updates for 04.19.2012
Today was a good day. I decided it's not to often I dwell on the positives so I thought I could at least share this. We're taking our standardized state tests for science (not the highlight... not at all) and that means we have block scheduling where classes are two hours. Trying to teach children for two hours straight while they're also spending a different two hours staring at a computer screen answering boring questions is not easy. I decided to do something new today that I'd been wanting to try-stations. The idea of centers or stations is much more common in elementary, but thought it had some middle school potential. It took me quite a lot of time to prepare however of course I did it all the night before. I was worried going into it. For the most part, it seems the things I think will work great and really prepare for tend to fail miserably. But today, it worked. It worked really well actually (of course not perfectly but I'm being positive). It worked so well that even the students commented on how much they enjoyed it. Pretty sure that's never happened before. Since I'm only proctoring tests tomorrow, I got a manicure and a massage tonight and took the time to make myself a good dinner. Pretty great day for the most part! It's actually nice to be back after spring break. I definitely understand its purpose now. I was really struggling before break and didn't want anything more than to be back home. It actually scared me because I was afraid I wouldn't want to return to Delaware. Spring Break however was perfect. It was just the right length and I got to see a ton of people to really rejuvenate myself. Now I've also realized I consider Wilmington home (well one of a few but still a home nonetheless). I was actually a little bit excited to come back and be back in my own apartment and my own bed. This place is familiar and I do love the feeling of familiarity and being settled. Spring break definitely gave me the energy I need to finish out the next 33 school days strong!
So this one time I hit a four-foot planter...in a Beetle. Not just any Beetle…Her name is Betty and she is a blue 2007 VW Bug. My dream car and my graduate school graduation present. I received her nearly 3.5 years before I graduated because I was driving a Chevy Blazer that was dying a rapid death and I couldn’t afford to replace every major system in the car on my stipend. Apparently my parents were tired of the monthly phone calls saying I needed $4000 for this repair or that repair and decided it was cheaper to buy me a new car then to keep sending me money. Anyways, I was about 2 weeks from graduation and I had just flown into Atlanta from Miami where I had a last “hooray” with my friends from high school. We were all moving on – getting married, graduating from graduate school or medical school and we wanted to have a last bit of fun before we became grown ups. While I was on the flight back, I suddenly realized I was leaving Alabama and this was it. I was growing up and saying goodbye and I didn’t want to let it go. I got into my car, hysterical, and about an hour later I hit a planter. Completely dented the passenger side of my front bumper (think headlight hanging off) and tore the power steering line. The planter marked a major turning point in my life. When I first moved to Alabama, I was so unhappy I just wanted to come home. At graduation, I couldn’t imagine leaving Alabama to come back to DC. Even now there are days I miss Alabama so much I can barely breathe. Now, looking and laughing back on it, I realize the planter served as a stop sign in my life. It made me stop and focus so I could move on. Funny how small graduation seems when you are trying to figure out how to get from Atlanta to Birmingham... Every time I have taken a new step in life it has been difficult in the beginning. From college to graduate school. From graduate school to postdoc. I’m sure postdoc to Teach for America will be no different. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect when you have never been in the situation before. Of course I am excited, but I’ve been through too much in life to be bright eyed and bushy tailed. Do I expect to change the life of every student who walks into my classroom? No, of course not. Will my students always like me? No. Will they learn? Yes. I know that they will learn. I just don’t know how many of those lessons they will truly appreciate while they are learning them. How many of them will hit planters as they are about to graduate? One of my favorite quotes is “Be the change you want to see in the world.” But does being that change mean you wouldn’t have bad days? Does it mean you won’t cry and want to call it quits? Does it mean you won’t hit planters? Of course not. It means you keep pushing forward when you want to call it quits. It means you drive the five miles to the car repair shop even though turning is burning the muscles in your arms. Why do I want to teach? Because SCIENCE ISN’T SCARY. Because YES, BIOLOGY IS HARD and YOU CAN LEARN IT. Because biology touches every one of us. From a familiar member who is ill to someone injured in a car accident, we ALL come face to face with biology. I have spent the past 12 years developing a scientific career. And the entire time I faced adversity from those around me. People didn’t trust what I was doing. They thought I was torturing monkeys (false) and cloning babies (definitely false – we can’t). I wanted to be that go between. I wanted to make people understand that biology is important and they can understand science. I currently tutor a number of students in many different subjects. My 9th grade biology student can’t sit still for more than 45 minutes. My 11th grade AP Chemistry student can sit for hours and stare at chemistry problems. My physiology student just wants to understand so she can pass the class. Every one has different goals and I learn from each of them just as they learn from me. But one of the most striking things I have learned from my students is how few of their teachers actually teach. I want to be that teacher who makes them think. I want their respect and their brains (in a totally not mad scientist kind of way). I’m not scared about whether or not I can teach them the material, I’m scared about developing a classroom they totally love and want to take part in. So right now I am learning how to move forward and develop that repertoire…and how to avoid those planters…
Today involved some disturbing developments I can't really write about; summary: a persistent trouble-maker who is a threat to the school community had to be handled by the authorities and, on the other hand, one of my mentees landed in trouble- again. It's really sad when a kid is trying to do well and either makes a tiny mistake or boneheaded, impulsive decision and allows their track record to speak for itself. I had bought a snickers bar for my mentee as part of our on-going behavioral plan, but now the outlook isn't so good. I don't want to over step the administration, but I'll probably call him tomorrow to hear his side of the issue. Relatedly, we continued with our rotation test prep schedule this morning, and my homeroom acted up bad enough to have the security office called on them. I was both upset and disappointed, since they had been praised as the best behaved class the weak before. As my students were quick to point out, the additional distraction of certain kids from suspensions changes the dynamic greatly. Nonetheless, I gave them a brief, stern lecture on how "innocent" bystanders become instigators when they laugh at and encourage troublemakers to clown around. One intriguing dynamic I've seen is that my more ambitious, mature students bring up my degree a fair amount when a classmate acts up badly or directs their disrespect towards me. During our open discussion today, one of my boys, who is a work in progress, declared: "man, if I went to Harvard, I wouldn't come down here!"
Rather than going into the topics I discussed here in my last post, I decided to meet the kids at their level by showing them the following:[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="328" caption=""Who Run The World?""][/caption] I was very impressed by the insightful responses my students had as they analyzed this picture. Girl: "man, his pants are so low!" Boy: "This kids round here are phony thuggin'" Boy #2: "they'd pee their pants if they went to New York or Chicago!" Girl #2: "the white folk are laughing at us because they have more money than us!" Boy #3: "but we try to act like we have the power" Boy #4: "We need to get it together!" Yes, young man, we certainly do.
I’ve completed the first three parts of the pre-institute reading. Personally, it was not super helpful. I think it will be super helpful to those who have never been exposed to any women studies ideas and find that facts are the best argument and motivator to change. Or those who have role models. I’ve never had a role model. No seriously. I never looked up to anyone when I was young and wanted to be like them. Thinking about this the past few days made me wonder why. I never admired anyone the way people talk about the role models they had. I had examples of strong young adults: Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Babysitter Club, and The American Girl Doll’s Books. And I think that made me believe in myself and hold myself to an unrealistic high standard. I never judged myself against others really. This I think is part of my problem when I’m reading this pre work so far. The direct instructions are “read and be inspired.” But since I often hold high expectations, the fact that these examples are meeting those expectations, makes me want TFA to answer the “so what?” question of research. So what that this guy radically redid education in Harlem? What does that teach me? That with the right location, and the right financial backing I too can make a change? I already knew that, that’s why I joined TFA. So what that this lady helped to add design to a school system in rural North Carolina? She had her own company that allowed her to have the financial backing to do that and the time. I guess that’s one of my problems with this stories: none of them are teachers doing something in the classroom with what they have. (Kopp’s book did have a few examples, but that’s all there were antidotal stories of a few people’s success). All of the examples showed people with financial resources making a difference. How is this supposed to inspire me? I won’t have that backing or ability? What am I supposed to do? The facts are what got me into TFA. Did you know in an urban society, kids are 2/3 more like than solider returning from Iraq to have PTSD? That there is a huge gap between test scores based on socio-economic factors? That not every kid has the opportunity for an excellent opportunity? (That is seriously shameful in the USA!) But of all the questions and all of the readings, it was a conversation with my roommate when I was expressing my sadness of the quality of instruction in this pre-work she asked me a question that was more helpful than anything TFA had asked so far:
What is your purpose as a teacher in TFA?Now, to be honest, with full disclosure: I had wanted to be a teacher when I was little (they say those dreams are the most important), but I was drawn to the State Department from 9th grade and it was a stronger draw. Then I heard about TFA and the ability to “try” teaching. I knew I needed a break from school and if I went on to a MA degree I wouldn’t make it. And I liked the mission of TFA. I believe in equality and that a person’s skin color or zip code should determine the rest of their life. While life isn’t fair, I believe in giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. And our education system is not doing that. It hasn’t for a long time. The fact that I never noticed that I never really learned about black American history before college, or the strong black role models (or Asian or Hispanic, etc.) before college, that I never had heard of why people would hate America before college, showed me the failings of our school system. And I came from your average middle class white single parent home. If I was missing that, what were those kids missing. I want to give these kids a chance to change their future. I want to show them what I fell in love with. I want them to know that someone cares for them. I want them to feel safe in my classroom. I want them to learn that they are not alone, that the world needs them. Yes, I want to change the world. But I have to accept that I won’t be doing that alone. That I can’t do that alone. I’m realistic in my expectations of myself and my first year of teaching. I don’t expect to move a mountain, but if I can show just one child that it is possible- then I have accomplished my job as a teacher. But how does that desire to change the world fit into TFA? Sure our mission statements are similar, and even the same outlook. But couldn’t I have just joined a alternative certification program? Why do this with TFA? Because movements have power, and large groups of people working together can change the world. I might not be able to lift a car. But with the right leverage and number of people- I can lift a car. I think the next section will be more about actual teaching strategies. We also have a call this week about the reading that we have done so far. Maybe that reading will really open up this work for me and explain why they are actually using it. *Note: I am sure it is helpful to someone somewhere. But it has not been for me. That’s all I’m saying.
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