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updates for 03.20.2012

7 new posts today

Uncle Sam Needs YOU

Today we talked about correlation vs. causation. The goal was to differentiate between different types of relationships, to see past mere relatedness and get to whether causal statements are grounded or not. Very cool. One of the examples we looked at was the fact that in most hospitals, there is a positive relationship between the number of doctors on duty and the number of patient deaths. In exploring this example with my Privately Opinionated student, I mentioned that more surgeries usually means more doctors, and also more deaths. Times when more surgeries are scheduled (i.e. daytime) are likely to see both more doctors and more deaths, but this doesn’t necessarily mean one is causing the other. He asked, “so are you saying you’re better off going to the doctor in the night?” But then. The next example was the association between higher spending on education and lower SAT scores as a nation. First question? “What do they mean, spending on education?” (huh, I guess the concept of a country spending money isn’t really an automatic one). I prodded him to think about independent and dependent variables. As he understood how this related the example to association vs. causal relationships, though, his brow began to furrow. I watched as he thought, sucking in air slowly through is teeth and lowering his head to his fist. “So, you mean… the scores are going down, and then they spend money… but they’re spending money on things that aren’t working… oh, man. Ohhhh mannnnn.” My PO was visibly distressed by our nation’s situation. It was really a sight to see. I couldn’t help but don a little cynical smile, even as I realized the weight of his realization. I leave my signature mark as a novice teacher on almost every interaction with my kids. This time, it was my pat on the shoulder and my “welcome to the world of US Education” quip— instead of a very serious look and a “this is exactly why our country needs you to go get a degree and then tell them what works and what doesn’t.”


A Day in the Life

There is no typical day in the life of a teacher. I still find time to work until I pass out from exhaustion around 2 am some evenings (mornings?). Tomorrow I have professional development and right now I don't want to do anything so here is a sometimes-typical day. 5:30am-- Alarm goes off 6:02am-- Actually get up (I'm strangely getting better and better at ignoring the snooze button as the year progresses.) 6:45am-- Leave my house 15 minutes later than planned 7:30am-- Arrive at school 7:35-7:45am-- Un-jam copier and kill a small tree for the day (science fair handouts!) 7:45-8:00am-- Greet students and attend my school's morning assembly 1st Period: 7th Grade Science: Students spend most of the period reviewing for their upcoming test in small groups 2nd Period: 7th Grade Science 3rd Period: 8th Grade Science: Students reflect on their unit test/ track their mastery/ work on the science fair Lunch: I go to the lunch room to track down students who came late to school and missed my 1st or 2nd period class. I pass out their review packet so they have it to study during their day off tomorrow. I then quickly go off campus to get some fresh air and some food. No detention or tutoring today. 4th Period: 8th Grade Science 5th Period: 9th Grade Biology: Students draw conclusions from a natural selection introduction lab from Friday. We debrief as a class. 6th Period: 9th Grade Biology 7th Period: Planning-- I am supposed to meet with my Principal, but something came up. I print "Mastery Madness" signs for my 8th graders... this is the best test we have had in a while... and both classes scored about the same so I can praise both groups. (Yes, I know Mastery Madness is corny... but my March Madness bracket is busted so this is more exciting.) I stop by the gym to show the basketball coach the high scores. He's glad I'm in there with positive news rather than behavioral commentary. 4:30-- Dismissal: I send my students off, reminding them to study and work on science fair projects tomorrow while they don't have school! 4:50PM-- I call my mother to check-in as I drive to the TFA office. I park in Greektown and walk to the TFA office. It is free parking with easy access to the highway for my drive home. The walk to the office is only about 10 minutes, and I enjoy the walk through Downtown Detroit when it is nice outside so I decide to go here rather than the closer street parking. 5:45PM-7:45PM-- Cohort Session. I work together with fellow CMs as we come up with solutions for our classrooms between feeling exhausted and sharing survival stories from our week. Everyone is struggling in one way or another-- science fair madness, not enough time in the day/ school year, administration with strict/ ever-changing requirements. 8:00PM-- Get dinner at Five Guys on my walk back to my car. I decide to eat there as I read over the biology labs. 8:30-9:15PM-- Drive home. 45 minutes of highway miles. There is nothing good on the radio. Pop in a rap CD and regret not getting Sirius radio when I thought of it last.  Call the little sister in college. 9:15-9:45PM-- Talk with my sister and avoid doing any work. 9:45-present-- Talk with the husband, surf the Internet, yawn, avoid doing work since I can tonight though I normally would stay up late to work. Thrilling, I know. Two more late-night meetings this week. Awesome.



3/19/12 The week following a week off is never all that exciting.   Sunday was chill. It really is the essay grading that tends to consume and stress out my Sundays. Since I had distributed over the days before, along with my lesson planning, I was able to essentially take care of business by 5 p.m., allowing for a pleasant drive & dinner with friends. I still couldn't fall asleep until super late though.   Today was chill. The kids were all in good moods and a little subdued, as I'm sure they had stayed up too late as well.   Memorable moments: 1) I notice during 1st period that someone has smudged my board announcements. I lightly chastise the class, reminding them that it's unnecessary. one of the trouble students, who genuinely tries and is helpful, but sometimes just doesn't care to follow the rules, pipes up in a sincerely apologetic tone, "I'm sorry miss, I just hadn't gotten to do it in a week." Class bursts into laughter, and I shake my head, suppressing the smile.   2) After school tutoring. Mildly chaotic, with students working on two different types of quizzes and two different types of essays. Quiz-takers didn't really improve (Ricardo still has yet to pass one), and I can't blame them. It has more to do with their ability, or lack thereof, to read. They get lost in the longer questions. Way more ELL drama this year. We briefly review, and then they quiz. bleh. I do think I got through to some chicos about their essays. Gah, I will be so much better at teaching expo essays next year. Anyways, two chicos are working/causing mayhem. I repeatedly threaten to kick one out, but I repeatedly don't. Once people begin leaving as they're finishing, these two calm down and actually get to work. Paul finishes, and as I exclaim about his beautiful essay, which is truly wonderful for him, he tries to hide his grin. Makes my heart happy :) I just wish he would try that hard every day!! Josh, on the other hand, finally settles down, after we have *another* conversation about his rude comments to classmates (I am seriously contemplating reporting him as a bully....he is so rude sometimes) and I sit with him to really flesh out his essay. If I prompt him, with something such as, "Ok, you're using a transition, what do you need?"  OH, A COMMA! He gets it. He just goes through everything too quickly to catch it. I begin preparing tmrw's lesson while he working, which prompts his question about whether or not I have homework. This launches a discussion about everything being a teacher entails, to which he replies, "But miss, you don't have to do homework AND CHORES." Me: Really Josh? Who do you think does my chores then? Josh: Your children. Me: I don't have children. Josh: Oh. Well. I have to do a lot of chores. Like, a lot. Me: Like what? Josh: Feed my dog and clean up my stuff. and do my homework. Me: Ask your mom tonight who has to do more chores, you or her. Josh: Miss, but, you don't get it. I have a lot to do. This digresses into a conversation about his dogs, a conversation about the great pyreneses (sp?) I used to have, and general happy conversations circling back around to me telling him he *needs* to write about about puppies somewhere in his essay b/c he could talk about those dogs all day long!   These conversations fuel my fire to keep working for these kids.   Speaking of continuing work, it's amazing the difference one year can do. This time last year, I was in full-fledged, no sleep, overworked, prayer mode. This year, I'm still a little nervous, but I know that I have done everything I can, I know that I've taught my students a lot, and I'm confident they can do this. I have also come to believe that while I will continue to fight really hard for 100% of my students, there are some who are going to struggle because of their lack of resources. For example, Blake, who has a LOT of different issues going on, would be receiving medical and psychological attention if his family had more access to resources. They don't, and I certainly can't cure everything he has, so he will continue to struggle. It's not fair, but I am calm in the fact that I have given this student all the resources and help I can. This fact again hit me tonight. Over spring break, I had assigned the students to research potential summer opportunities. Students from affluent backgrounds who can attend summer programs can increase their academic levels over the summer; students who partake in no programs can regress, widening the achievement gap. They came back with camps ranging from the local Boys & Girls Club to thousands of dollars of academia at UCLA and Stanford. I'm not sure what I was expecting. Actually, that's a lie, in my heart I had been hoping that I could help them all get into summer camps. But based on their efforts + mine to find summer opportunities, it just is hard. Which, duh. This all goes back to the achievement gap being linked to financial opportunity. If there was an easy solution, I wouldn't be needed. It's just, even many opportunities in our area are out of my student's price ranges. We'll still set reading goals, etc, but they're also missing out on experiences to interact and learn from other peers. It's just.      


My "kiddos"

One of my favorite things about TFA is the various background stories, here is part of mine.... It turns out I really freak people out when I call the kids that I watch for my job my "kiddos." For 10 months now I have been a babysitter, nanny whatever you want to call if for 9 different kids.  I don't watch them all at the same time - I might go insane if I did that but there are 9 kids that have now become my "kiddos." Elayna, her brother Mason and friend Max were the first three and last summer the four of us did everything together. In October Max got a little sister Maddie and since mom was home with her, I watch the two of them every few weeks when mama needs a break. (They were my new years dates and let me tell you if that day was how my 2012 is going to be, I am going to have an adventurous year!) In Septemper I met Braylon and his mom who was expecting a daughter, Grace, in November. While I don't see them as often they have recently become my Wednesday night dates and we have some of the best pajama parties! In January I started watching on a regular basis during the week Lily, Ellie and Rye. The Next door neighbors to my summer buds Elayna and Mason I already new them but spending the last few months with them is where I really got to know these three amazing kids. My Facebook is full of albums of my "kiddos" and my twitter frequently pops of pictures of the kids doing their various funny things I try to capture  in a photograph. I have been asked by friends from high school, even college if they are my kids. They are in fact not my kids but they will forever be my "kiddos." Elayna who just turned eight is so confident and I love to see her dive into her various activities with all her heart. She is going to be a strong leader someday I know it! Mason became my little nugget man and best friend after we have spent the most days together. He has got the best personality and when he lays his not yet one year old head on my shoulder my heart melts. Maxer who is two is a firecracker who thinks he is a super hero and I hope he never changes that. I am thrilled everytime I get to see him because he makes my day! Maddie is still so tiny and a cuddle bug, she loves to be held all the time! Braylon is one of the most gracious two year olds I have ever known. I already know he is going to be such a great person because of how much he loves. We have the best pajama parties! Grace is one of the best babies I have ever met, she is so peaceful and adorable. Lily is the strongest eight year old. She is a celiac diabetic who once wrote she "wishes she could be like all the other kids." Beyond being strong from that Lily is incredibly smart and I admire her in many ways. Ellie makes me smile so much my face starts to hurt, the five year old runs off the bus to hug me and "squeeze the stuffing out of me." She is so excited about everything she does and her imagination is amazing to see. Rye is one sweet three year old. As we play games, read books or are watching a movie he will just lean over and kiss your arm. It's so sweet and sincere. When I leave for Induction I will have been with these kids for a year. When I took the job I didn't think about how hard it would be to leave. Ellie keeps asking if I can just stay here and teach first grade- becuase that's where she will be! I can't wait to start teaching and get to know my students, but I sure will miss my "kiddos!"  


First...Class!? ("You Can Pay For School But You Can’t Buy Class")

It’s officially that time of year when flowers are starting to bloom and state test review is kicking into high gear. Coming off of Spring Break, I learned a lot about the players in the education reform debate as I travelled to New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio. I would love to expand upon the entrepreneurial spirit I witnessed in NOLA, but that will have to wait. While I should be lesson planning and grading, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the continuing dialogue I blogged about in my previous post: “Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m TFA” As a big picture thinker, I enjoying engaging with people who have different perspectives about education reform. Currently, my browser keeps crashing under the combined weight of all the tabs I have in my reading queue. An intriguing debate I’ve followed is the back and forth between Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America, and Diane Ravitch, a prominent historian and prolific writer on education reform. Read their perspectives here: Ravitch: “How and How Not To Improve SchoolsKopp Rebuttal: “In Defense of Optimism in EducationRavitch Rebuttal: “In Defense of Facing Reality” Gary Rubinstein provides insightful commentary on the Kopp piece, but I will pick out one thing she wrote: ”Indeed, we yearn for a more collaborative effort and a more open public discussion about how to ensure that the children growing up facing the immense challenges of poverty gain the opportunities they deserve.” Honestly, I enjoyed Wendy’s piece as I feel it is the most straightforward portrayal of TFA’s dual-pronged mission I’ve read so far. TFA gets hit from both sides often and is criticized for being about the long-term while at the same time being critiqued for emphasizing the value of classroom teachers’ impact on achievement. Why is that? Diane Ravitch once famously switched her views and I think Wendy makes a case for her doing the same when she states that: Ending educational inequality is going to require systemic change and a long-term, sustained effort.”  Really though, this is not a shift in her vision, but rather a shift on what TFA emphasizes within its mission. As a corps member who will definitely leave the classroom (perhaps temporarily) within the next 0-3 years, I don’t think this is a problem at face value. I personally don’t hate my teachers nor do I think my colleagues are ignorant; I simply want to use my comparative advantage and skill set to support them and help them do their job in the greater context because doing so ultimately promotes student achievement while empowering teachers. We can’t have one without the other. Let me clarify, we can, but we shouldn’t. At the same time, Ravitch makes a great point: “Kopp dismisses Finland as a model because less than 4 percent of its children are poor. But that's part of the story of their success and should not be waved aside as unimportant. Teacher professionalism is also part of Finnish success.” Ultimately, I agree that we must hold two ideas in our heads at the same time: We must both reduce poverty and improve our schools. We cannot fix our schools without strengthening the teaching profession and addressing the social conditions that shape their outcomes.” Moreover, I don’t really think Wendy Kopp doesn’t agree, however, that’s not where she is currently focusing, which perhaps has allowed “corporate” reformers to siphon off some of TFA’s collective energy. In the end, if Ravitch and Kopp become unlikely allies, then you heard it here first. I truly believe the root of their disagreement is more style than substance and we all want TFA to be all it can be, since it’s arguably selling it’s mission short at the moment in many people’s minds. When it comes to education reform, we need to keep in mind three kinds of class: effective instruction in the classroom, socioeconomic conditions in the street, and keeping debate relatively civil and progressing forward over the various forms of media... let's keep it class-y! After all, “You Can Pay For School But You Can’t Buy Class.” #swagger


Making Each Moment Count

It's been one year exactly since I had to pick up my cap and gown for graduation and where I am at now is totally different then where I thought I would be. Since being an accepted 2012 corps member I have been anxiously awaiting getting started! Since September I have been volunteering at my little brothers school in a third grade classroom. The school is a private catholic school, very different I imagine from the Delta. It has been nice being in a classroom and gathering ideas for my classroom. One of my favorite things about college was taking field notes and I never really stopped writing them once I graduated.  So I thought I would share some of my thoughts here with you! 2-15-12

While currently I am not a certified teacher and I have never taken an education class while in college I have spent about 400 hours observing different classrooms over the last year and a half. While learning in a classroom is great the technique of observing is one that has been a successful tool for my preparation for Teach For America.
Since September I have been volunteering every Monday in a third grade classroom to help with reading. I am there for the first two hours of a 35 hour school week. I have been struck in the past by how the transitions of the classroom work. Many times as an observer I feel like I am watching viable learning minutes slip away. This week I decided to count and add up the minutes where students were not engaged in an activity, this included some times where the teacher told them to "get out a silent reading book" but the majority was not focusing in an effective manor. Twenty minutes total of the two hours I was there, or out of an hour and forty five minutes due to their 15 min recess. That is about 30% of the time at I was there, wasted. If their school day is about 7 hours of learning and about 10 min are lost every hour- the school day might as well be shortened, or the week ending Thursday, or school might as well just end at spring break! It seemed to be a lot of time was slipping away.
Now I don't want to seem like I know everything at all I certainly don't, that is not my intention, I just want to think back to some other classrooms I've been in and how the time was used differently. The two schools that I have primarily worked in are complete opposites. One is a school where 97% of the students below the poverty line, the other a catholic private school that costs thousands of dollars. Can you guess which school was using their time effectively and which wasn't? If you thought the private school was the effective one you would be wrong. A school that parents are paying for was wasting so much time and time means money.
The main areas I noticed where time was being used ineffectively were at transitions: bathroom breaks, drink breaks, snack, getting in line, changing groups.
The bathroom breaks at this school are whenever the child wants, they are allowed to roam the halls by themselves, where as the other school I worked at this was a huge "no-no." Having the students all go to the bathroom at the same time took about 5 minutes for the whole class but it saved learning time. Students wouldn't be missing different parts of the lesson and with 20 students each missing three minutes during different lessons that is a lot of time you are going to be spending reteaching something. If all the students go to the bathroom at the same time then they are all getting the same lesson. If the breaks are built in then they probably won't have to go all the time. Also tacking on bathroom breaks when students are already lined up and in the hall saves time as well, so after lunch, around a recess, or around a specialty class like gym, art, computers or library.
Getting students to line up I also have seen as being a time waster. If there is an effective way to line up then it happens in silence and more efficiently. So having the students line up with numbers, math problems, colors of shirts, birthday months..etc. This will require them to listen and to stay quiet while the rest of the students line up. It has always been frustrating to watch a teacher say ok students line up and then have them get upset when the kids are loud, talking and not focusing on getting in line. Just like there are rules in the classroom there should be rules for how students behave in line. No talking, hands to themselves, focus on the destination and know that if these are not followed they will be sent to the back of the line.
Snack is a big one where there is a ton of time wasted. At the private school snack time is 15 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon. The students grab their box of snack and eat however much they want and can shove in their mouths in that time. There are no rules about being quiet at this time and even sitting at their desks, its a fifteen minute free for all. During snack the students would either listen to a story being read, or watch a short video clip on a subject that would open up their next unit or class. This allows the students to concentrate on eating their snack but also get more information. Having the students stay focused in the classroom even during these short break times let's the students know classroom is for learning outside and recess is a for playing.
The last area where I saw time being wasted was changing subjects and groups. When I come in on Monday's the class is usually split into three groups. One group is always the same the other two change. It takes the first group, the one that knows what their group is, several minutes to gather their stuff and move to their spot, then another three or four minutes are taken splitting up the rest of the groups, about seven min total. If it was known that every Monday students were going to split into reading groups keep them the same for maybe three weeks at a time. Then to split into the groups all that would need to be said is grab your stuff and get with your groups. Having assigned groups and assigned areas of the classroom they meet in will help the students with structure. Rotating the groups and areas every two to three weeks will keep things fresh for the students as well.
The director of the camp that I went to for twelve years and high school teacher would always tell us that the class he liked most at the beginning of the year was his least favorite at the end because they tried to get away with stuff and he sometimes would be more lax with them on disciple but the class he didn't like at the beginning would be his best students at the end of the year because at the beginning ground rules were established, students knew what their behavior was expected to be and what would happen if they didn't act accordingly. Taking the first weeks of school to really drill home the basics of transitions, expectations and how the class is going to be run will save so much time in the end.
Just recently on one of the TFA blogs I have been following I saw where it states that organizing a classroom can be one of the hardest jobs, but that is one that I think observing really helps with nice really what you are doing is just seeing how a classroom functions. From an outside prospective sometimes it is easier to see the faults or areas that could use some improvement.

Springing into more changes in 2012!

Lots of updates again, since the last post in January... #1. We are moving to Salt Lake City, Utah this summer for Brandon's medical school residency program!!! We are super excited! We just found out this past Friday, March 16th! It was our number one choice, for many reason- the program training and schedule we liked best, his little bro is out there for graduate school, we love the mountains & various outdoor activities the city and state has to offer, K2 church is awesome, there are tons of parks and tons of dogs, beautiful & clean city, friendly people, and there's straight flights back to OKC and Tulsa! We are excited about the next 3yrs. out there! #2. We got our dream car on Saturday, St. Patty's Day!- a Subaru Outback, in deep indigo blue! We are so thankful, and know we will get a TON of use out of it in SLC, with its All-Wheel-Drive, and space for a dog and baby (one day!) ;) Too bad the 'luck of the Irish' didn't last on Sunday... when we got a huge nail in our front left tire... wah wah- Good news! Brandon knew how to fix a flat no problem, so I helped out by shining a flashlight where he needed it, haha. It was also good that he fixed it last night, because today has been POURING rain! #3. Today is our ONE YEAR wedding anniversary! ;) It has been an incredible year! After getting married in March and settling down in our little apartment, we waited for me to finish the school year at SHA before leaving on our Hawaiian Honeymoon in June! What a blast! We enjoyed Maui & Kaui, and before going home, spent time with my sister in Vail, Co. I switched jobs to Crossings in the fall, and we became an Aunt & Uncle for the first time for Miss Ava Magnolia on October 11th. We enjoyed time with Brandon's family for Thanksgiving, and time with the Curley side for Christmas, my Bday, & New Years! It's crazy to think that we'll be leaving for SLC in just under 3 months! If someone had told me we'd be moving there a year ago, no way would I have believed them! I am SO GLAD we are though- what an adventure! I will have lived in the Midwest (or South, as some say), the Northeast, and the Northwest! The Utah program might even give us the chance to go to Africa for a short time! ;) How cool would that be? As for now, I'm giving thanks for the past year, and looking forward to another exciting chapter in His story of my life! ;)


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