Friday were two of the worst days in the school year. My happiness continued throughout the weekend. Most importantly, my happiness is still flowing right now, after a long Monday. WHAT?! This is real life. The Chief is happy. I don't know if it is the free massage we were so lucky to get at school or just the fact that my life is finally becoming a bit normal again. (gym membership, cooking, showering...) I like it.

 


Two more days until first public live interactive show!

10:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, I will be live on the internet interviewing people, answering questions, talking new teachers about to quit off the ledge, and anything else that might happen on a live show. You can join in to watch or to participate, it's up to you. You need a webcam and the latest version of flash to participate, but you can just watch if you want, and even type in questions if you don't want to be on screen. I think it will go from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM. See you there. Here's a copy of the description from my last post: I'm hosting a live interactive talk show about education on a new website that could very well be 'the next big thing' -- Spreecast. I did a pilot episode a few weeks ago, where I spoke with some 2011 CMs and also tried to interview the creator of teachforus.org, is now viewable by the public.  It is pretty 'rough' with technical problems, but I think it will give you an idea of what it's like.  If you tune in on Wednesday September 21st at 10:00 PM EST, you can watch or even join in on the discussion. The show will be at http://www.spreecast.com/events/talking-ed-episode-1 Things that may / may not happen on the show: I'll give advice to new teachers. I'll help math teachers plan their lessons. I'll fight with 'reformers'. I'll be pretending to be humbled by people thanking me for all I've done for the education discussion in this country. I'll be whispering so I don't wake up my kids. I'll interview special guests. I've archived the 'pilot episode' which you can watch at http://www.spreecast.com/events/talking-with-tfaers Right now, to get it playing you have to move the slider at the bottom to 6:11. Or, if you want to see something a little lighter, you can watch me interview my 3 1/2 year old daughter about education issues (if you can get past the echo -- you're not supposed to be sitting across from the other person when you do this, apparently), you can see that at http://www.spreecast.com/events/interview-with-sarah-3 Anyway, you don't have to RSVP, but if you might be watching you can leave a comment on this page, just to let me know. Just go to the site Wednesday September 21st at 10:00 PM EST and hopefully it's a good show.

 


More time, new theme

I have found myself to be in a precarious situation: I am an unplaced TFA corps member in Detroit. I believe I am about one of ten who are currently unplaced. There are three other secondary social teachers, and at least four other secondary English teachers in this position in my region. I am curious how common a phenomenon this is. Clearly, it is impossible for any organization to perfectly predict the number vacancies there will be in a given region, so I am not entirely surprised that almost 10% of the corps, and a much higher percentage of the secondary corps, are not yet placed. But how common is this? If you are currently unplaced in TFA and your reading this, please let me know what the situation is in your region! You are certainly not alone. While I have not yet given up hope, this blog will serve as a forum for me to muse about education and Detroit. Specifically, I will attempt to comment on the always overly politicized school choice/accountability debate from a pragmatic and market-indifferent  standpoint. Most commentators in education cannot help but bias their analysis with an ideology that is either obsessed with or repulsed by markets, choice, accountability and competition. I will also try to incorporate my experience trying to get placed and the experience of placed corps members around me to inform my discussion of educational issues. For now, if anyone reading this has favorite sources for educational news (blogs, magazines, podcasts, etc.), I would be interested in hearing what they are. Until I get a full time job, I will try to post here at least once a day.

 


Real life?

When my friend Will was in town visiting this weekend from Pine Bluff, we went to the only breakfast place in El Dorado, Arkansas. While we were sitting at the table waiting for our food, Will stopped talking, looked at me, laughed, and said, "We live in Arkansas. How ridiculous is that." I can't help but share his sentiments a lot of the time. Despite having a home here, a job here, friends here, an Arkansas license plate and driver's license, and a commitment to be here for the next two years, I can't help but think of this as a little pause in my life as opposed to my actual life. It just never ever feels real. The wealth disparity in my town and my school don't feel real. My kids lack of math skills don't seem real. Their behavior doesn't seem real. And being over 1000 miles away from home with no prospects of going home until Christmas doesn't seem real either. I think it is somewhat of a defense mechanism. If it isn't real, then I don't have to deal with all the emotions that are constantly fighting to be expressed. I can't deal with the fact that people really do live in the houses across the train tracks that seem to be standing only by the grace of god. I can't deal with the fact that those are the houses of some of my students, and I certainly can't deal with the fact that I am doing so little to change what is such an enormous problem. I have to think of it more as a collection of experiences than a life, because then my small glimmers of progress can seem like more of a defining characteristic of my time here so far than they would if I were to compare them to my whole life or, even worse, the problems in South Arkansas more broadly. One day at a time. One class at a time. One student at a time. That really is the only way to get through the long days of feeling like I am bad at my job and could be a lot more use to a lot more people doing something else. My sister is coming to visit this week, and I am waiting anxiously to see her reaction to El Dorado. There will likely be a whole separate post to summarize that, as she is not known for being at a loss for words or opinions. Now off to prepare to class. We have a lot to learn about the law of syllogism and logic puzzles. The second test is in only a week, and if we do not have an average above 70% this time, it will mean rethinking a lot of what I am doing. As I told my kids a few weeks ago, "If you fail, I fail. And I don't fail. Ever. At anything. So you don't get to fail either." Here's to making that a reality.

 


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