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updates for 12.08.2011

7 new posts today

snooze button

I think I've hit the wall.  I've never been a snooze button kind of girl, but lately I've been doing the whole "just five more minutes" thing.  I get to school on average 25 minutes later than I have been.  The kids are done, and I'm done. I still enjoy my day-to-day classroom life, but when I come home from school I feel how slowly these last few weeks are going. In other news, my half-marathon is this weekend!


You know you teach Middle School when...

12/7 --boys cry about getting assigned detention. This one is partially sad though. I have one student who has been acting up ALOT lately, and I have been getting SO frustrated with him. He opened up a bit today though, saying that he was still failing 2 classes (mine and math) even though he's doing all the extra work. I had to resist pointing out that work at home is great, but when you don't pay attention in class...you're going to fall behind...but he was being really open, so we just talked about all the ways he always shows me he's smart instead. Pobresito....sometimes I forget how low my low kids' self-esteem is. --at least 4, potentially up to 12, of your boys are going to be suspended for participating in an underground "Fight Club." The fight this week left one boy in the bathroom with a concussion....hence the leakage that there have been over a month's worth of fights. --you are helping students research different majors and colleges they're interested in. One boy, kinda low, has mostly mediocre days, is having some difficulties. Last week, he told me he wanted to be a vet. Me: What major are you searching for? Him: kid doctor Me: Ohhh, pediatrician. Very cool. (secretly thinking, alright, maybe this will be one of those lessons where the kid leaves with stellar ambition and internal motivation) Him: No, an obskdjmumblemumble Me: Oh, like an eye doctor? Him (looks me dead in the eye): NO, miss...the doctor who takes the baby out of the woman Me: ......oh....let's just keep it broad and search medical majors. --Best part of day: blocking my 10-minute play with my theater kids. It was a little more difficult than anticipated, but once we got the initial blocking underway, we had a genuinely enjoyable time. I even forgot about the pounding headache I had been fighting all day (p.s. I really hope I'm not getting sick, pleasepleaseplease, no) peace & blessings!


The beginning....

So its been about a month since I learned my life would be uprooted to Milwaukee from Ohio for the next two years. I've gone from jumping up-and-down excitement, to a fear so severe I wanted to curl up with a teddy bear, to my current state of anxious anticipation. While Milwaukee was not my first choice of regions, its still in the Midwest and I'm excited about the challenges and opportunities offered there. While I'm not crazy about their extremely strict teacher licensure requirements (or the snow), it will be about a billion times larger than any other city I've lived in. Right now, I'm grappling with the worry that I won't be skilled or knowledgeable enough to lead a classroom 9 months from now. I'm also dealing with the realization that (gasp) there is a big world waiting for me after graduation. One in which I may fail miserably in (especially in terms of my students). While I've been assured by friends that no teacher is amazing from day one, I feel like I need to be. Hopefully my absolute insistence that I am a great teacher will mean that with enormous amounts of work, that will happen. Because in August, the future of my students will be in my hands. And to that, I have two words : holy crap. However, I guess I should get through finals week at college before I tackle the problems of the world. Its certainly comforting to know what I'll be doing upon graduation, but this does make silly things like finals seem insignificant. Unfortunately, I don't think my professors agree. Maybe i'll shop for teacher books instead. Until next time, Emma


#5: My favorite edublogs

When I got the teaching bug, I set out to the internet to find any resource I could yank for myself and at least try to wrap my head around the lingo.  They are exalted arrivals in my Google Reader feed.

  • Favorite math blog: dy/dan - Dan Meyer is my high school math guru.  I really do not copy him enough.  He's currently a PhD candidate at Stanford (if I am not mistaken) and as far as math teacher bloggers go, he is the Godfather.  His home movies make think I should be a billionaire so I could bankroll every teacher in America to master video editing.  The man is unrelenting in his pursuit of interesting questions and developing critical thinking skills.
  • Favorite policy blog: Bridging Differences - I have linked to them once before, but it bears re-mentioning because Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch are champs.  I want both of these ladies to be my aunties.  Both are clear-headed and inviting writers.  Between the two, they have a treasure trove of personal experience and policy wonk skills.  They've seen it all and are wont to not relive the mistakes of previous administrations (see: Ravitch's about face regarding accountability measures).  Ravitch in particular is a treasure.  It's not good political theater to change your mind about something, but I consider it a grand act of humility to readjust your presuppositions in the wake of the piling evidence around you.
  • Favorite source of latest research: Inside School Research - My unyielding love for EdWeek goes on.  This feed is a good clearinghouse for just-released data from universities, the Census Bureau, academic journals, and whoever else is out there researching.  For a few minutes, I feel like I'm in school again.
If you click just one link today, make it dy/dan and follow the rabbit hole of the math teacher blogger network.  Seriously, you might need to set aside a weekend for it.

Grad School - A Hidden Gem.

Oh, Grad School. I guess I did not do enough research about the requirements expected as me and a first year teacher joining TFA. We must continue our education, either with the certification or grad school program. We were able to choose between two schools, a public and private school, and before summer comes, we will decide on if we are going to obtain a masters or just a certificate. The difference in cost between the two is approximately 3,000 dollars. I'm over it already. I had a paper due this past Saturday, we also had Professional Development with TFA (PSAT) this past Saturday, and I still haven't completed it. Quite frankly, I feel that my grad school classes are a bit of a joke. I have received perfect scores on each assignment with little effort, however, the assignments are still very time consuming. I really wish I would have looked into this aspect of TFA before selecting my region. Future TFAers beware of the hidden gem known as Grad School!


The up side.

My obsession with gratitude is getting slightly out of hand. Five hours of sleep each night is catching up with me, but joy is beating out the ramifications. Also, five hours a night is inifinitely better than what I was at at this point last year. Barkles and I were debating a giant count down until Christmas out of a plea to get out last year. This year I do not want to miss out on two more weeks with these kids that I adore. It seems like an exaggeration, but. It's just incredible to have a grasp on this age group, this content, this school. To understand who does what and why logistically; to have phone numbers programmed into my phone so when a kid disappears from after school tutoring I know how to help solve the problem (true story); to tell students the bigger why behind every little thing in class. To finish the day without my throat hurting, my voice never raised, and kids asking me if I will ask the other 6th grade teachers to use the discipline system I use in my room, too. Seriously? I'm ending today filled up. I need to back up just a little to say why. I had another call with Sacramento Principal on Monday, which I couldn't describe to anyone as "bad" or "good", but only as weird. Weird. I wasn't sure what he was expecting from the call, or wanting from me, so I prepped some questions about the school and his leadership style just in case. Then I waited for 4:30, and picked up. The conversation started with reviewing his mission/vision and asking if I'd be interested in working for such a school (and, really, these charter missions, school missions in general-- in general, of course I want to work at your school? in general, all schools aim to send kids to college, right?) so my answer was yes. He then went on to highlight my finer points as a teacher, flattering. Our in-person debrief had plenty of positive, but this conversation sounded particularly genuine and also much warmer than our original observation. Establishing a relationship, eh? In short, he said he "really, really likes" me as a teacher and "has talked to a lot of people" about what to do about me. (?!) See, I'm urgent, and honest, and care, and focus on the right things... but my management is shakey. My kids still shuffle papers and refrain from tracking. Mostly because I taught them tracking for 4 minutes without believing in it and never talked about it again. The answer? Individualized professional development based on Teach Like A Champion. I ordered the book, he's setting up a book-study type curriculum, and we're going to have periodic chats about what I'm learning. Christmas Break I'll write a behavioral expectations action plan, he'll approve it, and after break will be a new Ms. L's class roll out. In January I'll send a video and "we'll see what happens." I was giddy at the suggestion. The proposal. I laughed as I said, "Well, I think this is a win-win for me, because even if I don't get a job with you I'll be getting stellar individual development. So of course I want to do this!" Slowly, I'm remembering that I'm the type of person that is more productive when I have more things scheduled. I'm also more productive when using the personal management system Achievement First PD'd us about. My life. My gratitude. From that conversation, I've started being hypersensitive about my management. I take time to wait for 100% compliance (who am I!), I desperately try to be empathetic with consequences, and my students know my expectations. In three days, I already see enormous benefits. Additionally, achievement is higher. In two classes, I had all but one student complete the homework today. And I give homework! What! My fifth period class, the class that this morning the teachers said "was awful today" left me with my heart exploding. I love them. I love them all, but fifth period is like climbing a mountain. Often climbing while my face is two inches from a massive surface, nothing but up, but every once in a while (today) finding a place where I'm confident to stop and look out at something incredible. Look at the height I'm already at. Sigh. My brain is clearly mush. And without sleep my analogies are tied to mountains and other idiotic things, but . I'm sorry. I guess when my teaching skills improve, my writing declines. Right now I absolutely approve that trend. Other 2012-13 Updates: I officially applied to KIPP Nola and Arkansas Tech (grad school), have a call with Achievement First's recruitment director tomorrow, and got an email from KIPP Delta today about an info call. I'm kind of starting to wonder if applying to 800 schools is just like applying to Forever 21, H&M, and Urban. Should I be more picky and thoughtful before dedicating hours into applications? Do I really think I'll only get accepted to one of five, and breathe relief that I don't have to choose... or am I setting myself up for one very ridiculous decision between charters and cities across the United States? And, oh yeah, the more control I have over my room here the more of an impact I see myself having next year! My biggest gripe is my lack of development... but if I keep going to conferences, meeting people like Sacramento Principal, and doing research, that's development. That makes me happier in my current occupation. The culture in fifth period was phenomenal today; for the first time (I think) I was genuinely sad that class was over so soon. What if I just stayed here? I'd build credibility with faculty and students, and not have to haul all my stuff across the country in my tiny Camry. Again.


#4: What do you do as a corps member if you don't like the Waltons?

Shortly after Institute concluded this July, news broke that the Walton Family Foundation -- heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- donated nearly $50 million to Teach for America with the express purpose of doubling the number of corps members in the next three years. This should come as no shock considering a who's who of "1%ers" has donated beaucoups of cash to TFA.  It's a pretty diverse group: wealthy hedge fund managers, wealthy tech CEO's, and...okay, it's pretty much a whole bunch of hedge fund managers up at the top. I have struggled as a corps member to make sense of my feelings about the influence the wealthy are having on the "education reform movement" writ large and on TFA specifically.  I struggle in the sense that I admire many things about TFA organizationally but I wonder what side their bread is buttered on when I think about the extent to which we are in bed with an elite class that, as a nebulous "whole", bears some (most?) of the responsibility for ever-diverging income inequalities in America. Further, when you examine where the Waltons and their ilk tend to throw their philanthropic weight around, it is a concerted effort to undermine the public education system and teacher's unions, one of the last of America's worker's organizations with any teeth. I'm struggling because I'm not sure if I should be ambivalent or indignant about my role as an educator within Teach for America.  I am not a fire-starter or a hothead by nature, but I must admit that my impulse is to resist the creeping, undemocratic influence of our nation's wealthy elite over educational policy. I'm struggling because I don't have many satisfactory answers to my post's question.  My best guess: join a union and voice your concerns for the interests of teachers, students, families, and communities alike.  These forces are not diametrically opposed.  Quite the contrary, I believe neighborhoods, its denizens, and the people who work in them have a mutual interest in improving each other's lot.  If you are a prospective corps member, research our regions, see where the greatest need for quality teachers is, and choose those in lieu of regions that already have quality teachers who would need to be displaced to make room for you.  And, plan to teach longer than two years.  If not, the direct impact you have on educational outcomes in this country will be minimal and fleeting. We hear in our training that poverty is not destiny, and that is a super-duper way to approach the world if you are interested in personally overcoming poverty as an obstacle in your own life!  But the body of literature on poverty is staggering in how much it is a predictor of future life outcomes.  I think as educators, we must continue to bust our butts in the classroom to provide the best opportunities for our kids but still recognize the limits of our efforts without broader shifts in policy to redistribute resources so that poverty is less of an obstacle in reaching the middle class. In the meantime, I won't see the Broads or Gates or Waltons as benevolent actors until they advocate to raise their own taxes so that democratically-elected governments, represented by and accountable to ordinary citizens, can vouch on behalf of the public interest for their children's futures in all aspects of life.


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