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?