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updates for 12.15.2011

8 new posts today

A Different Heartache

Last year, my heart ached for my students. I learned less about them as people than I did about them as souls, and I positively broke for them. I wept for the way failing hurt them and for how adeptly they had learned to mask it. I ripped myself to shreds over how FUCKING UNFAIR it was that they were so absolutely STUCK here, despite all of my efforts to un-stick them. I grieved their potential and their childhood and their innocence every morning and afternoon. This year, my students remind me of me every day. I want for them, so much. I’m able this year to see how BIG they are inside their little 6’4”, 245 lb high school bodies, and to see the sheer magnitude of where they could go and what they could do. My heart aches for them still—but ravenous, not grieving. I want to stand behind every one of them, under them, pushing them up and forward whether they like it or realize it or not. AAAaaaahhhh, they KILL me! Today I gave them a sample AP test they choked on, saw them absolutely sparkle in our school play, was told by not one not two but THREE of them in one day that mine is the only class in which they struggle/work hard/work at all. I saw my very own Miriam Webster dressed up returning from a scholarship luncheon, looking like a grad student. My WestPoint has a $200,000 scholarship to anywhere she wants (Yes, that’s FIVE zeros). Bookoo is switching from remedial math to pre-AP at semester. My huge, sweet Katrina is our second Army All-American in a row. My Baby has a 95 PERCENT in my class, and I don’t think he’s had As before in his life. I want to clone myself and coach every one of them in every part of their ascent. I’m so painfully aware of how little use I am to them, but I can’t BELIEVE I get to Know these people When. I’m spinning my own wheels trying to figure out my life and my job and how to make all this work, and here they are cartwheeling past me into something electrifying and marvelous. And I’M the one imagining I’m pushing THEM? This is such an intensely exultant dissatisfaction.


How do you spell fired up?

F-U! I know I haven't posted in a long time.  And there are only two days left of school for the year. And I leave the country in 3 days. And I haven't packed. Or finished grading. I know there are a lot of good reasons why this probably isn't the best time for me to be blogging... But sometimes you just gotta rant. I read that "If I were a poor black kid" opinion piece on Forbes a few days ago. I half regret even putting a link to the article for author Gene Marks to keep strumming up more hits (and $) but if you're a CM like me or even just a potential CM and you're looking for something to get you fired up again about what we're doing and why it might be worth a read.  Other than that the only possible value I can see someone getting out of reading that article is that people are talking about it on social media and this way you can decide which tweets and posts to retweet and comment on. Anyways, those of you who know me know I was an English major in undergrad and that grammatical blunders of any sort make me very irritable sometimes to the point of interrupting even my best of friends in the middle of a poignant story to correct their grammar.  It is probably one of the most annoying things about me to others and definitely the most annoying thing about others to me.  I only say this because the first time I read the article I was so put off by so many of his "points" that I didn't even notice that he repeatedly uses the phrase "If I was..." which to me is a grammar disaster similar in magnitude to the Bay of Pigs. About 900 million people on the internet (rough figure) have posted responses deconstructing both the faulty logic and the layers upon layers of privilege in that article, many of whom are much better writers than me and most of whom probably have significantly more time on their hands to address the Forbes article point by point. So to save us all some time you can read their accounts.  There's a one here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/louis-peitzman/if-i-were-a-middle-aged-w_b_1146790.html and a shorter one here: http://www.aviewfromthecave.com/2011/12/how-not-to-write-about-privilege.htmlutm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AViewFromTheCave+%28A+View+From+The+Cave%29&utm_content=Google+Reader but this one is the best and most poignant: http://www.good.is/post/an-ode-to-a-poor-black-kid-i-never-knew-how-forbes-gets-it-wrong/. So instead I'm just going to detail the aspects of the article that make me personally, as a minority woman teaching the precise population Marks is referring to, want to vomit chunks of my own liver (*side note: one of the most frustrating parts of the article is that the audience he is ADDRESSING is very different and likely to actually buy into what he is saying).  I am going to use the term "poor black kid" because that is what was used in the original piece but I hope it will be understood that I am trying to speak much more generally about all of those affected by educational inequity which is not just a race issue and not just a poverty issue and not even a race and poverty issue because race is not discrete and poverty isn't one single factor that occurs in isolation. For one thing, as easy as it would be to label myself a minority woman (as I just did) that wouldn't to justice to the amount of privilege I have had in my life.  To even begin to do that I would have to add that I am a non-black, non-latino, minority and that I am actually "half-white"- whatever that means.  I would also have to add that I am a heterosexual woman, with no visible physical impairments other than short stature, and no intellectual disabilities of the kind that would cause me to be discriminated against.  Perhaps most of all, I should include that I was raised in a two parent home, in which my parents' combined income placed us in roughly the upper 10% of people in a country that is even in a poor economy one of the wealthiest on earth.  And I could even add that that home was on a street in an exceptionally safe and almost comically over-educated zip codes in the country (the % of people with the terminal degree in their field in my home town is comparable to the faculty at some colleges) and I attended a public high school consistently ranked as one of the best nationally. But I was entitled enough to go to a really expensive and also nationally ranked private university, and lucky enough to come into contact with the kinds of professors, peers, and supervisors who challenged be to deconstruct and evaluate my own privilege.  Note that I use lucky to refer to a chance happening of which anyone would have had a more or less equal chance of stumbling into and entitled to refer to an opportunity to which I had disproportionately easy access to. I confront my privilege almost daily in a number of different ways.  Everyday I see the juxtaposition between the education I received and the one that is available to my students.  I have listened to my fellow teachers, who make my same salary but are the primary financial provider for a family of four, talk about how they almost couldn't afford to get their 4 year old son any of the birthday presents he wanted. You can almost never recognize your own privilege without someone pointing it out.  That's the nature of privilege.  It is an advantage so fundamental to your experience that you don't even notice that it gives you an advantage and assume it is just normal. I experienced a poignant example of this today.  There is a Filipina custodian at our school whom I respect immensely because she works tirelessly.  She works 3 jobs and whenever I try to apologize for my kids making a huge mess she always replies, "no mess, no job." (As a point of comparison another custodian pulled me aside and yelled at me my first week of school when one of my kids tracked mud in from the playground because it made so much more work for him).  Anyways, I thought I had her in mind when, on a more experienced teacher's advice, I filled the sand table in my classroom with rice because it is easier to clean up.  For whatever reason, we haven't used the sand table this week, and today when she came in to clean she made a comment thanking me for not using the rice in the sand table anymore, basically stating that it hurt her heart to see food being used essentially as a toy because where she comes from people don't have enough food and even wasting a single grain of rice gets you in trouble.  That I can conceive of using and often do use food products for any reason other than strictly nutritional purposes is an entitlement (albeit one shared by a huge number of people in the world) which hadn't even occurred to me. Coming to terms with my own entitlement has caused me tremendous guilt and anxiety but it has also forced me to grow constantly.   It has also allowed me to let go of a lot of the mindsets (myths) held by many people in positions of power in this country, mindsets that have subtly undermined any efforts in this country towards educational reform. Unfortunately, Marks, who is in a position of power by virtue of the fact that his opinions are a published to the entire online readership of Forbes, has clearly not addressed his entitlement.  At best Marks is naive and misinformed and desperate to generate controversy (read: $) and at worst he is conscious of the implications of his article and deliberately is perpetuating inaccurate and actively harmful beliefs in a desperate attempt to generate controversy (read: $). One thing that upsets me about the article is the suggestion that it is within a poor black kid's locus of control whether or not he is able to attain comparable success to a wealthy white kid.  The article acknowledges that it would be more difficult for a poor black kid, but that acknowledgement is coupled with the delusion that "if only you work hard enough it is possible."  On the surface this statement may seem like harmless optimism (and I would be lying if I didn't admit that I probably have thought and even uttered similar sentiments at some point in my life), but the real danger of such a sentiment is the implication made by it's reversal: if you AREN'T successful it is because YOU didn't work hard enough. From the article: "If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently.   I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city." I teach Kindergarten, which means it is my job to teach my kids the fundamental concepts of print and, oh yeah, I'm supposed to teach them HOW TO READ.  I am not exactly a master at my job yet, but unfortunately, teachers of my caliber and some who are much, much worse are the norm for most poor black kids.  The idea that the onus of making a commitment to learning to read should be placed on a five year old child and furthermore that it is even possible for a child to learn how to read just by making it their "#1 priority" is absolutely ridiculous. Also Marks seems totally unaware of Maslow's heirarchy- which basically states that unless your basic human needs are met, you don't exert mental energy trying to solve higher level problems. Basically if you don't have food, shelter, and physical safety, you are not going to be concerned with self actualization. We are biologically wired so that learning how to read could never be a #1 priority so long as access to food and safety are in question. In other words it is physically impossible for a child living in poverty to make education their number one priority. I don't really have a conclusion to my rant and I could probably continue to rant for at least 4-5 more paragraphs but I have to go figure out how to actually teach 22 5 year old's how to read... which is a lot harder than writing about it. (Okay that was a bit of a white lie to make a statement... this specific instance I'm actually leaving to bake cookies for my kids for the holidays.  But IN GENERAL these days I am trying to help end educational inequity in a very real way- not just by posting an indulgent, inaccurate, and inflammatory article on Forbes. com.  For those of you considering TFA... know that it feels really good to be able to say that and it will feel even better when I have the results to back it.)


Stories told from Finals Week.....a very different week

Yet again, I haven't posted in a very long time. I apologize, kind of. I don't post every day because by the end of some days - simply existing seems to be a gift from above and I go to sleep and get up and do it again. Many times things happen and I think I should blog, but I forget (absent-minded professor?). Nonetheless, I have survived the first semester. Since I teach high school, we get the whole week for exams. Here is my week, thus far. I write about just this week because I think it accurately symbolizes my experience as a teacher thus far: Monday - I took my two students from study hall. One had an exemption card and didn't have to take my test (to reward students for last year's state test scores). The other one I have been working with A LOT. In the last 12 or so weeks, we have worked to raise his grade from a C to an A. We studied for the exam for the entire period, with pretty much no break. The student got frustrated with what he didn't know, but I taught him some tricks and he (after laughing that they were stupid) used them. His exam was at 1:50 that afternoon. I went through the day, my students were doing a review guide and I called them over one by one to tell them that they needed to make on the exam to pass my class. Here are three of the highlights: 1. A student who was failing, handed in some late work and got his grade up to a 67, D, after I called his mom and told him that he would fail without the work. I told him he NEEDED to study and make a good grade or he would fail for the semester. 2. A student bordering on an A/B. If she made an A on the exam, she'd get an A. If she made a B, she'd get a B. She was fired up that she WAS going to get an A. 3. A student who would have to get below a 75 C on the exam to NOT get an A. He said he wasn't going to study. Then the 7th period exam came. My student from morning tutoring took his test, and took his time. I graded his test before he left the room, he made a 93%. He jumped out of his chair with excitement. I told him I'd call his mom and let him know if he wanted me too - he said "YEAH!!" So, I called her around 5:30 and said I just wanted to call and brag on her son - she said he couldn't keep the secret and had already told her and she couldn't thank me enough for all I do for him. She then proceeded to tell me that she had been afraid about her son going to high school, but not that he has me as his teacher she knows her son is in good hands. Then (this is when I remembered why I moved to Southern Arkansas), she said: "Before this year, he lacked focus and drive - but he really likes you and you have changed his life. You've put him on a different track just by caring and working with him. I can't thank you enough." I got off the phone and tears rolled down my face. It's moments like that that in fact make this job entirely worth the pain and hardship. Tuesday - My Tuesday exam included students 1 and 2 above. Student 1's grade: 87 B, student 2's grade: 93 A. They both passed. Student 1 got a C for the semester (far better than the F he was on track for) and student 2 made her A. Student 1 asked me after if I was proud of him: VERY. He made me remember that the more time I take to invest my students in my class and in me, the payoff will be better for both of us. He told me he studied for hours the night before, and I believe him 100%. I couldn't be more proud. I called his mom at night and she thanked me for pushing her son academically and not giving up on him like other teachers had. I told her I'd never give up on him and I look forward to another great semester. She just chuckled and we said bye. I think she chuckled because we talked A LOT this semester, and it paid off. A great semester it was. and finally, Wednesday Today, I had two exams. Here are my two stories from today: 1. My morning exam is a class that I really struggle to manage. They are just loud and a bit of work. Well, needless to say I went into the exam to ensure there would NOT be problems today. I warned them if they talked I would take their test and they would get a 0 the same as the SAT/ACT. Well, one girl talked. I went to her and warned her if she continued to talk I'd take her test. She talked again, I took her test. The test ended, I called her mom. Her mom was very understanding and I explained the situation. Her mom was embarrassed. Her daughter still passes my class, but with a C instead of an A. 2. My 4th period exam. This is a VERY fun class of mine. Great personalities and we have fun learning together. Well, student 3 from above is in this class. Now, I must say I have pestered him EVERY day since Monday to tell him to study, etc. He joked that he could fail and still get an A (and he could). He turned in his test second to last and jokingly said: I made at least a 78, I bet. Well, I wanted to challenge that bet since he told me he didn't study. I graded his test on the spot. He got a 99%. I called him up and showed him. I said: "you studied didn't you" and he said to me: "after all the times you told me, I didn't want to let you down." He got the 2nd highest grade in the class. I am so proud of him. Actually, I'm so proud of all the students mentioned above, and so many more. This week, my students have proven to me that they really do want me to come back in January. They studied and worked their butts off, and it showed. Class averages on the exam have been 86-89% on a test that is not easy, at all. I've spent a lot of time calling parents and bragging on students - I'm too proud of them not to share it with their parents. And one last story: a not good one. I have/had one student who I put A LOT of energy into. This kid is GREAT, I think. He has a fun personality and he is SUPER intelligent. I found out at the start of the year he spent last year at alternative education. But, I had been working with him to turn him around and get him on track and for a while we had been doing well. But, lately he'd been distant and less talkative. I just assumed it was the holidays. Well, the day ends today and I get a message that the student is outside getting searched by the police. I immediately walk to the other end of the building to see what is going on. Just as I get there, student is arrested. Arrested and gone. He will take his exams tomorrow and then will either go back to alternative education or be expelled, but his time at our school is over......I really just can't react to this situation. I'm FURIOUS that the student didn't reach out, and at the same time I'm so sad for his situation that he resorts to illegal activity to make himself feel better. I just hope something can work out that his life goes on (honestly, I'd advocating for military school). I end with that story; this is my week summary. Very high success, and yet the reality of the world that we live is enough to strike a blow to any high flying moment.


2 weeks of not being Mi' Ball

2nd 9 weeks testing is over.  My kids have actually learned something in the past 9 weeks, and it amazes me.  My students never cease to amaze me in the things that we are able to teach them.  This past 9 weeks we learned about greater than and less than with the signs that they will use for the rest of their lives, and we learned addition up to 100 without regrouping, and we gave one heck of a shot at adding with regrouping -- not as great as the rest.  We are now subtracting and they basically just laugh and say "Mi' Ball, this be too easy for us, when is it going to be hard?"  ARE YOU KIDDING?  This is amazing!  I am so excited about the next semester. One of my kids has already made his 1.67 reading goal and I have 3 that are on the edge of making this goal.  In no way am I an amazing teacher that has performed some sort of miracle in the first 18 weeks of school, it just goes to show how vital sight words are and how important it is for my kids to know them.  My biggest excitement in the past 9 weeks is the little girl in my class that now has hope. She CAN and IS learning and now knows 20/26 letter sounds and has more confidence.  The best way to describe it is that a light bulb has turned on and is on a dimming switch, each day the light is getting a bit brighter slowly but steadily.  Last week she learned how to read a book called "Ride On" and it has simple sentences like "I ride on a plane"  "I ride on a bike"  and she was able to read (memorize) the book and she read it to EVERY class in the WHOLE school and was so proud of herself -- I will take anything right now to boost her little ego! One of the things that I just can not get over is the fact that it is 65 degrees today and our Christmas program is tomorrow.  Growing up in Iowa Christmas has always meant cold, snow, ice -- not this year, or at least not until I get back home in 1.5 days!  I am so unbelievably excited that I am going home so soon!  I have not been home since June when I moved to the Delta (minus the 2 days that I went back to Iowa -- not home -- for a family reunion)  and can't wait to get back.  I am so excited to see friends and family that I have not seen in months.  The thing that I am quite possibly the most excited about is going back to Aurora and seeing my college friends and feeling some normalcy in my life.  This is now my normal, but I have not introduced myself as "Hi, I'm Lydia" in so long and I just need that again in my life.  It also is going to be difficult to see children for 2 weeks without wanting to correct their behavior or grammar, lets be honest though -- I will always correct their grammar :) I also think that I may actually be figuring this out.  Since the beginning of November I have been able to make my lesson plans and copies BEFORE school got out on Friday so that during the weekend I only had to create stuff for centers, which has been so nice.  Since Thanksgiving I have felt this weight lifted off of my shoulders and just feel less rushed and anxious which has been welcomed also.  This past week I have felt more like myself in my classroom too.  I have been goofy, crazy, signing randomly and so much happier than I have been in the past month and a half or so and I think that it is because I am finally settling into this life.  I really am enjoying my time in the Delta as crazy as some things can be here and it is starting to be home. Until next time here is to hoping for a wonderful time at home, good friends, great time with family and time to relax. New kid quotes: This week Santa came to school and took pictures with our kids.. and this is how it went as we walked into the hall where Santa was.. Student 1: "That ain't no Santa Claus.. that just be coach dressed up like he Santa!" Me: "No way, that is Santa, maybe him and coach just happen to look alike." Student 2: "Mi' Ball I don't know who you think yours foolin, but that is coach!" Me: "And why do you think that?" Student 2: "Mi' Ball we all know that Santa be white like you!!" I then tried to tell them that Santa is whatever color they are.  Santa is white when he comes to my house, black when he goes to theirs, purple when he goes to Barneys and blue when he goes to deliver presents to the Smurffs.. they didn't buy any of it. Student: "Mi' Ball, I really just want to know why you lie about having kids!"  -- they just don't understand that I have zero kids Student:  "Mi' Ball what that is all over your arm?" Me: "What are you talking about?" Student: "Those dots you be having." Me: "Oh, my freckles?" Student: "Yeah, those, do they wash off in the shower?" Me: "Nope, I have them all the time?" Student: "Thats how God made you?" Me: "Yup!" Student: "Good, because I like that he made you with green eyes too!"


Who knew?

Who knew that the schools closing the achievement gap the fastest are on military bases? My brother is in the Marines, so my dad is all gung ho with the military facts. He found this article the other day and sent it to me. It's a really great read.


Learning the ropes...or just the fine print

So I learned that as a secondary math teacher, I'm most likely going to be placed in a charter or choice school.  Interesting.  While I'm hoping this will be a more supportive environment for a new teacher, and I know of many outstanding charter schools, part of me feels dis-loyal to the majority of students that are taught at district public schools.  However, for some reason, working at a charter/choice is more comforting than the terrifying abyss that I imagine is Milwaukee Public Schools.  Of course, that's also just my imagination. I also learned that I will be attending Marquette University and obtaining my M.Ed. (it is so similar to what is required for certification, not taking the extra two classes seems like a waste).  However, this is an unexpected expense...to the tune of several thousand dollars per year.  I've applied for a STEM fellowship that will finance graduate school, but its super prestigious.  Oh well.  4 years of undergrad, no loans, and I'll have to take them out now... :/  Could be worse.  What I'm more worried about is the time commitment of classes and TFA professional development on top of trying to be a good first-year teacher.  I wasn't planning on having a social life, but I do really like 7 hours of sleep... On the bright side, finals week is almost over!  Home for two weeks, traveling to Nicaragua for two weeks (YAY!) then one semester until TFA time.  Whew! Merry almost Christmas!


Be surprised

Dear friends, It's hard to explain how it is I ended up all the way up here in the Appalachian Mountains. This is probably a universal sentiment among most CMs, but I still feel like an anomaly. First of all, what am I doing so far inland? I've moved around quite a bit, but I've always been able to see an ocean out of the windows of my house. ALWAYS. Now I am landlocked surrounded by mountains. I thought that they would make me feel trapped, but I think they make me feel more free. They remind me of how small I am, and how amazing and awful the world is. It reminds me that this part of my life is not really about me. And this blog could be about me, but it won't be. It's about my kids. The kids are amazing. They are honest. They are brave. They are loving. They are trusting. They are hardworking. If there is anything I want the world to know about, it's my kids. I used to have a really negative attitude about people, and how all people were selfish and will always disappoint you. My kids proved to me that's not true. People surprise you every day.


Dignitas Personae

Sometimes it is easy to forget why I took this job.  I come home from work, completely drained, but feel like all the energy I put into my day was for nothing - the students still don't understand the objectives, they still are pushing against authority, and then, to top it off, students I had at the beginning of the year are starting to come back. The dialogue of my days seems to always be some version of this now: "Hands behind your back"  "Get back in the classroom" "Watch your language"  "Do the problems I assigned, and stay in your desk!" "Step outside the classroom so we can have a conversation"....and on and on and on.... Last Thursday, I went to church for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  While I was waiting for Mass to begin, I read some brief reflections for Advent, and the theme over and over again was service to others.  Suddenly I felt a nagging inside that I had started to forget that I moved halfway across the country to serve others...and then I came across the phrase "the dignity of human life". Dignitas Personae. I took this phrase for my url because of this document by Pope Benedict XVI.  It is a phrase that fairly well summarizes the classes I took my last year at UVA.  Again and again the theme seemed to be recognizing the dignity of the person, the "I and Thou" in others.  I wanted to help bring the "I-You" relationship of Buber and Karol Wojtyla into the classroom.  At the beginning of the year, it seemed possible, but after Thanksgiving break, I just kept hitting a wall - my patience was running thin, and I didn't even think about my original purpose. After reading numerous reflections on Thursday, I reflected once more on my classroom, and thought again of the "dialogue" of my classroom.  It's not a dialogue really, more of a series of commands and criticisms.  I am not seeking the "Thou" in the student when I continuously have to tell them to tuck in their shirts, get in a straight line, to stop whistling, to stop rapping during class, to focus on the work.  In those moments, I seek peace and order, but I think only of my own "I".  The "I-You" relationship is non-existant. Of course, the fact of the matter is I teach at an alternative school, and discipline is part of my job.  My students need to learn social skills, they need to learn discipline, and they need to learn to follow the instructions of those in authority.  The struggle is, how do I teach them that while maintaining a relationship that shows (in a way the students can understand) the respect due to all because of the inherent dignity of the human person?


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