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updates for 12.14.2011

5 new posts today

Real life.

Rod (we'll call him), is a student in my homeroom class that I love. He is on his third Chronicles of Narnia book, all of which he has failed the AR tests before because the book is three years above his reading level (he's at about 3rd grade, the books are about 6th). When I ask him if I can help him find a book on his level, he refuses. I don't teach reading. I don't push it. Last week I got a call from Rod's mom asking if I knew where he was, because he disappeared after our after-school tutoring program, aptly called "After School". After calling my principal, both secretaries, and a counselor, none of which that answered, he showed up at his bus-stop. They had rerouted the bus and taken him, "Somewhere really far away." No one informed parents the route was changing. On Monday of last week, Rod passively told me his Paw Paw (Grandpa) is in the hospital because he had a heart attack. He didn't seem particularly upset. The next day he told me that is why his homework wasn't finished. Though, Rod's homework is never finished. Today we, as the school staff, were treated to lunch by Arkansas Counseling, the service that helps students like Rod. My secretary (the upper grade secretary, because we have two on our campus) came, in a way, busting into the teacher's lounge saying, "When's the sixth grade Christmas party?" "We haven't decided yet, because we still don't know when the Christmas program is." (both of which are next week, undetermined times.) "Well, Rod's mom is in the office [clear irritation in her voice], asking what to bring for the Christmas party. [More irritation, perhaps rolled eyes--] Why she's askin about Christmas parties when her son is in after school and-- how are his grades in your class?" (multiple sixth grade teachers murmur disapproval.) I go to the office. "Hi! Nice to see you!" Rod's mom "Oh hi, I was coming in because, well, you know Rod's Paw-Paw is in the hospital?" "Yes, and so far away, right? About an hour to Pine Bluff?" "Yes. Well, we're not going to have the car after tonight or all next week. So I can't go anywhere to pick up anything, and I wanted to make sure Rod brought what he was supposed to to the party..." My heart broke, broke broke. She went on to tell me how upset Rod is at home, how poorly Paw-Paw is doing (open heart surgery if he can get stronger in the next two days, otherwise... all arteries are blocked). She purely wanted to know what Rod should bring so he could feel like he contributed to the party. She wanted to make sure her son helped out the class. There are so many reasons why this story is representative of my entire experience with Teach For America. I'll let you figure them out. I'm going to bed.


One Day, All Children...

A girl in the class I co-teach is amazingly low in math. She has earned a whopping 8% on each of our district standardized tests so far, she blurts out random, unrelated answers to math questions, and she struggles to add and subtract on her fingers. She does have an IEP, but she is definitely not receiving any of the services she needs. She hates math, and as a result of that she also hates me. Earlier in the year, she told me repeatedly how much she hated me, trying to get a rise out of me. I stayed very calm and said, "You are welcome to hate me, but you do have to be respectful. You don't need to like me, but I am going to ask that you trust me, because I'm very good at my job, and if you let me work with you I can make you very good at math. So hate me all you want, but you need to let me do my job." She begrudgingly said okay, and at least stopped yelling about her feelings toward me. I hadn't worked with her much since then, but over the last few weeks I've been taking the very lowest kids out of that co-taught class and teaching them the lesson separately. We do the same work, but I teach much more slowly, ask much easier questions during instruction to build their confidence, and provide a lot more structure and help as they work. Normally I don't believe in separating out kids like that, but it has actually gone remarkably well and the kids enjoy being the center of attention too much to care about anything else. The sixth grade has been working on using proportions to solve percentage problems. The mastery check at the end of today's lesson was: "24 is 3% of what number?" (Please appreciate how hard that question is.) We were back in the whole class, and I was sitting with this girl as she answered the question. I watched her set up a proportion, and I'll admit that I stopped her and asked her to think about it more slowly when  I noticed she'd switched two numbers. She reconsidered and fixed it, but I swear that's the last thing I had to say. By herself, she cross-multiplied, wrote out 3x = 2400 (at this point, I was excited she had smoothly multiplied by 100), then divided both sides by 3. She correctly transferred the 2400/3 from her paper to a long division set-up, and then started dividing. She made a mistake, but realized something was wrong, found the error, erased it, re-did the work properly, and GOT THE CORRECT ANSWER. (Do you see how many difficult things are in there?! Proportions, solving for x, long division aka the bane of my existence as a 6th grade teacher, recognizing/finding/correcting a mistake, even being able to multiply by 100 or multiply by x.) Not realizing I had been watching her, she handed me the paper to have me check it. I looked over her work carefully to make sure I hadn't missed something and to verify that all the work was actually there rather than a lucky guess somewhere. It was there, it was complete, and it was right. From THIS GIRL. I'll admit to having regularly doubted her ability to ever do grade level math (sorry, TFA), and I've never been happier to be proved completely wrong. As I looked at her paper, I nearly burst with joy and shock and amazement. I whispered that I had never been so proud of anyone in my whole life, and I actually teared up a little. She had to fight back her eyes welling up too, probably because there's no way she couldn't feel how intense my pride was and how big her accomplishment had just been. We both just stood there for a minute, staring at the paper and grinning. Then I whisked her out of the classroom and took her all over school. We showed off the mastery check to her SpEd teacher and let her tell him all the work she'd done. We snuck into the teacher's kitchen for a piece of candy. Then we went to the workroom and made a photocopy of all her work from that day, since she told me the only person who would be prouder than me was her mother, and she needed to bring it home right away.  The whole time, we talked about her hard work and how it pays off. Then, right before I sent her back to class, I couldn't resist one last comment. I stopped her and said, "Remember when you said you hated me, and I said you still had to trust me because I could make you good at math?" She nodded, a tiny bit sheepish now. "Well, thank you for trusting me." And then I shook her hand. She smiled. It was the best moment ever.


When Smart Kids Make Dumb Decisions

Last week, I had the unfortunate circumstance of losing two of my otherwise smart students to dumb decisions they made; one for possession of marijuana and the other for possession of a prescription pill that belonged to someone else (the student rumor mill indicates it was speed). In the state of Missouri, possession of 35 grams or fewer of marijuana constitutes a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $1000 fine or jailing up to a year.  Larger amounts of possession raises the charge to felony status.  My hope is that the student caught with marijuana falls into this misdemeanor category, because felonies preclude students from federal financial aid under the current law.  I do not know the legal implications of amphetamine possession. Regardless of the larger legal implications, possession of drugs, prescription or other results in an automatic Type I, which includes a mandatory 10 day suspension and an adjustment transfer to the district's alternative school.  This is an extremely unfortunate situation... <continue reading on North Park Street>


#8: Bienvenidos, y'all - San Antonio pt. 1

[caption id="attachment_35" align="aligncenter" width="624" caption="the political geography of our fair city"][/caption] For the incoming San Antonio CM who wants to know more about the Alamo City, I hope this series of posts is illuminating. I'd like to start by offering a warm welcome as San Antonians are unfailingly polite, for the most part.  This first post will explain some of the urban geography from a lay citizen's perspective.  So, please don't cite this in an academic journal or news story as authoritative research.  I mean, look at this map.  Clearly this is not the painstaking MS Paint masterpiece it ought to be, but this will at least give a rough guide to what's what around here. First off, San Antonio is similar to many other metro areas in that we can characterize parts of town using cardinal directions.  I will glibly categorize them as follows: North Side - Suburban neighborhoods encompassing most of what is north of Loop 410 (inner loop).  The "nice" part of town.  You will find my alma mater UTSA on the far North Side, as well as the Medical Center around I-10 on the Northwest side. West Side - The best side!  This is the neighborhood where I teach.  Some of San Antonio ISD -- where most SA CM's teach -- creeps into the west side (i.e. Burbank and Lanier HS), but as you go further west from downtown, you will find my school in Edgewood ISD.  There are two private universities in the area -- St. Mary's Univerity and Our Lady of the Lake University.  UTSA's downtown campus is on the near West Side.  Demographically, you will find the West and South Side are overwhlemingly Latino majorities (my school is about 98% Latino). East Side - Good soul food and the AT&T Center, home of God's team, the San Antonio Spurs.  Where some of our CMs teach here (i.e. Sam Houston HS).  The East Side is one of the few parts of town with a significant African-American population. South Side - Some of SAISD falls into this category, too (i.e. Highlands HS). There are other significant parts of town that fall out of purview of these areas, but I will highlight just one more since many of our CM's live and work in: Midtown - Home to the old "streetcar suburbs" of San Antonio (back when we HAD streetcars).  Many of our placement schools are in this part of town just north of downtown and inside loop 410.  Here, you will also find Trinity University where you will likely be for Induction, as well as the University of the Incarnate Word.  It's a fairly diverse area with old money down the block from working class neighborhoods.  It's also where you can find the best nieves and raspas in town. In future posts, I'll pick out a few elements that I think are unique to San Antonio or at least noteworthy.  In the meantime, have fun with my map.


Recommendation Letter

My WestPoint’s tenacity is striking. As an upper-level math teacher, I encounter many students who need to be very persevering in order to succeed. Out of all the students I’ve taught, however, WestPoint is absolutely the most diligent, methodical, and productive. She powers through new or difficult concepts with a straightforward patience that tells any observer that she’s no stranger to working through obstacles. She has a vision of her own success, a very clear knowledge of where she’s going and why, that makes her utterly invincible in the classroom. I’ve known her for a year and a half, as a sponsor of the Robotics team and as an AP calculus teacher. Throughout, she has been an exceptional example of clear-headedness, disciplined thought, and uncompromising pursuit of her goals. She deserves every inch of what she reaches for.


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