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updates for 04.11.2012

4 new posts today

Am I Wrong For Teaching?

I had an hour-long discussion about this post tonight, with 8 other corps members, two teachers from KIPP, a TFA staff member, and the special ed executive director for our district. Among the many reactions as to whether competition for teachers is a good thing or a bad thing, a strong voice stuck with me, saying “teaching isn’t ABOUT you.” I identify with Ms. Mathinaz strongly on pieces of her post—I find comparison and competition motivating, and I don’t like the prevailing culture that treats teachers getting in each others’ business as taboo. But teaching ISN’T about me. That voice said it so well tonight: “my goal when I’m teaching is that every single one of my kids meets a bar that I set for them. If all but seven of my kids hit that bar, then I fell short of my goal. And I try and improve so I can come closer to my goal next time. That’s not competitive.” And it’s true. I don’t think setting goals and holding yourself ruthlessly accountable counts as competitive. I also don’t think a teacher should hold any main goal other than some form of the one stated above. For me, though, that conclusion is a little scary. If I start to wonder whether competition isn’t good for teaching, it forces me to look at myself and wonder not whether teaching is a good fit for me, but whether I am a good fit for teaching. I can love an activity if I’m able to constantly improve at it. We’re good there. The CIE tattoo on my foot isn’t going anywhere. But what makes me constantly improve? What gives me the fuel to actually do it? … I’m afraid it’s competition. Comparison. Measurement. With “yardsticks.” Call me whatever you’ll call me, but I’ve seen myself at my worst and at my best, and I know this is what gets me going. I’m here because I want to give my students the education they deserve. Am I allowed to be a teacher if, while definitely at the core of my decision to be here in the first place, that noble thought isn’t what makes my skin tingle or what makes me itch to work harder? If I’m motivated by something other, something less virtuous, than the mere thought of my students doing better? I’ve got to either contrive imaginary competitive schemes to keep myself in Go Mode, or do some self-engineering and figure out how to change what motivates me. Or leave and find a way to contribute that puts this part of me to good use.


4/10/12   My students have to write a haiku tonight. Not to be the teacher who assigns what she is not willing to do herself, here is today's...really, the past week of teaching's....recap:  

Always the same kids.

Overwhelming frustration.

Patience is an art.

The beginning of Ms. Tarka's '0hana

When I was 12 (almost 13!) a Disney movie came out in theaters that my family would embrace as our own- Lilo and Stitch. I'm not sure if it is as big of a movie as we make it out to be, but it's huge for us. The underlying theme that is repeated throughout the movie is, " 'Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind... or forgotten". My family has moved a lot throughout my life, I went to three different middle schools and three separate high schools. My older and younger sisters each experienced this, respectively (my younger brother, he's the baby, went to five different elementary schools and two middle schools; he started a new high school in a city across the country as a freshman and he is currently in the same high school as a Junior- soon to be senior) . Luckily for me though, my younger sister skipped a grade so two of the high schools I attended with her. When you move a lot, family is what keeps you strong. Now that I am embarking on this grand journey to teach middle school, an age group that has- until recently- terrified me, it makes me think back to  my middle school days. It seems appropriate then, that I should incorporate 'Ohana in to my classroom. I will let my students know that no one is going to get left behind, but as a family I will expect a lot out of them, and they should expect a lot from me. I started the pre-institute work the week before Spring Break, but have yet to put a considerable dent in to it. I have read many of the articles (some even overlapped with my Race, Culture, and Development psychology class this semester). Over Spring Break I read Teaching as Leadership, completely engulfed and fascinated while finding myself nodding along in agreement. I have wanted to join Teach For America for the past year, was fortunate enough to be accepted at the first deadline, and now with less than 25 days (not counting...) until graduation, I am so close to seeing a classroom of MY students. Sure, there is some (okay, a great deal of) anxiety but I think that if I can get through working, going to school full time, and swimming double practices daily with at least one, sometimes two, meets on weekends, just thinking about teaching and working with Teach for America makes me really excited. And when I say excited, I mean it's an adrenaline rush. I know it's going to be hard, but I love a good challenge. The more that people tell me 'good luck' with a smirk and a chuckle, the more enthused I become. I have worked at the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco and the Boys & Girls Club of Huntington which made me realize the impact of the achievement gap plaguing the nation. The hiring fair is this weekend in Indianapolis and I have already looked up different IPS schools and charter schools in the placement region. I am a planner, it's bound to come out, that it calms me to have a plan, to research, to have an idea of what is to come. I think it comes from moving so much, it was nice to know what to expect, though reality was rarely completely intuned with what I had imagined. Spontaneity can be grand too, but I would really enjoy knowing EXACTLY where (and what...) I'll be teaching in the next year. I'm not going to make any promises on how frequently I will be posting. In the next couple weeks, between final papers and institute pre-work, I do not plan to post much;  however, I do like the release that writing gives so I will probably post more once induction and institute begin. Back to the pre-work I go... -L

home stretch

Usually when I go for a stretch of not writing on this blog, it's because I have either not enough to say or too much to say. At this point, I'm not sure if I have nothing to say or everything to say, so I'll try to fall somewhere in the middle. We have 31 school days left.  I'm almost done with my first year of teaching.  I'm proud of what I've accomplished, but it's disheartening to think about what I haven't accomplished. My babies are taking Benchmarks this week, and it's kind of liberating to realize that I've done all I can to prepare them; I just have to hope and pray that they remembered some of what I tried to teach them. My babies have grown up so much this year.  They're definitely mini-8th graders now.  I started sensing a shift after Christmas break, and it's obvious now that this is not the same group of kids I started the year with. I never thought I would love my students as much as I love them.  I would do anything for these kids, and in a lot of ways, I've done everything I can for them. I'm working on writing a letter to each one to give to them on the last day of school -- I keep flip-flopping about it, though.  On the one hand, that's a lot of work.  On the other hand, not every letter has to be profound or pages long, and those students I do have a special connection with I can write more to.  All I know is that if one of my teachers had written me an encouraging letter, especially in middle school, I would've kept it. Have any of you out there in cyberspace ever written your students letters?  Any suggestions?  I'm going to work on saying only positive and encouraging things to my kids, especially the ones I'd be tempted to tell "You really need to stop doing this, this, and this.". I see myself slowly starting to morph from First-Year Teacher to just Teacher.  As it stands, I don't really work on the weekends.  I usually don't bring work home.  I leave school for lunch, and instead of getting to school before 7 every morning, I've been rolling in around 7:20.  I could be 1) lazy, 2) more efficient, or 3) burnt-out.  I think I'm all three.  Talking to my roommate this morning, she made the point that "We've been burned out since August!". TFA, especially with Institute, brings a whole new level of burnout to the whole First-Year-Teacher experience. I'm trying to finish strong, but it's hard when everything in me wants to just coast through the rest of the year. Funny story of the day: We were playing "Never Never Have I Ever" (the kids had taken Benchmarks all morning and could barely think straight/sit still).  Basically with this game you say "Never never have I ever _________________".  If you have done that thing, then you get up and have to change seats. One girl said "Never never have I ever...sang in a karaoke bar!"  The other students paused for about 20 seconds, wracking their brains as to whether they had been to a karaoke bar.  After a while, one student realized "Hey! We're too young to go to karaoke bars!".  Another piped in with "Yeah! We're too young to go to any bars! We're only, like, 13." I don't know why I found that so funny, but for some reason I did :).

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