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updates for 10.04.2011

10 new posts today


Testing, Round 9 of my career

I wonder if I'll ever just become immune to the stress of standardized testing. My level of concern has definitely decreased dramatically over the last few years (remember when I used to not sleep before district benchmark tests?) but I still have that old feeling lingering somewhere. That awful dread over being judged on the results of a test that I don't actually get to take. This year, the feeling is a lot less like anxiety and a lot more just like uncomfortable uncertainty. The district testing happened without me ever getting worked up about it, but then I think about it and realize how many doubts I actually have. Watch how worked up I can make myself get when I actually start writing all my suppressed thoughts down: Let's start with last year, when I was a dramatically better teacher on all counts. If you remember what happened next, my test scores actually dropped from my Terrible Awful First Year. What if they keep dropping forever? What if I just don't know how to teach kids what they need for a test? What if I'm actually a much worse teacher than I think I am? Or take this year, where I'm at a High Performing Charter Network with an obsession over test scores. We have a reputation to uphold. We have lots of data that says we're awesome, and I'm really not supposed to screw that up. What if our other schools all have great 6th grade math scores, and mine end up being the kind that make everyone cringe and wish they hadn't hired me? I wouldn't be able to scoot by on just being good in the classroom, since the very existence of this school depends on the scores we put up. Sigh. Maybe I won't even look at my scores when they come back, and just save us all some agony. :-)

 


Benchmark Season!

10/3/11 Hello! What's up in the world of ELA? 1) It's benchmark time!! Yesterday and today. And we're upping the rigor this year, so we've already been told to expect around a 20-point curve. yea...we'll see how it turns out. I graded one classes PNs tonight. Mainly around the 2-range. Not bad though. 6 months to push them to 3's, and hopefully some 4's!! The hardest thing for me to figure out is how to teach organization....and choosing a good topic. For instance, your happiest day cannot realistically be the day you were born. yea, oh 7th grade. But, I've been cracking up all night with some of their writing. Some of them are really clever. They've also been turning in a typed PN they finished in technology. Several kids emailed them to me, stating, "I hope this makes you cry." or "I hope this leaves you in tears." ....because I told them a good PN should either make me laugh or cry. 2) One of my secret favorites has a bit of a behavior issue. He comes in every morning, muy chistoso, likes to pretend he doesn't have his homework, then always goes "Naaaawww, miss, just kidding." I go along with it every morning and pretend mock upset until he "dupes" me because I figure it's better he goofs with these tiny things than starts to be defiant in class. Some mornings too, he pretends to walk away when he sees me standing at the door ready to shake hands. Last Friday, he "faked" a handshake to get a laugh from his buddy who was standing next to him. During transition, I was like, "I can't believe you left me hanging just to show off to your friend." Student: "What, miss? Nuh-huh, I didn't. I do that every day. He isn't even my friend anyways." Me: cracking up. 3) I am re-committing myself to positivity. I had duty this morning, and as I helped the elementary kiddos out of their cars, I was thinking about how I might be the only contact some of these parents have. Or, maybe their only smile in the morning. It's kind of exciting to think how much your 5-second interaction could brighten someone's day. Therefore, with the impending doom of black October (and the excitement of a forthcoming 3-day weekend this weekend!!!!), I am recommitting myself to positivity, to smiling towards all, and to NOT showing frustration or appearing rushed so as to cut short conversations. It's not polite. 4) Last thought, then sleep. Last week, I told my kids anyone who failed the quiz had to come to mandatory tutorials........33 failed. Great. Soem came a few days early, but about 20 came Thursday. I kept it chill, knowing that the typical classroom structure would crash and burn and result in less learning and more frustration. They talked amongst themselves as we worked through the review. What was cool: 10 minutes in, one student who was working quicker came up to me to get his paper checked. Out of nowhere, after seeing he had 100% correct, I exclaimed, "He's on FI-YAH!" Well, that resulted in a rush of students finishing and clamoring forward to become officially declared as on FIYAH. And it's my new catchphrase, and they love it, and one kid today said - miss, why do you say that? Girl student response: Duh, because she's cool. I was thinking about creating a commended club, but instead, I think I'll call it the "Wall on FI-YAH"....or algo como asi

 


love wins.

"Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. No, no, no. Come to us. We will not go to you. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?"  -C.S. Lewis I need to remember this.

 


5 Aspects of Balance in "Whatever It Takes"

I recently watched "Whatever It Takes" as part of an event sponsored by an education advocacy organization here in law school. (Note: this documentary has no connection with the Paul Tough book of the same name on the Harlem Children's Zone.) The 2007 documentary examines the progress of the Bronx Center for Science & Mathematics in its first year. The film traces several main characters, including a struggling student who is offered a spot at a summer enrichment program sponsored by Dartmouth College; the principal, a former teacher but newbie administrator; a social worker who, like her students, grew up in the Bronx; and a teacher who, for a multitude of reasons, submits a resignation letter midway through the school year, her first. Afterwards, we, a group of law students interested in issues in education (and, for what it's worth, substantially composed of TFA alumni), discussed the documentary. The consensus was that the movie seemed to lack any sort of overarching theme. While I agree in part with this sentiment, I do think that the film brings into focus--although maybe not in an intentional, coherent way--a central issue in education: balance. ***** I saw "balance" playing out in 5 broad ways in the film: (1) Balancing school size: Substantively, this is the most obvious way that balance appears. The film starts by mentioning that in 2002 the NYC Department of Education began its "small schools" initiative, which broke up many large public schools into several smaller ones. The rationale was that smaller schools would better create a sense of community and prevent students on the margin from slipping through the cracks. Principal Tom affirms this on the first day of school, when he tells his 108 new students that he needs "commitment" for the school to succeed. In turn, he recognizes that his school "need[s] to be the haven where [the students] can find peace." The film, by giving us an example of one (and admittedly only one) "small school" makes us think about the optimal point for school size. How many students should a school have? Does that question even matter? (2) Balancing work and "life": This is a perennial problem in any career, but particularly so for those working for others. The film best shows this through the social worker, who, like her students, grew up "hard" in the Bronx, but nevertheless carves out time for her personal life. In a clip of her playing baseball, she says "you just gotta have that balance...to be a whole person." On the other hand, Ms. Balogh, the first-year science teacher (believe it or not, not TFA and actually a traditional ed school graduate) succumbs to the pressure of work and submits her resignation letter mid-way through the school year (she stays at the school through the end of the school year). Though she claims that the commute was the primary reason for quitting, she admits off-hand that other factors exist. How can educators in schools best balance the crucial work they do everyday with students while fulfilling their own needs? (3) Balancing short-term and long-term goals: The film showed several examples of how short-term goals conflict with long-term goals. Mid-way through the year, a student, angry at Ms. Balogh, tags a wall with the statement "Ms. Balogh sucks." Principal Tom, with his all-or-nothing, no-exceptions attitude, holds an all-school meeting and declares that students will not have class until someone comes forward, either to take responsibility for the incident or to offer information ("snitch" as students might be wont to say) on the culprit. After a few days, still no one has spoken up. Students and teachers are clearly frustrated. Why let the wrong of one person prevent the rest of the school from learning? Isn't that unfair? Principal Tom's steadfastness shows that he would rather suffer the short-term harm of a few day's worth of class lost in order to achieve the long-term goal of building a school environment that doesn't tolerate disrespect--one that ultimately is better for the students. The catch, of course, is that Ms. Balogh has a very good sense of who the culprit was--the student stormed out of her class only moments before the graffiti was discovered. When short- and long-term goals conflict, what system do we use to choose between or modify them? (4) Balancing aspirations with reality: Principal Tom is a go-getter. He feels that he was called by God to help teach others. And he's serious about taking his students to the top. The film shows many clips of him speaking to students, emphasizing the high expectations he has for his students. But he recognizes reality too: "A lot of our expectations are unrealistic. It's been 14 years and they haven't learned this yet... And 7 months is going to change that?... What is the time frame for this work? We really need to recognize that." At what point do we recognize that the goals we may set are unrealistic? If they do become unrealistic, do we stubbornly continue pursuing them or reevaluate? (5) Balancing the burden of responsibility: Principal Tom refers to what he calls the "triangle of success." The student is at the apex of the triangle, but, supporting her are three elements: parent, school and community. The film highlights some of the challenges around the shared responsibility of educating a child. A whatever-it-takes mentality undertaken by only one realm might do little for a student's trajectory of success. Speaking with a parent, Principal Tom says "you have to make the noise; we can't always make the noise for you." What balance should exist between the various parties responsible for educating a child? ***** I'm not sure if director Christopher Wong intended to communicate this theme through his film. This is just my personal reading. Though I didn't walk out of the room feeling like my life had changed, I definitely think the film is worth watching, particularly if you're interested in exploring the dilemmas around building a school up from day one. Give it a whirl! profile counter

 


PD: Yummy.

Today was seriously one of the best days I have had since coming to KC. Why? Well, my classroom is still a hot mess, but today - the four TFA teachers and I were provided subs from our school administration and spent the day observing and talking. IT WAS SO GREAT. The better part is, WE GET TO DO IT AGAIN TOMORROW! I feel refreshed. I feel motivated. I feel supported by my administration. But let me be clear, this is an administration decision, not a TFA influenced decision. I am so glad our administration is trying to support us by allowing us to have two days to observe and gain ideas and techniques that work! Woohoo.

 


Institute Was the Easy Part

(I wrote this blog knowing that I would be writing the next post about my post-institute experience, hence the "easy part" title. I wouldn't have said Institute was the easy part back in July) Since starting TFA, I've been asked by prospective Corps Members what Institute is really like. My honest response is that it is not that bad. Granted, this is only my experience, and I'm sure Institute was a hot mess for a lot of people. My experience was that Institute was pretty accurate to the experience I was prepared for during the application process. Here's what a typical day looked like for me:

  • 4:45am- Wake up and get going. Just kidding. I did wake up at 4:45, but I went back to sleep from about 5-5:30. I did this to get out of my roommate's way in the morning. It  really simplified things for both of us.
  • 6:15am: Snag some breakfast at the Dining Hall. We also picked up our lunch during this time. Lunch was usually a sandwich, chips, fruit and a drink.
  • 6:30am: My bus pulled out of GA Tech and headed for SE Atlanta.
  • 7:00am: Arrive at school, get checked in, do final prep for the day
  • 7:40am: Meet the kiddos at breakfast. I tried to use this time to do flash cards, sight words, etc.
  • 8:00am: Bring the students upstairs for their Reading Lesson. During the first 2 weeks of teaching, I taught Math in the afternoon. This meant I had my sessions in the morning. The 2nd 2 weeks of teaching, I taught Reading in the morning. I liked the chance to get to teach both Reading and Math, but I'm not sure this is a typical experience for most elementary corps members.
  • 8:10am: Curriculum Session: These sessions focused on planning, management, instruction, etc.
  • 12:30pm: Assist with dismissal, grab lunch before afternoon sessions
  • 1:00pm: Afternoon session with our CMA
  • 2:00pm-4:00pm: Afternoon sessions. These were either planning clinics, literacy sessions, curriculum sessions, etc.
  • 4:00pm: Leave school and head back to GA Tech
  • 5:00pm: Dinner at GA Tech (the food was all right- can't complain when it's free!)
  • 5:30-9:30pm: Lesson planning and prep time. I used this time to copy lesson plans, handouts, books, etc. I also practiced my lesson, met with my CMA, and graded papers. There was an occasional meeting or training during this time, but these were rare.
  • 9:30pm-11:30pm: Since this is my blog, I'll say I used my time effectively and went to bed early. The reality is I usually needed these last 2 hours to get my life together.
I secured an apartment before Institute, so I spent my weekends sleeping, checking out ATL churches and taking some social time. Sunday nights were spent getting ready for Monday. A few potential corps members have asked me my Institute Survival Tips, or "What nobody tells you about Institute". I tried to piece together a few pieces of advice. I really hope that readers take this with the notion that I'm writing this almost 2 and a half months after Institute. If you asked me these questions in the moment, I'm sure my perspective would be quite different. Institute Tips:
  • Go to dinner early: This sounds like a really trivial thing, but it set me up for easy nights. By eating dinner at the same time as my grandparents, I just kept moving the rest of the night. I found that on nights when I went back to my room first, I lost all motivation. If I just kept moving, I was finished around 9:30 and could go to bed at a normal hour.
  • Copy your stuff before 7pm: Eating dinner early meant I could copy things early. This eliminated the endless lines at the Copy Center. All through Institute, the longest I waited was about 10 minutes. Compare this to reports of 45-60 minute waits, and getting to the Copy Center early makes a world of difference.
  • Advocate for your own needs: My management at the beginning of Institute was a hot mess. I yelled, gave inconsistent consequences and generally had no control over my classroom. I'm okay admitting this because I got better after I asked for help. My management wasn't perfect, and it still isn't even close. However, once I asked for help, I learned strategies that made my management better. Once my management improved, my instruction improved. All of that goes to say, ask for what you need. The point of Institute is to learn. I went in to Institute thinking I knew a lot. I found out quickly that I didn't know what I didn't know.
  • Breathe. Calm Down. No really. Stop. I don't mean to break some amazing TFA secret, but the level of accountability you have in Institute is nothing compared to what you'll experience when you are the teacher of record this fall. I don't want to freak anybody out, but seriously- you're responsible for 8-12 kids during Institute. In your classroom, you're responsible for 20-30 students. You have so much help during Institute. Take it. Breathe, calm down and know it'll be okay.
  • Sleep when you can. 20 minutes on the bus ride. 10 minutes waiting for the copy machine. 4 hours in between two instructional days. 15 hours on Saturday. No matter how brief or extensive your sleep time is, TAKE IT.
  • Make friends (and preferably from your region): No one else will understand what you're going through. Your boyfriend, your mom and your mentor may have an idea of what Institute is like, but no one but other CMs will really get it. Make a friend network of people that are in your region. Institute is like summer camp: you bond really quickly.
That's pretty much all I can think of at this moment. The overarching message I can say about Institute is know that it will be okay. There are so many support systems available. Use them, and know that it will be all right. And on the bright side, it's only 5 weeks. Now, I know the title of this post is about how Institute is the easy part. More on that later, but know that Institute is the basics.
 


October Update!

Hello all, I'll save the apology this time for lack of updates-teaching is completely and utterly life-consuming. But, in all honesty, I really love what I do and want to commit this rather large amount of time to my profession. So, where to begin considering I have not updated since school has began. Well, I am teaching kindergarten; an experience full of 16 rambunctious yet curious minds who I all claim as my own. I LOVE MY CHILDREN and they easily make this experience (so far) very worth it. When applying to TFA, early childhood education never seemed plausible to this frat boy. Now, I can imagine myself teaching beyond my two year commitment-only in this grade. Kinder is awesome because the kids don't "like" you, they need you. Once the trust and "caring figure" relationship is instilled and christened, oh em gee, we have some real touching moments. Whether it's the sprint throughout the hallway to greet me, the constant pleas to go on a field trip to my house, or the extra big hug before dismissal, my kiddos are loving and caring and damn its great. Additionally, being a male teacher in elementary school warrants several privileges. First and foremost, I shatter expectations about who teaches these early formative grades. This isn't a positive in terms of "oh, I'm a dude, I can teach too" but many of our students don't have a male role model to look up to. As a result, I've been able to establish numerous relationships with students I'd probably never otherwise meet (i.e. my fly 4th grade pal X). Although I'm loving instruction, I definitely could care less for some of my other professional development obligations. BUT, it occurs everywhere else so I try to minimize my complaints (but yes, TFA does love to make things SUPER EASY for first-year teachers). Um, well here are some other observations, great experiences, miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I have taught my kids numerous repeated sayings that either bolster yours truly or just make me laugh hysterically-am I unethical?
  1. Don't pick your nose, pick your (COLLEGE! as they point to banners on the wall)
  2. Long hair, (DON'T CARE)
  3. UNC's game chant (TAR...HEELS) serve as a subject transition.
  4. Who is the prettiest teacher in the school? (YOU) Who is the best teacher in the school? (YOU) Who loves their teacher (ME).
  5. Am I talking to you? (they turn their heads MY BAD). Are you about to really tattle to me although you know I don't care and you can talk to Lisa the Lamb? (they turn their heads MY BAD).
  • My parents/guardians are awesome. Very engaged, very critical, and always willing to help. When they provide snacks for the entire classroom it's like Christmas!
  • My kiddos know they are college-bound and LIVE FOR THIS ASPIRATION. No, really. While my three walls full of banners definitely help, my kids have internalized this expectation for themselves at this time. Yes, their first choice is my alma mater UNC (they bleed Carolina blue)-but, they attribute college with its mascot so often I hear, "Mr. W I'm going to king dog college (James Madison), pig college (Arkansas), or train college (Purdue). Now, on every assignment they turn, they have some college banner designed (we did a banner activity where they created their own pennant so they are addicted to practicing their triangles.) I never thought saying "Class, if we don't behave, we can't grow our brains therefore making us unable to go to college" as my core behavior management strategy (and it works 97% of the time).
  • My precious S is my "project" for the school-year. On day one, she said her Pre-K teacher hated her and told her hallelujah when school ended. She's been very trying behaviorally but I love her and need to maximize her potential (she's on track for gifted/talented) based on diagnostic assessments.
  • My brainchild R is learning English as a second language yet blows my mind with his mastery of both languages and math skills. Homeboy on the first day could count to 86 (my big goal for the class is counting to 100 by ones, fives, and tens) and now already can count to 430.
  • What the hell? 12 of my 16 students have been diagnosed with AD(H)D. THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BEHAVE LIKE CHAOS AT THIS AGE (and first time at school).
  • My school is amazing. While my grade-level team seems to share very different perspectives than me towards our profession, it's still been an eye-opening experience. BUT, as a whole, the amount of initiative and general optimism for our students is addictive.
  • One kid just lays weightless whenever he experiences any form of reprimanding. You need to cut that ish out. It ain't cute and it pisses me off.
  • My kids LOVE and ACTIVELY EMBODY our classroom values. I thought it would too abstract for them initially-I was wrong. It's adorable to see one kid offer a tissue to one who is sad (kindness) or having my kids chant "It's alright, we can do better next time" (quality) when they make a mistake.
  • Find and apply for money! I have been fortunate to receive two grants (one for a free field trip) and this has resonated very positively with my administration and colleagues. Of course I'm excited for these opportunities and their impact on my students as well!
  • TEACHING IS HARD. enough said.
  • TEACHING IS HARD. words cannot express this.
Well, that's my update for now. It's crazy to think that about this time last year, I naively accepted my spot in the 2011 corps. While I definitely love and know this right for me, boy was I jaded in my thorough understanding of how rigorous teaching is (let alone your first year).  BUT DON'T LET THIS DISCOURAGE YOU PROSPECTIVE APPLICANTS. I see the benefits of my work daily and the interactions I have with so many random individuals is inspiring. But most importantly, my kids deserve the chance to succeed in their life and I am guaranteeing they begin their educational journey knowing I only expect them to be fly, polite, and educated.
 


As promised.. potential guinea pig names! And other findings of the day..

Today I am going to pick up the guinea pig from another school here in the district.. I have no idea if it is a male or female or what color it will be.  We spoke today about how the guinea pig is a baby and that we must speak quietly and be very careful when it gets here tomorrow.  Some of my kids are a bit rough around the edges, and others are well.. just clumbsy!  Please say a prayer for the little thing.. As promised I have let my kids throw out some names for the guinea pig, because after all it is all of ours... they are as follows.. Male potential names --- General, Lazel, Tivo, Collin, Winny, Oreo, Casey, Lovie, DJ, Micheal Jackson (coming from the child that only wants to be called Michael Jackson), TJ, Japle Female potential names -- Tiffany, Kenisha, Piggy, Lulu, Felisha, Teal, Jasmine, Selina Gomez (go figure), CC, Rocky, Precious (student yells: that's a movie ya know!), Emma and Jada My favorites... Winny, General and Teal mainly because I think that those might be the only candidates that are not named after anyone in my class, siblings of my students or other relatives. Lets just hope that this thing can handle being in a class with all 26 of us!  And that the poor thing doesn't die.. because I don't want to explain that to my children.    The beginning of week 9 sure has been a crazy one.. and its only Monday. I have had 3 kids today with the stomach flu.. poor babies!  My aid is also out with the stomach flu.  All of the desks will be wiped with sanitizer today, twice.  I think that I will be leaving after school today and heading to get my flu shot -- because I've already been out for 9 days for professional development, I can't afford to miss any more.. we have already lost 2 weeks of instructional time and my babies are too smart to be missign out on the obtaining all of the knoweldge that they can before leaving for 1st grade.  I told my kids today that they are going to be having some special guests in this week, t-4 days until my parents are coming in to see what this Kindergarten business is all about!  They are so excited... I am planning on doing some painting during class when they come with the leaves that have fallen off of the trees already -- but only for the kids that have been on blue, green or black all week.  I already have one kid out.. bummer.

 


Miley Cyrus Days

You know those days? … when nothing in particular is going wrong, but you just feel heavy? When you have every reason to be optimistic, but you can’t quite get there? … when dreams that were within reach yesterday now seem impossible? TFA sent out its survey not too long ago, and asked us all how strongly we believe in our mission. When I zoom out, “One Day” seems vague but definitely possible. One day, I’m fairly confident, we will be able to look back and say something like “achievement gap? That was SOooo 20th century.” So I wonder why, when the macro-scale One Day seems doable, my own Vision seems so far off. Today I’m haunted by doubt. What if it’s all just not enough? I have 9 seniors who haven’t passed the exit TAKS—they re-take it on the 19th. Now that I’ve finally gotten most of them to come to tutoring regularly, what if it’s not enough and they don’t pass? I have 45 low-level juniors who take the exit TAKS for the first time in April. What if I don’t light them on fire in time? And what if my 120 seniors who have already passed don’t make the growth they need to make to be successful next year? I want to know how it is that I can be so good at motivating myself sometimes and so clueless at how to motivate other people. Seems like it should come down to just being real with them and explaining why it’s worth it—but it’s not that simple. Sometimes in rowing, you psyche yourself out halfway through the race and what’s supposed to be the shortest 7.5 minutes of your life becomes the longest and worst. When I peaked as a rower, either my stomach would seize and cramp horribly right at those moments when fear grabbed me; or, somehow, the wiring would be disconnected, paralysis would miss me, and I’d keep pounding to the last stroke. It was only on those latter races that “I did my best” felt good to say. But every stroke is one of those moments. Every day is one of those crucial turning points when fear has the opportunity to grab you and pull you under. How do I ignore it? How do I convince my babies to do the same?

 


Deg xinag ałixi ni’elyoy.

When I first started teaching here, only one of my ELL students was literate in her first language. Now everyone in my school is able to read and write his or her first language in at least a rudimentary way. One of my students wrote a poem last week. I cried like a doofus. I had to pretend that one of my contacts was bothering me, which was a good lie until of the more observant little monsters pointed out that I wasn't wearing contacts. First language literacy isn't part of our official curriculum, but it is crucial for both self-respect and for academic development, so I unilaterally decided to make it part of the schoolday. Probably there was some bureaucratic procedure I should have followed, but my watchword is WWJMD -What would John McClane do? (As you can probably guess, I am an AWESOME driver.) I'm fortunate to have had a bilingual education myself, but I don't speak the same dialect as my students, so I am not the ideal educator for this task. Still, the students are making progress. We really need to be home-growing more teachers. It's good for students have a diverse assortment of teachers - gives them a wider perspective - but how many schools are there in this country where students don't have a single teacher from their own community? Or only one or two over the course of their entire time in school? Good gravy, was this a preachy post.

 


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