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updates for 05.04.2012

3 new posts today


I found out today that one of my 8th graders is pregnant.  She's 13 and 3 months along.  After school I heard her talking to one of my girls from last year, who was with her four-month-old.  A mom and a mom-to-be, talking about what pregnancy is like and how to stay strong no matter what people say. I am heartbroken to discover this.  This girl is sweet and funny and a good kid overall, always respectful.  She has the worst attendance of any of my students (a little over 50%) but when she's there she works pretty hard.  And now her whole life is going to change.  She already struggles in school - when you show up once a week it's hard to stay on top of the material.  High school will be that much harder to complete with a kid to raise.  There are just so many things working against my students, and I can't conquer them all.  Honestly, I can't conquer anything.  I do my best to teach them math, and I try to instill a hard-working, I-can-do-it, problem-solving attitude in my kids.  But it's not enough.  I'm just an 8th grade math teacher. It's near the end of my second year, and discovering this information today has really made me think about what impact I've had.  What difference have I made?  Would they have been better off with another teacher?  Or am I a slight improvement over the next guy?  I certainly feel like I work hard enough to make a difference.  It frustrates me that I'll never know, at least not for most of my kids.  I've seen a good number of my former students and that's always nice, but next year I'll be in another state.  Even if my students did want to come back and visit they won't be able to, and I'll care even more a few years later when they start graduating from high school.  It's selfish to want to know what difference I've made.  And yet the constant struggle and stress is harder knowing that I could be ruining their lives or changing them for good and I have no clue which is happening or why. I'll write another entry soon about what it's like to be near the end of my corps experience and my plans to stay in the classroom next year.  I'm sad now but there are many happy things I wish to write about.

The Exposure Gap

Teaching in rural Mississippi has many challenges, and one of them is the Exposure Gap.  The town that I teach in is just over an hour from Memphis, 2+ from Jackson and Little Rock and over 6 from the coast.  Some may call the town that I work in even "big" when compared to some of the closer towns of 500-1000.  However, some of my students have never been to Walmart, eaten out, or gone to any festivals or had many other experiences that kids in urban areas may have. A week ago we took the PreK-1st grade students on a field trip to the Memphis Zoo.  Many of the students had never been that far away from home, to Tennessee or to a big city before.  Leading up to the the field trip during guided reading, we were reading books about the zoo.  On of my students, T, was not able to name the animals in the book (elephant, giraffe, hippo, lion) and after reading the book told me, "Mi' Ball -- I think I'm going to stay home from the zoo."  I asked him why, and this was his response "Well, I'm afraid that the animal will get me and have me for lunch!"  No concepts of how the animals live, and the fact that we were not going on some wild safari. After assuring him that there would in fact not be any animals chasing him or trying to eat him for lunch, we created a class KWL chart for things that we wanted to discover about the zoo and off we went. As soon as we pulled off the interstate the students immediately noticed all the fields (which they see everyday) but were even more excited because many of them had farmers planting their crops for the season.  This led to many questions about there being dogs, cats, horses and cows at the zoo.  (No, babies -- sorry!) As we got closer we announced that we had crossed over into Tennessee and they let out a loud uproar.  As we got closer to the zoo the students started to notice the large number of buildings, semis (such a fun game for them to get the drivers to honk the horn) and the fact that some buses just didn't look like school busses (these are for public transportation, baby!)  The kids were elated at seeing the different colleges that were on our route especially since the week before I was able to take 2 of my kids to Ole Miss for a Spanish presentation -- both of which will now be a part of the Ole Miss class of 2028 (just ask them).   We had many parents accompany us to the zoo, 14 from my class alone, which was a huge help with 100+ students under the age of 8.  I was able to make sure that the students that had never been to the zoo were with my assistant or I because I wanted to make sure they were able to see so much, and get so  much out of the zoo.  The highlight was definitely the dinosaurs, which scared a lot of my kids (who knew they were going to move, squirt water and make such loud noises!)  but then we were able to check out the zoo some more, even though we were only there for 2 hours.  During this time we were able to see some many animals, including the polar bear come swimming up to the glass we were standing at and the kids were so excited that they could see the polar bear both above and below the water.   One of my students that was paired with a parent was even able to feed the giraffes!  What an amazing experience for her!  She was talking about it for days.. especially how that giraffe has a "sticky black tongue" and it "licked me!"  She was thrilled.   I wish that I was able to give my students more things to be exposed to, but with tight constraints on budget,  time and resources, it just is not possible.  We have started virtual field trips at my school in which we visit other countries through power points, short movies and stories from some of us that have studied abroad.  This world has so many beautiful things that I want these kids to be able to see and do, I just wish that I was able to give them those opportunities.  In a small way though I am, through giving them an education and just exposing them to what I can while they are in my class.    

So Clueless

Hello TFA friends! I’m an incoming 2012 Colorado Corps Member who is obsessed with teachforus.org. Thank you all for sharing your stories. You’ve kept me interested, entertained, informed, and focused on my personal “big goal” – to become the best, most effective teacher I can for my future students. That said, I think I may have flubbed already (and I’m not even in the classroom yet). Last night I attended a benefit for US Empowered, an amazing college prep program for students from under resourced schools in Chicago, headed by the awesome Jeff Nelson. Seated at my table was one of the program teachers (a TFA vet of course) and her prize student, “L”. L will be the first in his family to go to college and will be studying engineering on a generous scholarship. Plus he was such a nice, humble, open, and easy-going kid. I couldn’t resist scooting up to him and picking his brain: “What do you think about all of this? How does it make you feel to be called underserved?” “What has made you so successful and how can I help more students be like you?” “When did you decide you wanted to go to college?” “How can a random white girl like me be an effective teacher for students like your friends and show them that I care?” (He had just finished explaining how some of his ex-friends got sucked into gangs.) My intention was to have an honest, thoughtful conversation, and luckily (because L was so cool and gracious), that’s how it went down. And in addition to my probing questions, I made sure to let him know how impressed I was with his accomplishments and character. BUT I can’t help looking back and wondering if I said the wrong thing or made him feel bad at any point. What do you guys think? Was I totally inappropriate? Is having honest, difficult conversations about racism and classism with students important for effective teaching and real connection? Or is it best to leave those topics alone? Is there a better, more sensitive way I could have talked to L?

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