Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santa Baby, a quiet cozy child-free day (or two)

Dear Santa,

It's been a long time since I've written you a letter, but I figured it was worth a shot. I've been a very good girl this year -- I've made an average of 35% class reading growth, with some students making more than a half of years growth. I've had students make growth in standardized math tests, decreasing the percentage in the "below basic" category form the beginning of the year.  My students are actually following some of the rules and getting compliments from other teachers. I managed to get my centers going and guided reading by diving on in and my school coaches have both given me compliments on it.

So I'm asking you -- please, please, let us have a snow day tomorrow.

As of right now, we are the only county in Middle Tennessee that has NOT cancelled school for tomorrow. At least two of my roommates have almost gotten into accidents in the snow. As a more seasoned snow driver, I was worried on the road while running errands about some of these Tennessee drivers. While snow comes here every now and again, it still does not look as though people are prepared.

So please? I'd like another day to sleep, get plans together, and enjoy being snowed in with my roommates/guests and our stack of Christmas movies and junk food.


Ms. Astronaut

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back in the swing of things

Coming back from Thanksgiving was a like a big whirlwind (to use a recent class vocab word) of craziness. I didn't have a chance to get copies made, I started a new scripted curriculum, I tried something new with my centers and went to a meeting about the results of the union survey of our school. And while this may have driven me crazy earlier in the year, I got to the end of the week feeling exhausted but not kicking myself for not doing more.

Over drinks tonight with a new friend, I got to thinking about how my attitude and thought process has changed since Institute. I still tend to focus on the negative, things that I want to work out to improve, and yet somewhere along the way I've managed to find a way to not let it get my down. The successes in my teaching always feel like reasons for celebration -- I was practically getting a head start on my Zumba class in my car on Tuesday because one of my kids made almost 3 levels of reading growth in a month.

It's hard to believe it's almost the end of the second quarter. I'm not looking forward to report cards (really, does any teacher enjoy this process) but it has been amazing to see the way that some of my kids have grown. Some of them are handling their anger better. My child with a devastating stutter has learned some wonderful techniques that, in the right circumstances, almost entirely eliminate the stutter. Several of my EL (English Learner) students have become more comfortable with me and with speaking up in class.

On the flip side, I've had some moments that weren't so good. I sent a few kids to the office this week -- which I hadn't done in weeks because it hit me that the kids just didn't care anymore. I've also had several kids through around the word bullying and that always gets me on edge, especially because parents respond so passionately to that word and concept. There seems to be little logic or words to say to convince a kid that if you poke another child hard enough, long enough, that they will snap back and while they should not have responded in such as a manner, you are not entirely innocent.

My tolerance for all things pencil related also hit an all time low this week. I've tried several different approaches, and nothing seems to work. No one seems to be able to hold onto their pencils. I've bought several hundred pencils this year and they all seem to be consumed at a rate faster than a hot dog at a competitive eating competition. If they can't find their pencil, someone stole it. Someone stole it? That same pencil sticking out of your pocket? If and when they do find the pencil, it is inevitably broken. The problem with buying pencils in bulk is that they are about as strong as a small bundle of matches. Somewhere along the line, no one corrected my students habit of pressing down as hard and as dark as they can when they write. Which inevitably, takes a toll on the pencils. I've had students loan others pencils, but then that becomes an issue when pencils are broken, not returned, loaned without permission to another student. I've even had students arguing over one of my clearly identifiable pencils. It's mine Ms. Astronaut. No, it's mine and I've let you use it but now you're breaking off lead and throwing that at other students. But it's mine. I've been using it. 

As much as I keep hearing that that's typical of low-income students, I can't help but want to correct people and extend that to most 4th graders. Talking with other upper elementary teachers, it doesn't seem to matter what the child's socioeconomic background is -- they start to get possessive about things, especially pencils.

And while the pencils drive me crazy, the hormones are worse. I know I was an offender of this in elementary school. I was in love with the same boy for about forever. I tried so hard to hide it, being mean to him and all, but it was ridiculously obvious how much I was in love with him. No memory of why, but nonetheless, I remember that I had those feelings at that age. From the other side of the situation, with a dozen years under my belt and more experiences with rejection, I want to take each of the children aside in my class and say "Stop. Just stop. He/she will not like you if you (select from the following options: poke them, tease them, steal their things, talk to them in class, kick them, cheat off them). You would be much better spent getting to know them as a friend."

I've already attempted this approach to one girl in the class, but to no avail. It amuses me, as she is one of my most outspoken and lowest performing students and she has fallen for one of my quietest and potentially highest performing students. She can't seem to grasp that he would like her more if she worked harder at school and didn't come across as lazy and obnoxious.

But why bother with something so complicated as logic? In the end, I smile a stolen smile and realize that there are some lessons I can't teach but will have to experience for themselves.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Northerner in New England

For once, the name of this blog is not so accurate -- home for the holidays! I'm packing up all the things I brought home: books to plan my next unit, tests to grade, homework to track, and clothes that needed to be fixed. I'm also packing up the Mommy care package of cough drops and related medications. All I can say is that there is nothing that compares to being taken care of by an empty-nester parent when sick.

Although it's a few days late, it's the requisite "what I'm thankful for" entry. In this first year out of college and in a sense, "on my own", I have dozens of reasons to be thankful.

This year, I am thankful for

  • my roommates, who put up with my stress induced sloppiness and tendency to overshare random mundane details. Also, for indulging me in teacher talk, even when we're all first year teachers and spend all day with the small children. 
  • My unofficial TFA mentors -- Ms. C and Ms. S. Their help and support throughout the process and since I've started teaching have helped to keep my focus realistic and productive
  • my co-workers, who have been supportive of the emotional challenges of being a first year teacher
  • in particular, my TFA co-workers, who understand the challenges and successes I feel every day at school and the balancing act of work and TFA
  • my TFA region -- while I'm sure that there are strengths and challenges in each region, I keep feeling like there's a reason I ended up in Nashville, even if it appeared random and even if I choose not to stay here. 
  • my students, for making me smile when they
    • fart so loudly and profusely that even I can't help but laugh
    • are shocked that I'm introducing something new -- "But Ms. Astronaut, we didn't learn that in 3rd grade!"
    • ask if they have to complete the homework
    • ask for help on a test. When I ask with what, they ask for the answer. 
    • leave love notes for me on their work
    • look panicked when they hear that I'm going out of town, even if it's  only for the Thanksgiving holiday
And finally, my amazing and wonderful family. For my brother, who came and helped in my classroom. For my father, for saying all the wildly inappropriate things I wish I could even let myself think. For my mother, who has been a constant source of well everything since graduation. I've been so incredibly fortunate to have a family that's worked in education and understands what I've been going through to some extent.

With that, I'm off to back to return to the South. Only a few weeks until I'm back here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I feel like a zombie come back to life

As a sidenote: I'm sitting in a coffeeshop as a cute, male college senior talks with someone about his application to Teach for America. To the powers who make these decisions, please take more male teachers in this program. I can't even tell you how many of my students would benefit from more positive male role models in their lives. The Nashville corps is small enough that the ratio, not so different from the national one, feels very X chromosome heavy

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

I took a sick day on Friday. Initially, I had thought it would be a mental health day but as the week progressed, it turned into an actual health day. I know my principal assumed it was a mental health day, but I actually went to the MNPS clinic and had doctor's orders to sleep, hydrate, and eat whatever I wanted. While stress does affect my body, I know how to read the signs pretty well and since a scare sophomore year, I've gotten really good at acknowledging when my body needs a break. Having a day solely devoted to doing nothing was exactly what my body needed. My headache disappeared (maybe with the help of lots of advil), nothing was blurry all day, and didn't feel the urge to heave more than once or twice.

But I felt so guilty being away from my kids. I missed them all. Even the one who talks when she thinks I'm not looking and then denies it. Even the one who has had a hissy fit almost every day for the last 4 weeks and no one can figure out why. Even the one who comments on my clothes and makes me rethink my outfit almost every day. All of them.  I hope that they would show the substitute that they were a well-behaved class, that they are smart and can talk candidly about what we're learning to catch her up to speed. While I'll get the full report tomorrow, my notes from coworkers indicated that it was not so good. Maybe they'll appreciate me more when I get back? Maybe?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Step 1. Breathe in. Step 2 Breathe out

I've always been one to talk much more than necessary and if I try to use figurative language to describe something in real life, it's a fail. But I've got a really simple one, so here goes. On my way to work on Friday, my gas tank light went on saying that I was approaching empty. Much like my gas tank was drained, so was I.

This past week I had my first round of parent teacher conferences. I really like talking with the parents, and I know I have established different relationships with all of them. Some are more well-established than others and others have been a challenge to communicate. I only had one interaction that I could describe as unpleasant and, while unfortunate, I can only think that if I let it bother me the person that will be most affected is the student. That sounds pretty mature but trust me, it took me a while to actually come to that conclusion and feel sincere about it.

My big personal goal this week has been to get myself organized. Shout out to the 09er (and my School Operations Manager at Institute!) who gave me some really great ideas for how to get myself more organized. My grade level chair might actually steal one of the ideas I used! I've found, however, that to be better organized sometimes you have to be more disorganized first. I'm about there right now-- like many things, not where I'd like to be but I have a goal of where I'd like to go.

One of the biggest challenges to my organization has been the number of kids coming in and out of my class throughout the year. To recap

Beginning of the year: 26
Week 1: One student moved to Exceptional Ed (-1)
Week 3: Student moves out of district (-1)
Week 4: Students move to newly created classroom (-7)
Week 4: ELL student moved into my room (+1)
Week 6: New student arrives (+1), another student leaves (-1)
Week 7: New student arrives (+1)
Week 8: New student arrives (+1)
Week 9: Student exchanged with teacher next door (-/+ 1)
Week 9: Student moved to another classroom at parent's request (-1)
Week 10: New students arrive Monday and Friday (+2)
Week 11: New student arrives Wednesday (+1)

and we're going on Week 12 this week. That's part of what being at the school with the highest in/out rate in the district looks like.

That means over the course of the first part of the year, I've had 34 students in my classroom at various points. Being at a school that's given extra money to have small class sizes, about 23 max, that's a lot of turnover. That's also changes in students every week for the last 7 weeks. I'm really struggling to maintain a classroom culture when each child contributes in such different ways. Some of my new students are really great and I am incredibly encouraged to see how well they are doing after being dropped in a new school in the middle of the year. I do worry about how well some of them are adjusting.

While many of these kids have left the school, I still feel a special attachment to the ones that were in my room for any period of time. We had our recognition ceremony this week for report cards, and two of my kids that were in the newly created classroom received the highest award for behavior that we offer -- I was so proud of them, I even told some other teachers "those were my kids".

In all honesty, all the kids in my grade level are my kids. There's been so much turnover and confusion that all of us teachers rely on each other for support. I have kids that respond well to the male teacher. Others fear being sent to the room of another teacher. On top of the children's retention rate, the newly created class has had teacher retention issues which means I also feel invested in the kids in that classroom.

So that empty tank of gas? Much to the chagrin of my bank account, it's full. My feeling drained? Working on it, slowly and surely.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Help my classroom!!

I just submitted my first project. Want to know what I'm striving to get for my classroom?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's Quitting Time

No, not me. I'm still here. But the return from Fall Break has been rough for everyone. It was like a respite from work reminded people of how much they give up to work as a teacher and the realization has set in a discouraged feeling. No one has ever quit the Nashville corps, but if you talked with any first year corps member they will probably tell you that they've thought about it, some more seriously than others. Coming back to starting a new graduate class that actually is trying to get us to do a teaching practicum on top of our regular job didn't make that feeling any better. Now, it's only half an hour a week, but the logistics is perhaps what made people most frustrated. I've only quit a few things in my life and let me tell you, it has not been accomplished without serious guilt and second thoughts.

Now, in contrast, I came back from a great back catching up with friends from back in college. While I know that teaching made for a difficult first year out of school, I realized how many of the things I'm feeling and going through are not unique to my job. Many of my friends feel overworked, exhausted, and are not entirely pleased with their jobs. I'd often wondered if I'd been part of the St. Louis corps if I would have been happier because I have so many friends in the city, but I realized I probably would have hung out in the same places and just felt guilty for not seeing my friends as much as I wanted to. One of the girls that I interviewed with about a year ago who was placed in St. Louis has already quit the corps there which was hard to hear.

When I came back, my uncle was in town. Now, now he and I had had dinner during week 1 of my teaching and this was week 10, beginning of the second quarter. We talked about a lot of things, including how teaching was going, and he said that he could tell from how I was talking about things that I sounded more confident. And I realized, I do feel better about teaching. I'm still struggling in a lot of ways, but since the beginning of the year I've figured a lot of things out. Do I still wish some things would change that I have no control over? Yes. Of course. Do I realize that some of the people I thought would be helpful aren't the best channel for advice? Yes. For sure. Is my data showing the kind of results I was hoping it would? No, not exactly.

They say that teachers hit a low in October, but then it begins to go back up. While I know that many of my friends here are struggling (despite being in one of the best ranked regions holla), I'm starting to feel like maybe that turnaround is starting. Did I put in an insane amount of work this week? Yes. I've taken to underestimating how much work I do for our Americorps hours out of habit as if no one would believe me that I put in 16, 17 hour days on a regular basis. But even though I'm exhausted, there's this new kind of energy that's pushing me through some of the work that I'm doing. Who knows how long it's sustainable, but I'm going to ride it however far it takes me.

So about the title to the entry? I'm quitting thinking about quitting. I'm quitting thinking about all the other things I could have been doing. I'm quitting thinking about all the things I wish were different that I have no control over. And finally, it's something I don't feel guilty about quitting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Break -- a godsend for my mental health sake

Fall Break began on Friday for the kids, but with the professional development I've been to, today was really the first day. Sleeping in was glorious and I felt ready to tackle some of the projects I've been meaning to get to. Some of these projects are a result of the professional development I've had in the last week and really had the chance to process some of the things that have been going on. I keep seeing this break as the opportunity to restart and jump start some of the things I haven't done as well as I've wanted to thus far.

I've finally taken some more pictures of my classroom to get ready for making my first grant. My biggest goal moving forward, aside from the whole closing the achievement gap thing, is to get my kids excited about reading. I've spent the week trying to put together my literacy centers so that I can start guided reading.

My kids read at all different levels. Using Reading A to Z, my kids range from E to Q. What does that really mean? I have some kids that haven't quite reached first grade level and others that are practically on grade level. I love that my class includes the ELL kids on the grade level because they are so enthusiastic for the most part about learning, they just don't have the support at home. Sadly, several of my ELL kids are Nashville born and bred and 10 years later, they really don't have fully functioning knowledge in English and their working knowledge in the own language doesn't seem as though it's fully developed.

I have several stories I haven't had the chance to type up and that's my goal for break. Well, what's left of my working break. I'm giving myself an actual vacation and going back to college for a few days. I cannot wait. Many of my friends stayed around after graduation, I have a good number of friends still in undergrad, and one of my best friends will be in town from Chicago!!!

There are many times so far where I've thought that I had it better than I thought in college and I've had dreams where I'm back in school. I think going back will be odd, but at the same time, it will help me see how far I've come since graduation (aside from the scale that's told me I've lost 20 pounds since graduation)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Getting an Ejuckashon

Even though I hope my kids are learning from me, I'm amazed at the number of things that I learn from them on a daily basis. Things as mundane as their favorite colors, songs, and dances, to the truly saddening such as an already jaded perspective on life and how things are. Should nine and ten years olds really know about that? Whatever happened to the idea of childhood?

Despite the overwhelming waves of sadness I feel at some of my students offhand comments, I find myself alternating between laughing out loud and crying on the inside while I go over mounds and mounds of papers that need to be graded.

Some highlights from the different things I have to grade this weekend:

From the Language Arts section of our Friday quiz

--Directions: Write two sentences that are fact, two sentences that are opinion.
Response (from one of my girls who got really upset that her teacher crush, Mr. J, shared the same name as the example in a previous question which asked fact/opinion "Mr. Jones has two sons and one daughter")
Mr. J don't have children. You can't prove that Mr. J has children. Mr. J is a teacher. Is he cute or not.

From an assignment on writing declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences
--Is moisturizing a good thing? (from a quiet boy)
--Shut your mouth
-- W.keeps messing with me. W is in trouble for messing with me now.

From the district writing test
-Directions: You wake up as an adult. Write about what you do

-- have a child by the age of 25
--get a GED and spend 8 years in college
-- get an ejuckashon
-- have children and then get married
-- play for the Lakers. play for the Heat. Play for the Lakers
--buy a manshun
--Go get some Jordans

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: The school policy

This week and last have been rough. TFA shows you a projection of the first year teacher's satisfaction/happiness and it says that in about October it gets rough. Well, we got started second week of August so about end of September is right.

There's a lot of things that I'd like to say, but this is not the forum and frankly I haven't figured out the best way to explain them to people who don't coexist in my school bubble. My sense of possibility is diminishing at a faster rate than I'd hoped for. Right now, I just feel like a sailboat with a torn sail, a broken rudder, and a storm brewing overhead in the middle of open water.

I'd like to feel good at something. And one thing I also feel is that I haven't been a good friend. So if you're a friend and you're reading this, I'm sorry I haven't called or emailed or returned your calls recently but if you could just shoot me an email with something about your life and what's been going on, I would love that. I think living in my teacher world is starting to drive me batty and I need to be reminded that at some point, I wasn't exhausted, struggling to stay positive, or frustrated all the time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Keeps Getting Better...Or Not

This week has been a rollercoaster of everything. For the first time, I felt really solid about some of my plans in Language Arts and the kids seemed to respond well. My kids were happy for the most part and motivated to do well behaviorally because of parties at the end of the week.

I also introduced a new system for students to move back up the behavior chart -- they need to receive three different written compliments from 3 different students. Rather than focusing on tattling now as the issue, we're working on creating a more positive space. It's also made dismissal much faster because the kids need to wait until the very end of the day to learn whether they received enough compliments. Some kids almost always receive the compliments that they need and it's usually the kids that I felt bad about moving their color down (green to blue to yellow to orange to red) that get them. The children that are routinely misbehaving,and not so nice to their peers tend not to get enough compliments although sometimes they can. In a way, the children are really good at reflecting what I'm thinking in my head about whether or not their classmate is putting in effort to change their behavior after an incident.

Wednesday was great because I got to see one of my college roommates for a visit and it was really great to catch up. Yet again, it was a reminder of my life before teaching and made me feel social (especially since I knew the people at the table next to us!) I woke up Thursday morning feeling really good and positive.

It was, however,  a nightmare. A lot of it I can't really go into detail about, but I ended up losing my planning period and some instructional time to translate for a meeting at the last minute. While I think the meeting went well, I felt unprepared for it and lost an hour of Language Arts the day before my kids took their unit test. When I returned to class, my kids were not in the mood to actually do anything except beg for rewards. One child was in a particularly foul mood and while escorting him out of the classroom to another room for a time out, he stepped on my foot.

Now, my bad for wearing open toed shoes, but man, it hurt something awful. I've always been worried about injuries to digits since I injured my finger in a basketball game and it never healed properly, leaving me with arthritis. However, the pain was so bad I ended up skipping grad class (aw shucks) to go and get it x-rayed. Luckily not broken, but still following doctors orders for care and treatment. The shoe I had to wear the next day shocked my kids and,while dramatic, was a great reminder to them to be safe.

One of the things I struggle with is getting my kids to think about the results of their actions. I get on them about tipping over their chair because it's not safe and still I'm telling kids everyday to sit down. Way too many of my kids rush through their work and it's not until after the fact, when asked "is this your best work? Is this what you want to show to your mama/grandma/dad/uncle/significant adult in your life" that they acknowledge that they haven't paid attention or put in their all. One teacher that I worked with put it well -- they need to work on their stamina. But how to improve it?

How do you slow down kids that need to catch up?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

They don't pay me enough to deal with that kind of shit

My training has made me prepared for many of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants moments that have occurred thus far. I've had crying kids, lessons that tanked, procedures that failed, classroom discussions about not using gay as an insult, and other hormonal issues of 4th graders. Friday was, on the outset, a typical Friday: quests, kids going nuts, feeling exhausted at the end of the week, and making kids upset that their behavior report was not excellent.

Almost at the end of the day, I felt nauseous. To the point where I called in another teacher to duck into the teacher bathroom located conveniently next door. Oddly, I felt better as soon as I left my classroom. Upon my return, however, I discovered what may have been the cause of the nausea -- a brown streak smeared on the floor of the aisle in my classroom.

There was shit in my classroom. Literally.

Several kids had discovered this as well which inspired an entire class of 18 to shriek and lift up their shoes. At least three kids had also stepped in the brown matter. I moved all my kids away from the desks and ended up taking them into the hallway for the rest of day, about 15 minutes, because the smell was so horrendous that nothing could possibly be accomplished in that time. Needless, the end of the day was  bit of a mess and the room was a disaster when the janitor showed up. I apologized for the pencils strewn across the floor and that chairs hadn't been put up for the evening, but the crap on the floor was really a good excuse for not getting that done.

At Friday happy hour, which has quickly turned into one of my favorite things about the week because I get to have adult company and talk with non-teachers (although often regaling them with stories about teaching....woops), several theories came up. Was it dog poop? Seeing as it was 3:10 and none of my children had been outside all day because of the weather and lack of a playground, that option seemed unlikely. Did a child track it in from the bathroom? This is more plausible, but there seemed to be a lack of shit in the hallway that would support this option. Several kids had it on their shoes, but not really enough to warrant carrying that amount into my classroom.

So unless, dear readers, you can think of something else, I have accepted the following conclusion: someone shit in my classroom. If I taught kindergarten or even 1st grade like one of my roommates, I think I would have been more prepared for this. However, in 4th grade, you really don't expect that.

Teaching. Expect the unexpected. Especially the crap.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Teacher becomes the another Teacher?

I went in to school today to make some copies and bumped into the new 4th grade teacher. My school has added at least one new teacher onto every grade level, as well as some special ed teachers. They start sometime this week which I think most of the teachers are eagerly anticipating.

I unfortunately didn't have a lot of plans to share with her since I spent this weekend mostly in bed. I showed her around my classroom and shared with her some of what my class had been working on. The grade is supposed to do everything at the same time, but we've gotten off track in several different places. As we went over things, I asked her what she had in mind for her classroom management plan -- turns out this is her first year teaching and she hadn't quite thought through that yet.

I found myself giving her tips and advice. Me, after a few weeks of teaching that I can't even say were particularly successful at this point, I was giving suggestions.

Tonight, I have almost no idea tomorrow is going to look like with my kids. I spent the weekend getting myself better, not really lesson planning and definitely not getting started on my Unit 2 plans. However, after having spent a week and the weekend feeling absolutely horrible, I feel so energized to go back into school tomorrow. Disease, achievement gap, be prepared to have your behind kicked.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Finding Balance -- Part 1 of 4

I broke down and bought three things this weekend: A thermometer, a bathroom scale, and some powerful meds. I could feel myself getting worse and worse this week so I decided to be an adult and in true TFA fashion, went to get myself some data. Here it is -- this weekend my temperature reached up to 102 and I've lost 12 pounds since graduation. I've probably only worked out as many times as those digits combined so that's not a great sign.

So here's the plan. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to search for balance in spiritual, mental, physical and social.

The plan was to tackle those all in this one weekend, but seeing as the most imminent one is the physical, I'm going to slow it down a bit. I did get the chance to go out to happy hour with some of my colleagues on Friday night and it was really, really nice to remember that I have a life outside of the classroom. Although I did end up talking with some other teachers that were there and I just felt so reenergized with new ideas.

I spent yesterday literally doing nothing related to school. I went to Target, and spent the rest of the day in a horizontal position either on the couch or in bed. It was glorious. This three day weekend could not have happened at a better time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You are drinking a liquid candy bar

I've been going to lunch with my kids all week because their behavior was so bad that I felt I needed to be an extra pair of eyes and ears in the lunchroom. While I was a huge fan of Jamie Oliver's miniseries on cafeteria lunches in the US, I hadn't had much experience with public school lunches since, well, I was in the 4th grade.

While the food itself isn't always what I would select as the most appealing, what makes me sad is the small percentage of my class that chooses flavored milk. I have 25 students right now, so it makes the percentage pretty easy to calculate. On my first day in the lunchroom, 1/25 students chose regular milk or as the kids call it "white milk" -- a name which makes it seem like we are so far removed from the actual product of milk, that stuff that comes from a cow, that out children don't even recognize the original.

I told some of them sitting near me that their flavored milk had as much sugar as a liquid candy bar -- at 160 calories, that might only be a small candy bar, but it's just about the same. I know that getting kids to drink any milk at all is a big success, but when the option is available to have "white milk" I do believe that we should encourage children to drink that. The next day, 3/25 students were drinking regular milk. Small successes.

I'm not alone in this debate over school milk. The NY Times just wrote a piece about the debate. I do wonder about the study that says that without the option of flavored milk, students will drink less milk overall.

Why the sudden interest in what my kids eat? Because I'm not being very healthy myself -- I have a pretty particular diet and I have been doing incredibly poorly at following through on it. That, and being surrounded by children with some kind of stomach virus/flu, means that I'm getting sick. We had one 4th grade teacher with a substitute last week and I saw what happened when you don't prepare for a sub -- either with lesson plans or have procedures down. The children acted as though they had not heard of any of the school rules. We have testing this next week that can't be administered by a substitute, so forgive me for not calling you if promised -- I've been trying to save my voice.

Now, to figure out what to do with 24 children while we conduct reading tests all day Monday....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Adventures of Ms. Astronaut

One full week of school down, and I can tell you this. Despite all technical difficulties, I am already in love with all 24 little (well, some not so little) bodies that sit in my classroom. We're still working on listening and following directions, especially "Stop Talking". I did feel a bit like one of the videos we watched over the summer about a first day of school where it was chaos.

This week, the fire alarm has gone off several times, there have been workmen drilling into the concrete on either side of my classroom, there have been workmen drilling in my classroom during one of my scheduled class times (read aloud in the hallway for the win), I'm still a few textsbooks short, I haven't called all my parents because I either don't have numbers yet or my phone/internet doesn't work, and since my SmartBoard was installed I have no working board with which to teach since the projector was not installed at the same time.

My first day of school was overwhelming, in part because of one child who arrived late, was added to my list, was new to school, and just downright confusing. I had no idea how to help this child or what to do with him. As it turns out, he was never supposed to be in my class but rather a much smaller class for children with specific needs. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the teachers and administrators who popped in to check on me and my class those first few days until things got settled.

Even now, I can't recall all of the ridiculous things that have happened. I've already confiscated things, but none more frequently than Kool-Aid. The kids bring in packets, lick their fingers, and stick it in the powder. It makes a ridiculous mess and then they get all sticky. The other day a child had an open packet in her uniform pocket and it got wet at the water fountain. I was working with another student when I hear, "uh Ms. Astronaut? I have a problem"I turned and all I saw was this wet red splotch just above her hip and my heart dropped. OMG, how on Earth is this child so bloody???!!? After discovering the cause, I gave my students a talking to about not bringing in Kool-Aid anymore.

I'm still in survival mode, trying to lesson plan while gauging where my kids are at. After one week I can tell you, it's quite a spread. I have all the ELL kids for the grade in my class as well, which is another challenge I wasn't thinking about over the summer. In theory, we're getting more teachers at our school so my class size *might* go down, which would be incredibly nice for getting these kids some more one on one attention. Until then, I'm overplanning until my brain hurts. Hopefully at some point in the next few weeks, I can resume having some kind of life again. We got paid (woot!) yesterday, and I went out to dinner and a movie with friends to celebrate a birthday. It took a little time, but we all finally managed to talk about something other than our kids for a while. It's also nice every now and again to not be Ms. (or Mrs.) Astronaut.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ignore the mess behind the curtain

It's the day before school starts. As a kid, I was always super excited for the first day of school. Now that I'm a teacher, the feeling is a bit different. Perhaps, to be fair, it won't always feel like an all-encompassing fear and panic. It may just be that being a brand new teacher who's teaching in a building that still has construction workers in it isn't conducive to relaxation and eager anticipation. My room is set up, but a whole bunch of things have been shoved in drawers and cabinets until I can figure out what the heck they are and where things should actually go. (Pictures to come this weekend when I have a spare second to upload them)

The whole situation began to feel more real once I got my class list -- 14 boys, 11 girls. I felt my heart drop to my stomach when I looked at all those names. 25 sounds like a lot because it is, even by district standards. I've been issued most things in groups of 20 because that's the ideal size and up to 24 for some other things because that's supposed to be the max. I won't know how many kids will stick with me for a while, and last year the school had a 60 percent in/out rate. If you don't know what that means, don't worry -- I'm not entirely clear I get it when I stop to think about it. Basically, last year had lots of turnover.

I inherited some papers with background on (some of )the kids. I have at least 3 kids with special needs and 2 students who are ELL. Several students are medicated, and it looks like some others should be. I also got to see the kids reading scores. I got excited when I saw one of the first ones in the pile -- at a 44, the student was scored at a mid 4th grade level. Huzzah! Then I turned a few more sheets into the pile.

I have Sweet Pete in my class.

I had learned about Sweet Pete awhile ago when I first met with some of the teachers who knew the incoming 4th graders. I asked a teacher what the range looked like in the grade. As I can tell from my own scores, a majority of the kids are not on reading level. My own class average based on what info I have from their previous teachers puts them at late 2nd grade (24)

Sweet Pete has a 2. A generous 2. By the scale Nashville uses and after the summer away from books, I wouldn't be surprised if he tested back at a 0 which is where he was for most of last year. To be a 0-4 is to essentially be a non-reader. Which means if I am lucky, Sweet Pete will know his letters and what sound they make. Maybe.

I want to make my own conclusions about him, but I have a feeling he's going to be one of my biggest challenges. He is getting special resources, so I won't be the only one working with him, but I think I'm going to push myself emotionally to unrealistic places trying to get him to succeed and will be very invested. Not that it's a bad thing to do, but I realize that people more skilled than I have already been working with him for years.

And that is the achievement gap. I saw it this summer in Atlanta and now I'm getting glimpses of it here in Nashville. It's an intimidating to take it head on, but I feel like I have the confidence of so many people. My family. My friends. My TFA coworkers. Even my school coworkers who know I've never had my own class before have confidence in me.

My dad likes to wear casual clothes, so when he has to dress up for work, he says he's wearing his positions "costume". I have my teacher costume ready to go. We'll see how long it takes for the costume to feel like the real thing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why? Just Why?

A reflection today during Round Zero, TFA's lesson planning boot camp, made me think seriously about my kids from this summer. The reflection was about the tendency of children to insult another child by calling them "Little girl" or "Little boy". 

I had one student in particular who used this, Jazzy. Jazzy was one of the more challenging students this summer. She most likely had an IEP and yet we had no access to it. She also was supposed to have glasses, but somewhere shuffling back and forth between her parents she lost them. Over the course of the summer, we learned different things to say and do to help Jazzy focus but one of her biggest issues was how she interacted with her peers. After one particularly rough day, her father told her "you're here to learn, you're not here to make friends". While I appreciated the sentiment, I honestly think some of her issues would have been easier had she had more friends.

Instead, when she had any kind of negative interaction with another student, she would say things like "little boy, don't touch my pencils" or "little girl, don't look at me."

Really? The boy is a head taller than you. That girl? She's a year older than you and she's following directions like a good student. 

It's one of those mysteries like why they always say "I need to use it" when they mean that they need to go to the bathroom.

My mind seems to wander back to my kids from this summer as I get started planning for this coming year. Even though I'll be teaching 4th not 2nd, its so much easier to think about what I'm doing when I've got actual kids in mind. Who knows? Maybe I'll have another Jazzy in my class. 

My school's not finished yet, so I haven't seen my classroom at all. I have no idea what I will have or what I won't, how much wall space I'll have or what kinds of things I'll need to have before school starts. Buuuut, in theory, we're moving in next Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We are so over

Dear IKEA,

This is hard for me to write, since we haven't been together all that long. I had admired you for so long from afar, ever since you crossed the Atlantic a few years ago from those Swedish shores.  My friends told me how wonderful you were, and there you were in my host families house. My host mother was almost embarrassed at how much you were a part of their lives.

But IKEA, as quickly as we started, we are so over.

I passed you every day in Atlanta on my way to school, just before the sleep deprivation would lull me to sleep for the next 20 minutes, thinking of pleasant things like my new place in Nashville instead of the children that awaited me. I finally worked up the courage to go see you (bringing a friend along for the first time to make sure I had her approval) and that was it, I had to have you. I'd flirted with the idea of other furniture, like Target, Walmart, and things on Craigslist, but I kept coming back to you.

It was rough at the beginning, and not as easygoing as I had hoped-- that you didn't want to fit in my car should have been a sign that you didn't fit in my life. But when there's a will, there's a way, and you ended up tucked in the UHaul with other TFAers furniture to Nashville.

Perhaps I shouldn't have moved so quickly to get you into my bedroom. I unwrapped everything so quickly and excitedly and then....had no idea what to do. It was so new, different, and damn confusing. That piece is supposed to go where? That can't possibly fit! What the heck is that supposed to do??

But finally, after 8 hours, punctuated with different periods of separation, it felt right. Well, almost. I'd misjudged one piece of you and unlike what they say, you can't always go back. I tried to change you, making holes where I needed them to be and ignoring the others that just didn't seem as important. Now I know I can never fill those holes.

So, IKEA, we're done. You look smooth and classic on the outside, but in the end, you're really just cheap. And for me, that's not enough. I can't spend anymore time on you, trying to make it work, all the while wanting to throw my screwdriver at your linguistically ambiguous directions. I confess as well -- I went and got some Target furniture when I couldn't deal with you anymore during one of our separations. That bookcase in the corner? We fit together in 20 minutes.

This is a little awkward now, since we're living together and all, but I promise I won't kick you out. Now that you're moved in, I guess you might as well stay.


Ms. A

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy (Belated) Birthday Amurica!

It's been a while since I've actually had a weekend to do exactly what I wanted to do, and I'm afraid that while the original intention was to actual make some phone and skype calls, I wanted to sleep. Or rather, needed to. I spent Friday evening enjoying some time with one of my Nashville roommates here away from school and responsibilities. However, it now appears that wherever there are small children around, I will revert to teacher mode. Being at the aquarium and looking around in wonder made me remember what I love about education, and museum education in particular. The kids were fascinated by everything around them and excited to engage with the presentations. That, is the best part of teaching, not the fighting and the lying and the constant breaking of pencils (it's not an accident. They do it on purpose. To torment me so that the sound of the electric sharpener never leaves my brain).

I spent much of Saturday sleeping, as somewhere in the jostling of my purse at the museum, I accidently activated my alarm clock on my phone. The one that is set to go off at 5:30 in the morning. I was so confused when it went off, especially since my phone was in the living room and I was deep asleep -- although I missed my roommate this weekend while she was back in Nashville, I'm so glad it did not wake her up as well at that hour! Needless, I fought any urge to get up and be productive and, let me tell you, --- it was glorious. I did finally get up to head out to a barbecue that some of the 2009 corps members threw in celebration of the 4th. I've barely had a chance to see some of the other Nashville corps since we started teaching since we're at several different schools and teaching different grades/subjects, so it was yet another reminder this weekend that I was a real person sometimes not just "Ms. A"

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ms. A, What's wrong with your eyes?

Looking back over this week, all I can think about was how rough it was. But in all honestly, that was mostly just Friday. Friday was a complete mess of a day, from start to finish, both from a teacher point of view and probably student point of view. But let's start with the beginning of the week.

I started off the week feeling good -- I thought I had gotten ahead by doing more work over the weekend. Turns out I was right on track. At least that's not behind? I started off the week with two of the simplest objectives, related to place values.
Monday: Objective 2. Student mastery on diagnostic? 31 percent. Student mastery after my class? 80 percent.
Now, for all you non TFA people, 80 percent mastery is like the benchmark of success. In essence, after I graded my assessments, I shrieked and lept out of my chair in the workroom. Now, a few children were absent but a mix of those who would have gotten it and others that probably would just not have even attempted it.

Tuesday could have had similar results. However, whereas some students were missing on Monday, ALL 13 of them showed up on Tuesday. Including the girl who was asked not to come back unless she brought grandma (who also attended my class), the ELL student who thought was moving, and the child who came on the first day and hadn't been back since. Meaning, he'd missed 6 days of school. My Faculty Adviser had told us to take two of those students off the roster -- I was short a few copies of my classwork and had to meekly approach the office to use the copier (a big no-no in most cases since TFA provides free printing for us at Georgia Tech).

Wednesday revealed a huge miscommunication between me and a coteacher. This was also the day that someone from Nashville staff observed me, and that I was videotaped. I have yet to see the videotape. While I don't necessarily want to see what my face looked like as I realized that these children were so unprepared for the material in my lesson, I am anxious to see what my face looked like when a child, who usually does not participate, was excited to read the word problem off the board. What was "J spent $1.19 on a set of pencils" somehow came out as "J spent $1.19 on a set of panties"

My class on Thursday went fairly well (Happy Birthday to me!) and my class mastery went up another 12 points.

Friday. As much as the students are ready for the weekend, trust me, teachers are ready for it too. We had so many behavioral breakdown issues that it was hard to turn around without seeing another child doing something that they expressly were told not to do. I entered my class in the wrong mindset, having just had an emotional conversation with my CMA about how to make progress with my kids. My class this week has been at the very end of the day, and the class was losing it
--"Ms. A, Ms. A, I don't know how to DO this" (followed by a perfect score on the assessment"
--"Oh My GAWD" (when told she needed to write her multiplication answers in both forms, ie AxB is the same as BxA)
--"I have 30 tickets now." (No, we exchange tickets for prizes in the morning. You will have to wait) "I have 30 tickets now"

The kids get a prize on Fridays: If they can get enough class points, they can listen to a Michael Jackson song. For some reason, all the children are obsessed with Michael (aside from one, who loves Janet more). This week's goal was 115. By the end of class, they had 114. I told them that if they could follow our line up procedure, I would go ahead and give them that last point. Not only could they not do that, they talked during an intercom announcement (an automatic point if they are silent for it). I had to be the one to tell them that they were getting no Michael this week.

As one of the other teachers helped to get them out the door, I turned my back to my kids and tried to hold in tears. I couldn't give one concise reason for it then, and even after a day of distinctly non-teaching related activities (World of Coke and World Cup), I can't exactly place my finger on why it all happened the way it did.

For now, I'm focusing on the positives. I rated pretty well on TFA's overly complicated rubric for teaching and have a clearer idea of in what areas I need to improve. I managed to use cubes to teach my lesson on Thursday. I am using a basketball on Monday to teach. I heard from my school in Nashville, and I'll be teaching 4th grade -- my first choice!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I didn't mean to be disrepectin you

85 hours of work, 20 hours of sleep during the week and that again this weekend -- that in a small nutshell is what my schedule has been like this first week of teaching.

I'm off to meet with my CMA aka Corps Member Adviser to hear her thoughts on the lesson she observed on Friday. I'd originally been scheduled for an observation on Wednesday, but the fire alarm went off in the middle of my lesson. Oof.

As my brain is only thinking in short bursts and segments, a glimpse of what my week looked like in disconnected experiences

--- My kids were so good at one concept I was teaching that I was coming up with math problems on the fly. Too bad one of the problems I came up with was the one exception to the rule, and then utterly confused them.
--- My darling ELL student has moved. No idea to where, but she came in one day and told us she wasn't going to be back.
--- My slightly-less darling child whose parents decided she did not need to take her medication has stopped coming to school since the school told her mom either send her with meds or don't send her
--- I get hugs almost every day
--- When I leave to go to my training sessions, the kids ask "are you coming back? When are you coming back?" as if I'm going to leave them. Makes me happy that they like me, makes me sad that they are so worried about people leaving them
---Called parents for the first time. One was totally positive, the other an exercise in how to nicely tell a parent that their child can do the work but chooses to disrupt the class.
---I had to give a lot of warnings in the hallway on the way to and from lunch this week. One boy was really upset about his behavior and the number of warnings he got. He called me over during independent work and apologized (hence the title of the post)
---I had one child offer to give his good behavior tickets to another who hadn't gotten enough to get a prize from the Treasure Chest. It was so sweet, and it killed me to say no.
--- I look like I'm 15 according to one student
--- I'm "old" according to another
---I've grown highly concerned about potential smudges on my rear end, which is precariously close to the the marker tray. No matter what color, it looks like poo to 2nd graders.
---My school has been broken into twice this week. They don't seem to be taking much stuff (except for one CM's laptop) but more targeted vandalism against specific administrators. Almost worse that it seems like a calculated attack from someone somehow connected with the community
--- We had yet another birthday in my corps, celebrated with a group trip to see the Braves. Man, am I going to miss baseball games in Nashville.
--- My school back in Nashville has been officially a mouthful. It's a much better reflection of the school as it reopens, but I'll be curious to see how it gets "abbreved"
---I lost my power cord to my computer. They tell you laptops are optional at Institute. FALSE.
---I bought a new power cord and cried on the inside to see more money leaving my bank account knowing I won't get paid for another 2 months at least.
---I still have yet to drink a cup of coffee.
---I got severely dehydrated and wasted worktime at school lying down on the "instructional carpet". I think I may start napping in my classroom in the fall. Benefits of being an elementary school teacher.
---I am steps closer to signing my lease in Nashville
--- I am still blown away by the love and support of my family, corps, and friends (shout out to Ms. C and Ms. S!!)

The more time I spend here, the more I find myself exhausted, but inspired for Nashville, my corps, my school, and for what is yet to come.

p.s. This week, I will reattempt blocks. Wish me luck!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Day of School: Failure?

Today was the first day that I got the chance to teach. I had my teacher voice, my teacher outfit, my lesson plan, and an activity to make math concepts more visual to students. My objective? Students will be able to do subtraction with regrouping (not across a zero). On the diagnostic, only one child mastered this objective out of 12. The one ELL kid who reads at a preschool level.

The start of the class was fine. The kids were tired after 100 minutes of reading, so we took a "brain break" (For those that will understand -- tomorrow, we will bacon sizzle) to get ready to switch to math. I started off with an example that I walked through, checking at each step for volunteers. I had several of the same volunteers over and over. Several people were NOT in a good mood after reading. I knew one student had been taken out of the classroom and brought back in time for math with me.

My class time was split oddly so that I had 20 minutes before lunch and 20 minutes after, which included the transition time in the hallway. While I initially though this would be a huge problem, it ended up being a bit of a god-send.

The Block Debacle
Since my lesson plan involved teaching with base-10 blocks, I thought I would introduce them before lunch and continue afterward. My class had been pretty good with directions (aside from some shouting out) until we got to the blocks. Each table had a set in their table bucket and while some kids had noticed them earlier, most of them did not until I said the disastrous phrase.

"Ok class. Today, we're going to use blocks to --"

I barely got past that line before kids had opened up the neat ziploc packages and dumped them all over the table. I tried to stop them, to get out my directions, but the fact that these were blocks AND they stacked together was like giving kids Legos. One table managed to somewhat follow directions, but you'd have thought that the other kids were at home in their rooms with the blocks making big castles and fortresses. Unfortunately, this meant that the kids who were trying to listen at those tables couldn't pay attention. This went on for longer than I care to admit to in a quantitative assessment.

And here's where the teacher voice came in. In summary, I said --

"Class, it is clear that we are not ready to work with blocks today. When we get back from lunch, there will be no blocks on the table for anyone."

I went on to include stuff about taking other peoples learning time, but I think they just shut off after I said no more blocks. A few people were rowdy on the way to lunch, and on the way back was worse. I soon discovered that one student had not been given her meds that morning for what I'm guessing is ADHD. We'd gotten a new student that morning that no one had seen before and sat him in what has to be the worst spot for him in the entire room.

For the second half of the class, I had the one good table try to model what we were doing. That worked somewhat better, but from now on I think I'm going to pass at the blocks.

The most frustrating part was that my assessment was too long and complicated for most of these kids. The ELL student got it all right, but then again she was the only one in the class who had gotten it on the diagnostic. I did notice some patterns in they're work, and it's such basic subtraction things that it almost made me cry. How on Earth was I supposed to teach regrouping if you can't even subtract 5-3?

But I keep telling myself that tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow's topic is similar, so we can do some review.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Soggy Dixie Cup

So the blog title is kind of a lie at the moment -- I'm actually in Atlanta, just about to head to bed after the second day of Institute. For all my non-TFA friends, the best way to describe it has been a teacher-boot camp. I've woken up each morning to see the moon still in the sky, catch myself falling asleep at 10:30 in the morning, and have caught myself creating a mental countdown until I succumb and start drinking coffee to stay awake.

My CMA (again, for non-TFAers, one of the many, many, people helping me along this training) has compared being at Institute to standing under a waterfall with a dixie cup. The water keeps flowing, your cup is overflowing, and all you can do is drink quickly and keep on refilling the cup. I'm not a big fan of extended metaphors despite my own use of them from time to time, but it's starting to seem like apt assessment of this process.

I'll be teaching 2nd grade math this summer (still waiting on school in Nashville's grade level). Well, correction -- I'll be teaching students who need to pass second grade math to be promoted to third grade. We've been doing assessments in math and reading and their actual comprehension spans the gamut. Which will make it a realistic challenge to lesson plan, which I should get back to!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Placement. Check.

One of the things I was most nervous about was my placement and when it would happen. It didn't take too long - I got an offer today at a relatively new elementary school right after the hiring fair. There will be a strong contingent of other corps members coming with me which is really exciting and encouraging. The school is a magnet program (not academic, but thematic). If you want to know more about the school and why it's a bit unique, you can contact me because if it's online, it would probably be easy to figure out.

Overall, Induction is going well. Lots of paperwork, lots of names to learn, but overall pretty enjoyable. It's been hoooot in Nashville and I discovered I had allergies which I never thought I really had before. I have a few days until Institute starts in Atlanta and since I have a placement, I have some time to explore more of the city and the neighborhoods while I apartment hunt.

One of my favorite things so far has been to hear from the Mayor and the Director of Schools. Nashville is undergoing some pretty drastic changes in its education system, and from what I can tell, the Mayor, Director, and school leaders all seem to be on the same page. The changes, like making all ELL students in inclusion classes and creating more magnets to engage students, all seem to be pretty positive. Getting placed in Nashville was a surprise, but in this moment, I couldn't be happier with the way things are turning out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Graduation, Next Step: Nashville

I graduated last week. It was lovely, but I didn't feel elated or excited. It mostly felt surreal because I felt awful. Once the ceremonies were all over, my body just decided it was time to let go and go ahead and be sick. I didn't get a chance to wish many of my friends farewell, but I hope it means I'll end up being more aggressive about keeping in touch until we see each other again.

I drove down to Nashville for a quick visit immediately after graduation and have decided, given my emotional state (sad about leaving school) and physical state (don't even ask me to describe. Gross), to hold back on forming an initial impression about Nashville. The visit was quick -- put my stuff in storage with fingers crossed I'd remembered everything I would need for Institute was packed accordingly. Drove around to look at different areas of Nashville and make some mental notes for actual apartment hunting. Seeing as I couldn't actually talk and standing up for more than about 5 minutes at a time was a challenge, I put off actual apartment hunting. Probably a good call, but it would have been nice to actually get that out of the way.

I managed to collect a number of school supplies from friends and roommates, including a number of things that would normally have made the trash but might amuse small children. I also have a growing collection of teacher books courtesy of my mother, a veteran K-8 teacher.

I start driving on Saturday morning and will make it to Nashville by Sunday night. Between now and then, I'm letting my body compel me to sleep as much as it likes to -- I have a feeling I'm getting all my sleep for the summer packed into this week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nashville on my mind

Nashville. Not that I had to show it to my friends on a map, but it's mostly been this theoretical place where people like country music and stars like Nicole Kidman and Miley Cyrus feel like normal people. I can't imagine anything feeling less like normal than what the people there are going through. While studying for finals, I find myself drifting back to news sources to see if there's more information.

I cannot begin to imagine what this is like

It has given me an acceptable and clear response as to why I do not have a placement yet-- the schools and the city have bigger issues right now than who they will hire for the upcoming school year.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

If I'm in the library, I must be working...right?

It’s the last week of classes and concentration, motivation, and stamina are about as hard to find as a camel in Missouri…oh wait, we had that yesterday…To take a page out of the book of a teacher I observed this week, it’s time for a “brain break”.

I wasn’t able to make it down to Nashville for the hiring fair, but did get in another classroom observation on Monday morning thanks to Ms. J. She’s been going there all semester to observe their Special Ed. Teacher. I spent the first part of the morning with the fourth grade teacher and the second half of the morning. The more I do my observations, the more I recognize how unnatural it is for small children to sit, and sit quietly and still, for a majority of the day. I really like that I’m trying to see classes across the range I could be teaching – rather than convincing me that I really want to do X grade or age level, it makes me think that I could do any level that I get placed.

I’ve started to hear that friends in other regions are getting placed. I keep telling myself that it’s early for even them to know and I shouldn’t get worried about it. I like to plan – definitely makes it harder when I don’t know who I’m planning for yet!

Two more days of classes, then two weeks of studying and finals, one week for senior fun, a week back home, and then off to Nashville!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Early to rise makes a soon to be teacher tired and hopefully wise(r)

Last week, I found myself getting out of bed at a time rarely seen by college students except before crashing into bed after an all nighter: 6 am. I’ve yet to pull an all-nighter in college (knock on wood – I still have three or so more weeks to go before I’m completely finished). Rather than being worn out, I was pumped up. I’d arranged with my friend Ms. S, a TFA alum, to observe her first grade class for the day.

Her students began arriving at 7:30 for breakfast. I am all for students starting off the day with breakfast. It’s important fuel for the rest of they day. I, however, could only stare at what the kids had on their plates. It resembled a corn dog, except made with sausage and pancakes. [I’ve also recently become addicted to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and kept debating whether this was better, worse, or the same as eating pizza for breakfast]. While the kids were eating, I got a chance to attach faces to the names I’ve been hearing about all year. They were impressed that I got their names so quickly – I didn’t tell them I’ve been coordinating their penpal letters all year and since I went by “Ms. A” all day, they would have no idea that I am one of the college penpals with whom they exchange letters.

I watched as they started the day off with sentences on the board and reviewing some of the reading rules they’ve learned so far. It’s been so long since I really went through that process – in first grade, I read my first chapter book, A Little House in the Big Woods – I had forgotten how hard learning how to read actually is. Soon, however, the kids went off to the computer lab for the reading program all the kids are required to do.

As I learned throughout the day, getting to and from places successfully was one of the biggest challenges. I don’t remember when I last had group trips to the bathroom and unfortunately at this school, the girls and boys restrooms are at opposite ends of the hallway so they can’t go at the same time. While I did my best to observe all day, I cheated and tried to help with hall behavior, mostly at the end of the line with some of the stragglers.

I’ve heard TFAers say “Don’t smile until December” and while I can see why that might be effective for some, I don’t know if I could. I shot a few kids smiles when they were being really good and quiet and they just melted. One boy, M, had been having anger issues all day and finally was doing well in line and inspiring others to do the same. I smiled at him, and remarked how he was doing such a good job. Oops. He got out of line and hugged me, and starting calling “Ms S, Ms S, she gave me a compimint”

Over the course of the day, I picked out a couple favorites. My own penpal, of course, was incredibly sweet, quiet, and good….except for standing on the urinal. I shared a computer with one girl to better understand the program they were working on and she was almost more concerned about MY understanding it than paying attention to the directions! My heart ached for the children who followed all the directions the first time, like one of their cardinal classroom rules, and had to wait for their more disruptive classmates to get themselves in order.

The day ended at four for the kids. Ms S. had to call home for several of the kids who had been particularly disruptive throughout the day. As I’ve done my pre-Institute stuff, I noticed that all the spectacular teachers give out their cell phone numbers and their emails. While I want to do my best, this caught my attention when reading Ms. Lora’s Story. I’ve talked with several TFAers that I know and the consensus was yes, first year they gave out their personal numbers but since then they’ve made calls from school. It was definitely reassuring to hear and see because Ms. Lora’s Story? Makes me feel like a slacker and I haven’t even started yet!

I got home a little before 5, walked into my apartment, sat down on my couch and slept for a solid hour. I know I will get used to that routine at some point, but it made me think about all the teachers I know and appreciate everything they do that no one ever sees.

So thanks to Ms. S for letting me visit! I’m working on scheduling a visit with another friend who will let me observe the zoo that is Middle School for a day.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Praxis scores and potential placements

March Praxis scores came out today – not only did I pass, I did so with flying colors! What a relief. I’d spent the last few weeks wondering if I’d made a mistake not registering for the April date. I did slightly better on Elementary than Middle School Content Knowledge, but regardless, I’m good to go for K-8.

I’ve been operating under the assumption that I would end up teaching smaller children seeing as most elementary schools in Nashville are K-4. However, I got a call from my region last week that implied that might not be the case. The initial message I received, mentioning “updates” and “questions for you” was the start of a bizarre round of phone tag. It took 3 or 4 or 5 tries, but I finally got connected with the staff member. Turns out it was the first talk of placement for me, which was incredibly encouraging! (and also a reminder that I have to keep plugging through the Pre-Institute work). I’m not sure if I would have gotten a heads up about the position if the PD hadn’t given me a call to check if I would be interested as it’s not an elementary position.

“It’s sixth and seventh grade social studies…”

I started cheering in my head. Social studies – right up my alley. I actually came within a class or two of completing the Social Studies certificate at my university. When I came back from abroad to declare it, turns out they’d decided to no longer offer it to undergraduates. I had also ranked working with Middle School higher than Elementary on my application, so that was also exciting”

“and science”

Say what? Erm…interesting. I always preferred math to science, but it’s never ranked up there in what I’ve sought out. In high school, I took the required biology, chemistry, and physics classes and did fine. Not sure how much chemistry I actually took away that year as my wonderfully sweet teacher was entering what was most likely in the early to mid stages of Parkinsons. She left in the middle of a subsequent year because her medication made her see little red men…As an anthropology major, there’s been some basic biology and earth sciences that I’ve covered but it’s not been what I’ve focused on. Now that I’ve got my test scores back, science was my lowest score on the Middle School exam.

I admitted that the Social Studies part made me excited, but that I was probably a little rusty on the Science side of things. While it is exciting to hear about any of the possibilities, I do also want to be open and honest about what I’ll feel prepared to teach. I may or may not even be called by this principal, and even that could take weeks. It’s unfortunate that I can’t make it to Nashville for the April hiring fair, but that’s right in the middle of finals.

The placement process is where I’ve heard the most concerns from TFA critics. As I’m going through it, I don’t know how much insight I can give into how it comes about. It is a relief, however, that the TFA office is coordinating sending out my resume for me. I would have no idea how to go about the process, especially since I’m not in Nashville nor connected with any schools, I would probably have a hard time being aware of vacancies. Now that it’s April, schools are going to start knowing what their vacancies are. Only one person in my corps as far as I know has been placed, and several others have been interviewing – all first round people.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll hear because the school sounds really exciting. In the meantime, I’m getting in contact with my friends in town in TFA to do my school visits – one first grade, and one doing middle school science. Had originally thought I would spend more time with the former and at her school, but will probably now put the same focus into the latter!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nashville, New Orleans, and Next Steps

I’d been excited about my spring break plans for a while, to head down with the organization I lead on an Alternative Spring Break to New Orleans, but a few days before I left a friend pointed out we’d be hitting Nashville around lunchtime. Having not been to Nashville yet, the thought of getting to spend even a wee bit of time helped me push through the last week of midterms (and turning in my thesis! 105 pages I do not want to see again for a long while)

As it turns out, we had a rough start from the get-go. One of the guys in my car lives in a fraternity house and when he failed to show up at 8am or answer his phone call, it took us another half an hour to get home ready to leave (frat houses are only accessible to those in that frat). He fell back asleep as soon as we got into the car which was unfortunate, because those of us navigating could have used his Illinois knowledge to realize that we were headed in the wrong direction!

We ended up going far enough out of our way so that we hit Nashville at 3ish and did not have enough time to stop at all. Regardless, driving through on 65/24 and seeing the skyline was really the first time that everything felt real. I’m adjusting to feeling like I’ll be a teacher and that, at least, is something I can grasp having grown up around educators my whole life. But Nashville? Probably the most exciting place we passed through on the way down South.

While on Spring Break, I ended up taking my Praxis exams. Not super timing, and as people can tell you, the attractions in New Orleans are really 24/7. We worked all week during the day and Friday was our main day to explore and have fun. Like a dutiful student, however, I made myself go to bed early after some quick review especially since I’d added in extra time to get lost on the way to the University of New Orleans.

The extra review made essentially no difference – turns out I’d borrowed the wrong book! I think it went ok (but will kick myself in the behind if I don’t pass). Except for perhaps the science section, everything was pretty basic. Well, the science section was basic – it’s just been a while since I’ve done any Earth Science types of things.

So I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for the next month until I get my results and my procrastination is becoming more and more dominated by thoughts of Nashville and elementary school classrooms and children….

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I keep telling myself it's nerves

I had lunch today with a friend who's in the process of applying for Teach for America and is preparing for his final interview next week. I know there are certain things I can't tell him, but I do remember all the help I received from friends as I was going through the process a few months ago in terms of talking about why Teach for America and how to feel prepared.

While I love him, he uttered the phrase that I've been hearing a lot recently " At least you have a job. I really just want a job"

It's true that I have more idea of what I'm doing than many of my college friends, aside from the engineering people who have actual desired and real life skills. And to be completely honest, that is a really nice feeling. However, I keep needing to explain that I don't really have a job yet -- I know most Nashville corps members all got placed fairly early in the process, but I've also heard all the horror stories about last minute changes not only of grade but also subject matter. I've signed to take the Praxis II exams for Elementary and Middle School Content Knowledge, so that doesn't really give me an indication and there's a huge difference between Kindergarten and 5th grade.

And from everything I've heard, if you think of TFA as just as job you won't make it. The corps members I know care deeply about their kids and the work they're doing. I'm looking forward to doing elementary in part because I hope it means I will get to know a smaller group of kids really well. It's hard, however, to keep this perspective when people think of it as a "job".

I had another friend who came over to my apartment shortly after I heard from Teach for America and he congratulated me. Two days later, he stopped by and was super excited for me. "I didn't realize you got Teach for America," he said "that's super competitive. Congratulations!". While he'd been happy for me when I'd told him I was teaching, it almost made me sad to see this level of enthusiasm only because I was doing it through Teach for America. What if I had decided I wanted to be an elementary school teacher without it? Would his reaction have been that different?

I guess at this moment it's a little hard to tell what life's going to be like. I keep explaining the process to people, and the more I do, the more I realize that because I haven't gone through it yet I'm probably not the best person to explain clearly.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Northerner in Nashville -- An introduction

When I received my email two days ago from Teach for America welcoming me to the 2010 Nashville corps, all my friends were ecstatic knowing that I’ve been interested in Teach for America for a long time now. I’ve been told for years that I reminded people of their elementary school teachers so it came as little surprise that that’s where I’d been placed.

But then the inevitable — “Nashville?"

To be honest, I’d never really thought about Nashville until it was time for me to submit my regional preferences. Most of my other choices were up and down the East Coast because, as much as the Midwest has been an adventure these past few years, I felt pulled back to the coast. My father, however, has been talking about retiring to the South alot recently instead of his usual longing for Hawaii. Once I managed to convince him (somewhat) that Hawaii was not as the top of my list, however, I started looking more seriously at some TFA regions other than those that were most familiar to me.

I’ve yet to go to Nashville, but the more I read about it both before and after applying and the more I’ve talked to people who’ve lived there, the more excited I get about it. This is the first year that TFA is placing teachers in the region which is a fantastic opportunity to feel like part of the foundation of the TFA presence in the area. I was drawn to places that had a smaller corps and with only 50 corps members this school year and a goal of 50 more for the 2010 corps, Nashville definitely intrigued me.

In high school (and even college), friends teased me for liking country music. I guess it will work to my advantage moving to Nashville!