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!