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.