updates for 02.24.2012
Whew. I have a to-do list like a bucket with a leak in it, and a classroom like a game of whack-a-mole. I'm a grad student suddenly immersed in a hyper-speed introduction to things like ANOVA, MANCOVA, 42 U.P.C Section 1983 and San Antonio v. Rodriguez. I'm presenting research proposals to my classmates and and Positive Behavior Interventions & Support to my colleagues on the same day. I'm applying for one TFA position just as I'm getting accepted into another, and while I try and unravel how TFA Timesheets work, I'm quickly getting a taste of what it's going to feel like to lead professional development for corps members (read: tough crowd). I'm on a committee to make Teach Beyond 2 the cool thing to do, and on another one to put together a gigantic city-wide health festival/fun-run. Best of all, I'm piecing people and skills and ideas together to craft an event on my own, which I'm remembering is what I really do best. My College Info Night is going to be BOMB, not because I didn't procrastinate its preparation, but because I'm BOMB at turning event ideas into to-do lists full of little tasks. I'm bringing successful alumni into my classroom and finally getting back on the networking bus. I'm poking fun at my principal as we pass in the hall. I'm winning a teacher dance-off tomorrow. I'm doing too much and I'm loving it. I'm overwhelmed and "have a lot on my plate" and it's energizing, not exhausting. I'm really trying not to view this as a "high" from which I'll eventually fall. I feel more healthy than I have felt in two years, and it'd be really nice if this could be the Me that emerges.
Weekly update here. You know, I think three weeks after the last one. I'm bad at this game. I'll start with some stories that I never, ever want to lose and so I hope I read this site when I'm a million and one. First off, a kid that I have a lot of trouble with. I recently informed him that the Spanish equivalent of his name is "Alejandro." He then crossed out his name on his exit ticket and wrote "Alahonderow" and sang Lady Gaga to himself for the remainder of the period. I found this to be slightly endearing/entertaining/wonderful. Then there's a pair of kids that I supervise during recess (which was a LOT of fun today, I love recess usually). As they were heading out, someone goes, "I like your jacket" to my scholarly friend N. K says "his African American jacket?" I take a look at N to realize he's wearing a typical letterman's jacket (in miniature since he's in first grade). I still don't understand that but I thought it was hilarious. On a more serious note, I finished up another round of vocabulary lessons today and so our exit ticket also counted as their weekly quiz. I'm grading them tonight. In one class many finished early and I asked them to write a note to me about whatever they liked (shout out to their gen ed teachers -- at the beginning of the year they were complaining that they don't get to draw pictures, and now they accept the fact that they are writing without complaint). One student wrote the following letter to me -- Dear Ms. Domine you rock. I wish you are my teacher for ever. But I know one day you will have to leave and go to another school. But when you leave you will allways stay in my heart for ever and ever. I will always love you! This child, one of my students, loves me desperately. And there is no doubt in her mind that I will abandon her. Consider that for a second. I know that I complain a lot, and vocally. I think there are many things lacking in this process that I am going through so that I ultimately will not become the excellent teacher I want to be as quickly as I want to be an excellent teacher. Content knowledge is not a problem for me and in that way I am glad I can be of service to my kids in a meaningful way. But I need a reminder like this every once in a while, not from another adult doing this work or supervising me as I do this work, but from a child who has literally no idea of the impact of her words. My kids have no idea how much I love them, and that truly boggles my mind. J will never know that this note made me cry. Another student, Z, is going through a tough time and I think about him often. He'll never know that I wish I could just take him home with me, fix everything in the world for him, and make sure he's got all the tools he needs to succeed that he doesn't have access to right now. The only thing I can do is think of him often, make sure he knows I'm seeing him try to be a better student (lots of behavior issues), and be there for him. Oh, and teach excellent Spanish. We're working on that. I cautiously say that I believe my curriculum and instruction to be getting stronger. I'm finding a swing of things that makes me believe students are learning -- better exit ticket results, more and more meaningful participation, etc. I have a LONG way to go. But I am optimistic. So I sign off tonight with a thought or two for my kids. That my life is nothing compared to the 120 that I am helping to grow. I hope I get better at it so they can get stronger and wiser in ways I can't even imagine :) --Heike
One of the weirdest parts of teaching sixth grade is constantly observing- and sometimes partially reliving- the awkwardness of the middle school years. The gender-divided, cooties-concerned 11-year-olds who entered my classroom in September are no more. I still have kids who span the age range of 11-13 (and one new guy who might be 14 or 15, we're not entirely sure), but their outlook on the opposite sex has drastically changed. I think I'm going to blame the recent nosedive in behavior on this trend. My TFA training tells me that the constant high-pitched giggling, note-passing and ENDLESS chatter about who likes whom is somehow my fault as a teacher. (I'm obviously not setting up clear expectations for romantic interactions. Perhaps I should teach a mini-lesson on pre-teen dating? I can just picture the exit slip now). The realist in me says I should just focus on the positives: my main behavior problems are now chatter and inattention, instead of punching and desk-throwing. My pessimistic side says I should watch my back, because I teach students from an extremely conservative culture and their parents would most likely be livid if they knew about the flirting games that go on in the cafeteria, hallways and, as much as I try to stop it, furtively in the classroom. I've already made the threat that I would read any confiscated notes out loud, though I'm not sure if I ever intended to actually follow through on that. I grabbed a note that was circulating across the room today, and a few kids looked so mortified that I gave in to the temptation to glance at it. The basic gist: "If you're going to break up with him, who do you want to go out with instead?" "IDK who do you think I should" (list of boys' names) etc., etc. I couldn't help but crack up laughing in front of the class. I then composed myself and carefully placed the note in the basket on my desk, glaring at the class and trying to subconsciously imply that seriously bad things would happen to the note writers later. About 30 minutes later, as I opened the door to talk to a student in the hallway, the note mysteriously disappeared. Cue a lecture about taking things from my desk, another 30 minutes pass and I notice that the note has been returned to the basket, ripped into tiny little pieces. My students' other new obsession is the game MASH. Why, why WHY is this game so endlessly entertaining to middle schoolers?! I have taken away so many MASH papers this week. The student I was tutoring after school today, who does not speak, had MASH notes written on her fingers in marker. I called out a few boys for playing it during science the other day, mentioning that I didn't realize boys cared so much about their future houses and number of children. I know them well enough that I knew they could take the joke, even as the other kids screamed "OOHH, Ms. S. burned you!" and S., mouth agape, asked, "Ms. S, how do YOU know about MASH?!" One benefit of the recent romance craze? I have been blown away by several recent displays of social skills. In the hallway today: I., yelling at a 7th grade girl in his typical teasing tone: "Hey, what the heck is wrong with your voice?" 7th grade girl: "Shut up! I'm just really sick." I., sheepishly and in a completely sincere tone: "Oh. Well, I hope you feel better." Me, standing at my classroom door, observing this whole interaction: Speechless.
I almost cried during recess. My panel of four female student judges were in my room for talent show auditions. Our first time slot didn't show because he was in In School Suspension (he called me while I was driving to the airport after school to see if he can still audition, -- adorable -- but that's another story). I sat, hurried, flustered, hoping recess would still be worthwhile. Three of my homeroom girls came in, audition #2. I prepped them, I'm going to record you, but don't get nervous, I won't show anyone. Are you dancing, singing...? They were singing. A capella. Two other girls have already done this, so I got my phone-as-video-camera ready and told them they had five minutes. Little, if any, other events in my classroom have grounded me in humility as much as this event. My girls are eleven, going on twelve. They sing in church and once a week for 10 minutes (if they're not in band) in music class. I don't know how much training they have in performance, how often they practice together without being old enough to drive. I get so caught in teaching, so caught in expectations, caught in pressing them into little boxes, one for each child, always with four perfect corners they need to fit, the perfect shape I have in my head-- But these girls, these girls! In a three minute cover of the Nicki Minaj & Rihanna song "Fly", I only held back tears because I felt that would be too ridiculous. Seeing two girls belt out the chorus, the third rapping, all these positive feminist words that I did not expect, not even a little bit-- it was enough. It was throwing me back in my place. The biggest dominating emotion was I do not deserve this. I do not deserve to observe this straight up talent, this incredible complex world that is tiny Dumas, Arkansas. But now thinking of it, it's not that. It's not that I don't deserve this, it's that they don't deserve this. C'mon repeated epiphany, but this town, this school, these students are too insanely full of skill and talent and drive and passion and God-given beauty to not get somewhere. To not be noticed. To not do whatever they want to do and do it well enough to be recognized and put on a pedestal for being amazing. I needed that, and I need it recorded here to come back to, to remember. A blog entry doesn't do anything justice, but it's something. Here's to Sappy McSapperson, but the lyrics that got me follow:
Everybody wanna try to box me in Suffocating every time it locks me in Paint they own pictures, then they crop me in But I will remain where the top begins 'Cause I am not a word, I am not a line I am not a girl that can ever be defined I am not fly, I am levitation I represent an entire generation I can to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise To fly, to fly
Well, it's been a while. More than a while. I'm sorry, I'm terrible at this blog thing. Teach For Us was such a help in my decision to join Teach For America and I wanted to give back, but I'm sort of in this weird limbo state at the moment. I think about TFA and I think about next year, but at the same time I'm trying to enjoy my last semester of college before I'm forced to be a big girl. Plus, this site is incredibly hard to use. Seriously, there's no way this blog could be a bit more user friendly? Speaking of user friendly websites, I've been spending my time away from Teach For Us and a bit more in the Pinterest arena. Oh my goodness, that site is addicting. I mean, people warned me but I didn't get it. Why would an online pin board be that great. Well, I've now spent about 16 hours posting ideas to my "Future Classroom" pin board. It's amazing! For example, there's this lovely poster I'm hoping to re-word and post in my classroom: Or the learning poster I absolutely love: Or the reading poster I want: It's bad guys. I need to stop this Pinterest addiction, but it's so much fun. I just hope my classroom looks just as adorable as my pin board. As for preparing for the teaching adventure to come, don't worry. I'm doing my work. The AEPA scores came back and I passed my first exam. I'm studying for the Praxis on March 10th. I'm reading "Teach Like a Champion" when I'm not busy with readings for class and I'm excited to receive the box full of readings for institute. Mainly though I'm enjoying my final semester as a college student. It seems as though the theme of the advice given to me from TFA Corps Members is to relax while you can. So for now I will be perusing Pinterest. I'll let you know if I find anything too awesome not to share! I promise to write soon. P.S. I'm almost finished with Teach Like a Champion. Any book recommendations in preparation for teaching? I'm looking to learn more on classroom management.
I had dinner with a student and her mom at their house tonight. They thought it was such a treat that I was "working longer hours" to spend time with them. I never would have called it work - I thought it was such a treat that a family had me into their home and shared a meal with me. It's nice to get time to bond with a student. It's nice to get to know a parent. It's nice to get to be a person and just relax with a family. I loved being there. Just when I thought it couldn't get nicer, the daughter went upstairs to find something to show me and the mother started talking to me. She thanked me for coming and for how much I take care of her daughter. Then she told me about how grateful she was that her daughter was at our school. She was overwhelmed by how much her daughter is learning, by how much attention she gets, by the values that permeate our school, by the culture we've created with a very diverse group of kids... she just went on. Her eyes welled with tears and her voice cracked while she talked about how well her daughter is doing this year. It made me really proud of our school. And I'm so touched that a parent would share all of that thankfulness with me. Yet of course, I can't help but think about the Charter Wars as I write this. We spend so much time arguing over policy and general education ideas. We back it up with a lot of analysis of test scores and where they could have been fudged. But if my school is an exception to many of the charter policy stereotypes, and it doesn't even have test scores yet to discuss, can I sit back and just judge it on whether or not we're doing good things for children? Could we ever always judge schools like that? If you can get kids from a broad swath of the city to work together and get a great education, does it matter if you're public, private, or charter? Something to think about.
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