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updates for 03.22.2012

6 new posts today

Back from Hiatus… (otherwise known as, No, I’m not dead)

I’ve just been teaching full time. Which I totally thought would kill me, but so far, I’m craftier. Every time teaching tries to take me out with another task, assessment, obligation or faculty meeting, or – heaven forbid – certification class homework, I’ve been savvier. I borrow from other teachers, I quick test build with TestWiz, I rearrange my schedule and decide I don’t really need five whole hours of sleep, multitask (faculty meetings are my new dinner time), or in some cases, just straight up procrastinate. Except for that last one, I’m doing okay. I think I’m in such great spirits since I just came back from a run. Let me make it very clear: there is a time and place for running, and that is when you are being chased by a psycho with a knife. However, societal pressure being what it is, and the fact that my entire school team is crazy fit… I’m bowing to peer pressure! I will also be a Girls on the Run buddy come June at Soldier Field. Plus, I got compliments from a bike rider in the vein of "Mmm, yeah girl, work it" and a wink from another guy walking with another girl. Clearly, I'm sexier when sweating. So what has it been like since November, you ask? Well… that’s like asking someone who lived abroad to tell you about traveling Europe. I haven’t done it yet, but I hope I adopt a superior air once I do. The daily trials and tribulations are exhausting, the rewards are incredibly astounding, and I’ve recently gotten into the habit of pausing at a random point in my day and thinking, “Oh God, what am I doing? How did I become responsible for 31 lives? I can’t even keep a cactus alive!” - True story; very traumatic. I also killed a bamboo. And a palm tree. I’ve got skillz. – I’ve recently realized that either (a) I’m hitting my stride! I’m a better teacher now! (b) I really suck and just subconsciously can’t work up the effort to care (c) I’ve gotten way better at faking it and stealing stuff! (d) a and c. I think I’ll use my test taking strategies and select d. I’m just getting more relaxed. I’m not pressuring myself to work all the time and micromanage every minute of my classroom time. I’ve come to a realization that I’m sure my MTLD would not be a fan of. Sometimes, I let my kids read independently for almost a whole half an hour of the day. And that’s okay. Sometimes, I don’t redirect in the ten seconds when a scholar talks to their neighbor. I’m absolutely pulling my support from my middle school theory class – my kiddies are ten. Honestly, I need to let them talk. I absolutely am in control. For example, I caught a note in midair as it was flying across the room today – it was fairly epic. But they need to socialize. I do not want to turn them into the automatons that our school culture, with its emphasis on obedience and conformity, sometimes produces. I want creativity. I want debates. I want scholars who ask questions and find their own answers. If I need to justify my work as transformational change – there it is right there. I’m schooling thinkers and researchers... I hope. Not every day is great. I came home recently head dragging because there are two children I can’t seem to reach. Earlier in the year, their behavior had not been problematic. Now, they are constantly the central figures in my story. I’m scared to death that they will harm themselves as they scramble down the stairs or slide across the classroom floor. At times, I want to seriously consider Velcro connecting pants and seat bottoms. And I hope that I can find a topic to help them silently protest – mainly so I can enjoy the silence. There are a lot of students I’m helping – both within my classroom and in other grades. Through coaching the boys and girls basketball team I have worked with several seventh and eighth graders who need a teacher who isn’t automatically against them. Unfortunately, some of them feel in opposition to their classroom teacher on a daily basis. My favorite part of a day is when I get an in-school suspension student and can reason through their choices with them and help them identify and problem solve negative behaviors. Sometimes, I’m really teacher-y ; sometimes, I keep it real. I’m more fun when I keep it real. So while my life hasn’t slowed down, I have. I still tutor Mondays and Wednesdays after school. I still have faculty meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I still have professional development, class, homework, and prep work to do. But I’m making a commitment to carry less home – literally and metaphorically. I’d rather leave it all here. This is my recommitment to myself to reflect on my teaching and work every day to find the joy. So, till tomorrow, good night and good luck.   [caption id="attachment_125" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Click to see the slides"][/caption]


The Dangers....

3/21/12 ...of lowering your standards.   I feel really guilty giving my students marks right now b/c two marks = a lunch detention, and more than one lunch detention = no Hunger Games. Ugh, guilt complex.   But I realized today, in 5th period, that I had warned them 5 times about talking (not in a stressed way, just a "ok guys, come back), and that it was ridiculous. So I loudly gave one mark, and silence fell over the room. Pobre John. One sacrificed to bring around all the others.   Today after school was hilarious. I had students working with tutors and testing, my theater group was outside in the hallway doing their loud and rambunctious thing, oh and I was trying to proctor mastery quizzes. I wanted to cancel theater, but that would've been the third week in a row. So we fumbled through it, and tutoring was ok. How I'm modifying quizzes. For the students who have been coming in at mas o menos every opportunity these past weeks and who are still not mastering objectives, I gave them the opportunity to correct their quizzes today. Essentially, a modified exam. I only feel slightly cheating b/c 1) I hold them to a 70 standard, and the state will hold them to a 55, and 2) these students know the concepts independently at a basic level...it's when you combine all the sentences together that they get lost. Well, it worked for 4 students. Then, I found out later that when I had stepped outside to talk to a parent, two students compared and cheated. Ergghh. The saddest part is, I was going to let those 2 go b/c they have both been working so hard and really trying. Now, they will stay behind with me. It will not be a fun conversation tomorrow.     Happy ending - the kids are super stoked about the movie on Friday. I am as well. I'm actually going to the midnight premiere with some teacher friends, which is the only reason I was ok with missing the first part of the movie to do tutoring. I just have to make sure I get all my work taken care of early tomorrow so that Friday can function smoothly!! :D


There Are Days When You Hate Your Job and Days When You Really Hate Your Job.

Reasons why I hate my job: We are told in the morning we have a meeting after school. I only teach math, when I should be teaching all subjects. The school doesn't want to turn on the a/c. I'm nine hours away from my fiance. Reasons why I REALLY hate my job: There is a bat in the hallway for 5 hours and kids want to see it. A student rolls around on the carpet for two hours. Two of your students fight first graders during lunch and get ISS. Kids continue to fight each other while writing thank you letters to police officers for coming to the school to teach them about bullying. Oy vey.  


Pre-Institute Work

Every year before institute, TFA hands out homework. Last year, I received a 5 lbs box with all of the material printed in a specialize book, a workbook, a Teaching As Leadership book, and a CD with stories on it. Most of the material in the book (mostly copies from other books) was how to teach. I had begun learning about different issues in the classroom and how to be a better teacher. They were providing information about how teachers teach. It was a Godsend, because I was really worried about how to teach.   This year, I’m not sure if I received a box or not as I didn’t have them ship said box to my international address. But we got an email yesterday with access to the materials online. (Which I don’t really like, I can’t process information from a computer screen…) Anyway, they’ve decided to go more paperless this year, claiming it gives you more choice in how you process your information.   And then I got to this part of the letter: While, formerly, this preparation centered around the technical aspects of teaching—like classroom management and lesson planning—we found that trying to learn the craft of teaching from a book (with no opportunity for practice) was not helpful to many people. That’s not to say teaching-related content is entirely absent from this year’s pre-work. Nor is it to say that we don’t see pedagogy as central to your training. In fact, Institute will focus on helping you grasp teaching’s nuts and bolts as you empower your summer school students to make incredible academic strides. But, you’ll notice that much of this work focuses on the systemic causes of the achievement gap and the kind of leadership that’s required to gain traction against them. We believe that by grappling with the causes and consequences of educational inequity and by considering who you are as a leader, you’ll arrive in the classroom better poised to fight for and with your students and their families.   I’m not sure I like this change. I feel that I liked the ability to learn some of the technical aspects of teaching before the 5 weeks boot camp called institute. They are asking for our feedback, and I will give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m always a preparer and they’ve taken away my ability to prepare. I still have the stuff from last year, and maybe some of it will be the same.   Overall, maybe I’m just missing the memo where knowing possible causes of why my students might or might not be succeeding will help make me an effective teacher. I (currently) think that they should have focused on the actual aspects of teaching, because we would have had more than 5 weeks to process this.   Also included was this: It’s worth noting here, too, that we want this spirit of collaboration to influence our ongoing work as a national community. While we’re really proud of what we’ve done for and with our corps members over the past two decades, we have sometimes failed to create an environment where our corps and staff members felt united in the same fight. At times, our corps members have suppressed their real thoughts, feelings, and selves—because they felt that doing “what Teach For America asks” seemed easier.   We’re working on this.   At times, our ideas about how to make your experience more personal, more honest, and more organic may be right on. At other times, we’ll surely miss the mark. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to take each one of us—corps and staff—working in step, to be the kind of community that fosters radically different opportunities for our students.   Food for thought…


Pre Institute work?

With the beautiful, summer like weather we've been having recently in Jersey, it's really beginning to feel like the semester is winding down. Midterms are over, spring break has past, and there are 7 short weeks until the final exam of my undergraduate career. Which means I've been thinking about TFA a lot more. I finally did my first full day observation that wasn't at my mom's school. I got set up in a local school district and I'll be doing week;y observations (for the most part) with the same class. It's 2nd grade, and these kids are absolutely precious. They say good morning to me, hug me, hold my hand when we walk in the hall. But more on my observations at a later date. Right now, I'm wondering about pre institute work. When is it typically sent out? I mentioned earlier that one of my friends had already gotten his, but it doesn't seem like any of the other regions have. But isn't this late to send it out? If they expect us to do 2 observations, and you didn't know that (which a lot of people seem not to), sending out our packets when there are a few weeks left until final exams and then a few more weeks until we leave seems odd -- and like poor planning and management. But maybe that's just because I'm such a type A, everything has to be laid out weeks in advance, I make an hour by hour schedule of most of my days lest I feel anxious and lost, type of person. (And no, unfortunately I am not kidding)


Opportunity cost.

A part of me is desperate for headphones, to isolate my brain from this adorable cafe, somewhere near Union Square, on the coldest day of my east coast trip. When I sat down here I stopped to read for 30 minutes, A Wish After Midnight, a self-published book I expected to dislike but don't. Opened my email to something from Morgan, the principal from Bridgeport Academy Middle School. I have questions to answer about my trip, further ways for AF to access my candidacy at their school. I open it at almost wince-- Two mornings ago I woke up at a hotel in New Haven, was picked up by my second AF recruiter. As I stepped to the car we had a mutual moment of recognition; she dropped me off at the same hotel in November, after High School Immersion Day. On the way to Bridgeport we talked about running, injury, yoga, and addictive personalities. Once at the school, I had 30 minutes to observe other classrooms and get comfortable. For this trip, I did significantly less planning for my sample lesson. I yanked something from my own classes two weeks ago (a loose, quick, low-rigor "show-don't-tell" lesson...mixed thoughts on that choice). After my observation time, I hopped into the room to teach 30 sixth graders. They were adept, my lesson was shallow, and compared to my sample lesson in Hartford in January I was incredibly relaxed and excited to be there. After the lesson I wandered for another 20 minutes, until I was beckoned into the principal's office. Around a circle table sat the principal, principal-in-training, recruiter, and myself. The conversation: my analysis of my lesson (glows and grows); their analysis of my lesson (glows and grows); then a slew of standard interview questions (strengths, weaknesses, interest in Connecticut, how I run my classroom, consistency, what I think of their management system, etc. etc. etc.) Enter the two deans (this school is 5-8th, so they both lower and upper school deans of culture). I am shuffled along to walk the school and complete, basically, interview number two. The upper school (I think!) dean had a clipboard and boxes she filled in as she asked me about the culture (culture is a euphemism for discipline in the charter world, so I've learned) in my own classroom and my own school. From there I had lunch with some teachers and the eighth graders, where I pried open the art teacher to tell me more about Bridgeport ("It's kind of like a very mini Brooklyn," he says before telling me about the gallery he just opened up down the street.) After lunch I'm told I'm expected back in the principal's office, where I sit for round three of questions, this time with principal and principal-in-training but no one else. These questions are on a separate level from the first: how I became grade level chair ("I volunteered."), what I think about moving to a state where I know no one ("I'd have a much stronger social network here, considering I'm 10 hours closer to family"), what I like best about AF Bridgeport so far ("...?...") and what questions I have for them ("What's your plan, seeing as you haven't stayed in one school more than four years?" "How do you prevent teacher burn-out?" "What's Bridgeport like?") The end of that set of questions was Morgan (I feel slightly dangerous calling him by his first name already...hah) and I sharing delta-isms. He's a former Delta corps member, one of the first to go to Lake Village! We had plenty of common ground to cover, and by the end of it I almost felt like I was doing the recruiting... for him to come back! Bahaha! This is because when I asked what his plan is, he told me he's leaving Bridgeport Middle after the 2012-13 year. From what I heard walking around, it seems that in the 2010-11 year the school struggled a lot, and Morgan was brought in for damage control. Once the new principal is fully trained, Morgan is ducking out. He's interviewing for positions now, and doesn't know where he'll be two years from now. Interesting. He mentioned that he always saw himself going back to the Delta eventually... we both admitted that the Delta is a unique part of the country, something about it pulls you in and never lets go. Hearing him say that, though, that he intended to go back but hasn't so far, left me a little dreamy. Do I want to make the jump to Connecticut, surrounded by friends and family, urban life-- something I always thought I'd be in the middle of post-college --right now? I almost feel like that would be pressing fast forward. Like I always expected (and continue to expect) to be in some similar situation, but until this interview I was not taking it seriously for the 2012-13 school year. I was hesitatingly informing friends and family that "I'm leaning toward staying a third year" and "I love it here. I love my job." Granted, I haven't been offered a position yet. Part of me was silently begging for AF to be a terrible interview and a school that just didn't fit, the same way Hartford felt. But Bridgeport is not Hartford, and I do feel like I fit. I loved the staff, loved the kids, love the gorgeous old school with long windows and high ceilings in every single classroom. I love that the principal reminds me of my college supervisor who's been my number one go-to for letters of recommendation and the first person I visit when I go back to campus. I love that the art teacher compared Bridgeport to Brooklyn and the principal compared it to Detroit. These are cities I love, cities I know I fit into. So now I have this email questionnaire, in my eyes interview number four with this school, sitting in my email inbox. Something in me doesn't want to answer it. Doesn't want to let this opportunity be more serious. Doesn't want to take another step further away from the delta, from Dumas, from my life for the past two years. I don't want to admit that I'd seriously consider leaving my kids, leaving my classroom. I sit, I sit, I am sitting blocks away from Union Square but need to scoot down to SoHo sometime in the next two hours, so I won't be late for my meeting with Francie, miss Queen of Scholastic. Maybe she will help me figure out my life, my priorities.  


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