Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A narrow escape...

Phew! That was a close one...

I almost caught myself thinking that maybe I would enjoy classroom teaching as a career (the beginning of this week was great) --- and then today happened.

It wasn't too bad as far as days go, just one of those, "No. No way. Absolutely not. Never again. The children are better off without me," kind of days.

Each time progress reports go out, I find myself strattling a fence - and it's a very, very, uncomfortable one. On one side of the fence, I'm failing too many students; on the other, I'm passing too many. I spent an hour in a meeting putting my 12+ students who are failing (with very generous daily grades on my part) on Tier 3 Interventions with the Principal, Asst. Principal, and Intervention staff all shaking their heads at me. During the meeting, my principal tells me my daily grades should not be counted so much on effort, but on accuracy, and be better reflective of assessment scores. Legit. But to me, and from what I've heard, to other teachers, the only way to get more students to pass in terms of daily and test grades is to walk them through any independent practice activity and guide them on assessments. So much for data.

Now, I have no intention of helping my students on any test I give, but my failing students will have to receive incredible grades for the rest of the year to have any chance of recovering from those they've received thus far. Regardless of what growth they've shown. For example, I have a couple of students who have made leaps and bounds in terms of number sense and conceptual understanding of basic operations. Little of this growth exhibits itself in grade-level assessments, because even if they now understand that 17 is greater than 15, they can't multiply it by 83 yet. Even if they've learned that addition and multiplication put things together and division and subtraction take them apart (a concept completely lost to them earlier this year), they aren't yet masters at constructing function tables. Who cares that you're working hard and learning content you were supposed to learn between grades K through 3? You're already 10 and you can't do algebra?! FAIL.

Did I mention grades suck? Grades suck.

On the up side, my school is making changes to our intervention schedule. Rather than pulling kids from class, we're going to keep them in the classroom. (What?! Imprisoning struggling students in a place of learning? How cruel!... Sorry, feeling sardonic today.) During my centers with Mrs. W's class, I'll have an interventionist leading a center with my Tier 3 kids. Meanwhile, I get to work with my other 6 students seriously struggling in class. Plus, this woman's tough as nails. I might actually get to teach. PERFECT. Then, a few days a week with my homeroom, I'll have the inclusion teacher working in a group with students from Exceptional Ed. and a couple of Tier 3 students while I work with my other low-performing students. Again, LOVE IT.

We may take a while to reach a logical conclusion at school, but once we do we dive in head first. :)

As soon as we take a break to eat some turkey. ;)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blogging before Thanksgiving: A Good Sign

Don't get me wrong, I hate my life right now.

Clarification: I hate work right now. And work is my life. Ergo, I hate life.

But I am optomistic that it will get better. And my kids DIDN'T bomb the 9 Weeks Test (from what I could tell from walking around and reading over their shoulders). So, yay?

*Sidebar vent: UGH! J. P. S. ?! The pacing guide does not have us covering division or function tables in the first 9 weeks... but of course, there were 4 division questions (all word problems), and at least one input/output table on the test. DUMB. At least my homeroom babies are geniuses. And we're not even going to discuss the children of the corn right now. And don't think I'm not aware that the fact that I think of them as the children of the corn totally influences our interactions in the classroom.*

So... life/work. I'm revamping management (management, what's that?) and setting up stations to better utilize my awkward and limited instructional time in the afternoons (1:15 - 1:55, and two of my students peace out at 1:30). My homeroom students will visit four stations (writing, social studies, conceptual math, and science) by the end of the week, with tiered math groups on Thursdays. On days that The Doc is in from 1:15 - 1:45, she'll work with my inclusion students and students who need to complete make-up work for reading and language, and I can pull students for remediation of daily objectives based on that day's data (FINALLY assigning Exec. Assistant jobs!) AND to update students on their academic performance. It's going to be chaos for the next couple weeks until we get used to it, but October sucks anyway.

Also, I'm assigning classroom jobs to every student. Like the aforementioned Executive Assistants, I'm going to have Facilities Managers, Materials Distributors/Collectors, Behavior Trackers, Team Leaders, Science Blog Editors, Bathroom/Hand Sanitizer Monitors, Carpet/Overhead-Time Assistants, etc. I've designed a set schedule for each day of the week (down to which days, and at what exact time, I'll use the overhead vs. carpettime for INM, which days we do centers, who's team leader on what days, and which days we'll ACTUALLY HAVE TIME FOR SCIENCE). And I'm getting a large, digital timer so when I say "At 8:25..." it actually means something because my students CAN'T READ ANALOG CLOCKS. I'm supplementing PBIS with a clearer list of classroom rules and procedures ("The Answers to Academic Success!"), and a stricter, clearer, consequence list that is coordinated with my team teacher. Who, by the way, is as AMAZING as everyone says.

I will have a Student of the Week from BOTH CLASSES, which was a huge oversight on my part because I developed the display before I knew we were departmentalized. My 3 students from each class who ACTUALLY FOLLOW our procedures the first time, everytime, are going to be rewarded by putting their names into a raffle for awesome prizes (Make Ms. Dorman Do Tricks & Math Man CDs, anyone?). AND I'm tutoring my two most difficult students (ironically, from my homeroom) every week, so maybe I can make some personal gains there. One of them was my second student of the week, and has completely fallen apart since. *Sad face.* Another student wrote me a note saying that she was acting bad because her mom is in jail and she's upset about it. Life is too much for my kids, too...

AND (taking-on-too-much-at-once, what's that?) I want to have once-a-month Saturday meetings with my Proficient-Advanced students to make sure they're getting the enrichment they deserve, which means on top of Pro-Sat, MAST5, and meeting with students from Mrs. W's and my homerooms, I have very few open Saturdays for the rest of my life. BUT it's awesome, 'cause I'll finally be working as hard as I expected of myself when I joined TFA.

And I will be compensating for that hard work on weekend nights... ;)

IN OTHER NEWS... our parent coordinator had one of the only white girls in the school dress up in a fancy dress for School Lunch Week (the theme was Personalities or something), called her Sarah Palin and had her shout to the cafeteria that, actually, "Alaska is CREATIVE! Alaska is CREATIVE!" :) Also...

ANNA BANANA IS COMING TO MISSISSIPPI!!! I have the best friends in the world.

And with that wild update, I'm going to return to drinking and watching HIMYM with my roomies on a Saturday night.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Because apparently 4 hours of sleep is just too much...


I'm blogging!

Lol. I should have just left it at that.

This is how tired I am.

Ah! I forgot how quickly the exhaustion catches up with you! Leaving at 6 a.m. and getting home at 8... and now on top of it I feel guilty 'cause I haven't written 30 minutes a day like my action plan told me to, I've gone to the gym once (though it was an awesome workout), and I'm compromising (& procrastinating) by blogging now. At least I don't have to plan for tomorrow because my plans for today were scrapped when we decided to issue two diagnostic tests in a row (one test usually takes students about an hour). Anyway, about my kiddos...


Now, I know we're in the honeymoon period, and I thought all my kids we're great at the beginning of the year last year, but all my kids WERE great last year- they just occasionally punched each other out. But let's get real. My principal knows I'm better with content than management, so I'm the inclusion teacher for 4th grade - meaning, I get an aide (she's more than an aide, she's a rockstar) a few moments a day to have more adults in the room. BUT, my principal also put in a lot of sweet, minor misbehavior students who might just need some extra help in class. Also, my student's parents have been at least receptive, if not necessarily enthusiastic; and again, my kids are the BEST. I am SO IN LOVE with all of them, I can't imagine how my heart will break when they all leave me at the end of the year. At least they'll still be at John Hopkins! For real. I'm going to miss them on weekends. Nights. While they're in music class.

Another thought: I LOVE HAVING A HOMEROOM. I'm almost self-contained at this point, but I think when we actually start rotating classes, the kids and I will appreciate the break from each other. But I still have so much control over what we do in class! My kids already know the steps of the composing process because during morning work we were actually generating writing we were going to display. I have hands-on activities for practicing math that they're excited about and that they can take out to work on when they're done with their tests, and...

*this is where I passed out last night*

Aaaand I'm back! Right, hands-on activities for math. I gotsta go plan some of those now, seeing as lesson plans are due tomorrow.

Key Takeaways: 1) I'm going to try to go to bed before midnight and wake up after 4:30. 2) My kids are awesome.

Sorry for the frazzledness, but this is what you get when I blog while teaching - the alternative is no blogging at all! Gasp!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wait. I have a blog?

Welcome to 2010.

Yes, it's July, but I figure a welcome is still in order seeing as this is the first time I've blogged since... oh, that's right. November.

I can't possibly give a recount of the past seven months.

I can only tell you I've changed entirely- as a teacher and as a person. I've had to come to terms with the darker fragments of my identity. I've gotten to know the me who is quick to anger. The me who accepts blatant injustices and abuses of power. The me who, after a long day, might choose a lazy drink with some friends over preparing myself the best I can for class the next day. I've encountered the me who sincerely wishes that I didn't have to deal with the issues that arrise in class because I'm white and all of my students are black. And I'm devastatingly familiar with the me who chooses to ignore those issues for the sake of teaching the next day's objective.

But I am more confident in my ability to contribute than I've been all my life. I'm fiercely loyal. I'm quick to learn. I can exercise "tough love" if I must. No more soft-spoken indirectness - an eleven-year-old's tears WILL NOT stop me from communicating that I think she's brilliant, that I expect better, and that she deserves better. I am blessed with the ability to see and bask in the positive qualities of my environment. I've formed relationships with people who are better people than me, better teachers than me, better caregivers than me, and who, for no better reason than love for the students, are willing to help me become better, too.

I feel incredibly similar to the way I did at this time last year. Stressed: because it's a month before school starts and I'm already behind. Thrilled: to control EVERY hour of EVERY day with my students. Terrified: to be responsible for EVERY hour of EVERY day with my students.

There's just one difference: I've already done it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Wow. Where to begin?

October is supposed to be the hardest month for a first year teacher (besides coming back from winter break, maybe). So it came as no surprise that I dropped blogging to concentrate all my efforts on just staying afloat. BUT, I still felt like I was doing a good job staying positive and being patient with the fact that I will, undoubtedly, still suck as a teacher for a while. During this time, I took my first sick day, took multiple weekend-long trips across the Delta, and planned a bitchin' Halloween party.

It took me 4 weeks to realize that I had been in a real, unhealthy, and totally typical slump.

On weekdays I would come home, grab my Subway/Taco Bell/Lean Cuisine dinner, lay on my bed and veg out to an hour or so of mindless TV, fall asleep, wake up and do some school work - IN BED - and then crash again at 9:00. After I got sick in the middle of the month, I just stopped going to the gym, then dance, then yoga class, despite eating more Halloween Candy than the average trick-or-treater. I'd return from school and disappear into my little wing of the house.

For some reason, this Thursday brought with it a lot of clarity.

1) I have been having trouble prioritizing what my students need to learn. I felt absurdly compelled to teach them EVERYTHING that they would possibly be tested on. After being grilled for it by my roommates, my PD, and other friends, I still could not bring myself to the Learning Goal Cutting Board. ON THURSDAY, I realized that the reason I felt I couldn't 'deprive' my students of any piece of possibly relevant information is because I've always felt limited by MY education. As soon as I realized my planning revolved around MY feelings toward MY education, I had no problem trimming my plans for certain objectives so my students are better able to see what's important information and what's not.

2) I've felt suffocated by time constraints. I've been teaching massive objectives in one or two half-hour sessions. Because of this, I've been making excuses for not doing centers, or not differentiating my lessons/activities for different learning styles or levels, or not going back and reviewing objectives that students still need to master, all because I feel like I'm continuously introducing new material. What I realized this week is that if I AM limited by time, then all of that needs to happen RIGHT NOW, and take a greater percentage of my time than it would in a self-contained class, or in class periods that are upwards of 45 min.


*** Hahahahaha - this is the part where I fell asleep THREE DAYS AGO, so I'm going to continue on a new post.***

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There Will Be Stories.

It is so encouraging to wake up three weeks in and still feel like I have the best job in the world.

Though, Sunday nights are still very difficult for some reason. I go to sleep (or try to) and find myself anxious, sick, and depressed. Then I wake up Monday morning and can’t wait to get to school and spend time with my kids. I don’t know why, but something tells me I should just get used to this. Maybe it’s the upcoming nine weeks without any breaks…

My feelings toward TFA change daily. Today, my mood is: displeased. After the 12 hours we spent away from Jackson due to the “South” Delta Pro-Sat in CLEVELAND on Saturday, I spent several hours on Sunday reformatting “Tools” I had already created to fit TFA’s preferred template in order to turn it all in, oh, about a month after having these tools in this format would actually be useful. And, as I’ve been teaching science for a total of 6 DAYS, and most of the Delta has been in school for well over a month, much of the Pro-Sat information (like last time) was geared for people weeks ahead of me in terms of data and familiarity with their students. Most of my weekend was dedicated to what I felt was arbitrary training-for-training’s sake rather than actual work that I could have been doing for my students and my classroom. On the other hand, the Middle School Science Learning Team has been helpful both weeks regardless of my belated state and has made me feel a little bit less like I’m trying to crawl onto a treadmill while someone else is pushing the “Increase Speed” button.

Highlights of the week:

- Professional development day: My staff had an impromptu jam session by turning our acrostic poems about READING into incredible songs and chants during our PD last week, AND we Tootie Tah’d together- without any students present!

- BEST MOMENT YET: So, a few of my favorites (whatever, it happens) seem to have been behavior problems in the past; they sit in isolation at lunch, teachers seem to get on them a little bit quicker than other students for minor misbehaviors, you won’t see them as teachers’ helpers or on Student-of-the-Week lists, etc. But for whatever reason, (maybe they recognize a new teacher and new classroom as a fresh start), they are an absolute joy in my class. One student in particular, let’s call him Big D (if you saw him you’d understand), even started bringing his glasses to class this week so he could see the board. Well, my all-boys group from the inclusion class had, per usual, gained control of my classroom as I was trying to model how to measure things. (And yes, my 5th graders need to learn how to use a ruler, scale, and thermometer. Especially before doing a lab that uses all three.) Anyway, he sat quietly all day taking down notes, took home my sample copy of our foldable to make sure he had all the information to study off of, and asked if he and his friend (who is also incredibly well-behaved during my Chaos Class) could stay after school to work. Then at the end of class, he tapped me on the shoulder, looked DOWN at my face, and asked me: “Was I good today?” We can’t let students stay late or request they come early without their parents’ permission, but I took down his home phone and told him I’d tell his parents how wonderful he was all day. He was beaming as he gave me his home number, and then asked, “Do you want my dad’s cell phone, too?”
*** On a less warm ‘n fuzzy note, Big D’s Dad said three words to me: “Ok. Thanks. Bye.”***

- TIED FOR BEST MOMENT: In my worst class of the day today (usually they’re great) I was shouting my lesson over the students because they wouldn’t stop talking. I was just about to repeat the boiling point of water for the umpteenth time WHEN --- my principal walked in. She asked the students, “What are we learning today?” In my head, I say to myself, “Oh God. NOTHING. Nothing at all.” The kids all responded: “Physical changes!” (WHAT?! They heard me?!) Then the principal said: “What else?” Again. I thought NOTHING. NOTHING else. The kids shout out: “We’re learning to use thermometers!”, “And a balance to measure mass!”, “We’re looking at shapes!”, and one girl even shouted out, “We’re learning to become science masters!” I couldn’t help but congratulate them after… let’s just hope it sticks!

- I went on my first Field Trip as a teacher. During the field trip I learned:
o ALL KIDS, I repeat, ALL KIDS love Miley Cirus and High School Musical. I’m still not sure if I find this hilarious or scary.
o Field trips are EXHAUSTING. No matter how ‘easy’.
o The schools in Jackson, like many parts of the city, are black, or they are white. Maybe one or two truly mixed schools. It’s not surprising, but shocking when you see it right in front of you in the faces of 500 elementary students sitting in huge sections of dark or light skin. And in Jackson, it’s pretty easy to see how closely race is associated with geography (again, not surprising, but still jarring to be confronted with). If you’re from North or East Jackson, you’re probably white. If you’re from South or West Jackson, you’re probably black. It’s not something lost on native Jacksonians, either. After I told my yogilates teacher where I worked (& she seems to be generally open-minded individual) she stopped, looked at me, and said, “You’re in West Jackson?" [Pause] "Bless you, honey,” while shaking her head.

So, there are some of thoughts. I can barely stay awake when I get home anymore. I even skipped the gym today because: A) I just couldn’t do it. B) I have too many things to do/fill out/plan for.

Tomorrow, we have a lab about chemical changes involving baking soda, vinegar, and actual DANGEROUS CHEMICALS. Matty B is coming to observe.

I WILL have stories. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Mother of All Blog Posts

I have the best job in the world.

My students are incredible. They love to talk, but it’s mostly because they’re curious – about EVERYTHING. If, or rather, WHEN, I can harness that curiosity and direct it toward science and methods of inquiry (let’s be honest, that’s not always, or ever, an easy task), we will have a lot of success this year in lab. They’re all excited about exactly the same units I am: we’ll dabble in cosmology when we “investigate the Earth as part of the solar system”, we’ll build Rube Goldberg Machines when we “design and construct simple and compound machines” at the end of the year, and since several students have already made this request, we’ll maybe dissect a frog when we discuss tissues, organs, and organ systems (hmm… “Scalpel, please, and a paper bag”).
At this point, my only worry is time. The schedule right now is a crazy sprint of eight sections, 30 minutes each, without any breaks until I take the last class to lunch before lab. Depending upon whether the students are being sent to me or I am picking them up, we could be running 5-10 minutes late at the beginning of class. I give them “five” (usually seven) minutes on a Do Now Activity (assessment/review of lesson from the previous day), spend about 10 minutes catching up on content (two of the four 5th grade classes haven’t talked about science at all this year), leaving 5-10 minutes for them to create a graphic organizer relevant to THAT day’s objective or, on Mondays and Thursdays, a Word Wall game to review vocabulary words they’ve never actually learned. Remember this is supposed to be a science LAB. Do you see a lab in there? Because I don’t.

We MIGHT switch to an A/B format (not likely) so I am seeing four of eight sections every other day (Monday-Thursday) for 45 minutes – which is better for lab time, but reduces the amount of time per week we spend on Science to an hour and a half. That means I’d have about 30 hours total to help them master 27 learning goals before March 3. Oi Vay!

That said, I recognize that I am blessed to be here. For one, my classroom is beautiful (though I did work my butt off for it to become so). Second, I have a principal and assistant principal who have established a positive and motivating school culture and hold teachers accountable while remaining pretty hands-off in the classroom. Though I understand this is more convenient for me than for self-contained teachers who already have quite a bit on their plate without extra administrative work, like scheduling, that may slip through the cracks with the focus of the administration elsewhere. But because of the positive culture in the school (for the most part – we’ll get there in a second), a big part of my job is already done for me. The kids know that college opens doors to any occupation they choose, and they know that going to school now is a necessary step in order to go to college in the future. I don’t have to drill that information into them. They believe in education. They believe in themselves. I just have to convince them to put that belief into practice.

I’m not saying everything is perfect, either. This morning I saw a morbidly obese student, probably in Kindergarten or 1st Grade, get paddled by her mother just outside the doors of the school. I was literally frozen in shock. Part of you feels like you are intruding on something you are not supposed to be seeing and wants to slink away and hide, while part of you wants to run screaming, tackle mom, and yell at her for not only hitting her very young child with a plank of wood (and letting her other daughter laugh at the girl afterwards) but also for letting the girl gain weight to a point that is dangerous even for a six year old! Phew. Ok. Suspending judgment, Alex, suspending judgment.

Then, my Assistant Principal requested that I watch the kids in the ISS room while the woman who normally works with them ran to get them breakfast (the free breakfast line was so backed up this morning kids were 10, 15, 20 minutes late to class). I obviously said yes, though I was convinced it was a test, and walked into the room. There were maybe 4 or 5 kids in a room the size of a two and half racquetball courts. It still felt like the room was spinning - it was abuzz with ADHD. All the kids were seated where they were supposed to be, but the new person in the room definitely had them excited. First, it was, “Are we gonna do science today, Miss?” Then, “Are we gonna dissect frogs?” I’m used to that question, now, so I say: “I’m thinking about it… but I’m not making any promises.” “AWESOME! We’re gonna dissect frogs!” Then, the only girl in the room (who has escaped into my classroom several times since) decided that she was going to faint and leaped over the back of her chair onto the ground. I told her to get back in her seat immediately and went over to stand right next to her so she had nowhere to leap. I started asking her questions, which seemed to keep her mind occupied while her body was forced to sit still. I asked her if she liked science. Yes. What do you like about science? I like cutting things open. … OK. (Oh, and don’t get me started on my 5th grader who started explaining how to make crack while standing in the lunch line and is currently working on a movie called “Scooby Jew”…)

Anyway, while I was in the ISS room, I finally found my Principal about 5 minutes before I was supposed to get off morning duty and start doing whatever my real job is. I asked her about my schedule for interventions on Fridays. I started to get a blank stare (which isn’t really a blank stare, it’s more of a thinking stare that is clearly expecting you say more), so I offered to create the schedule myself. My principal said, “Thank you so much, that would be really helpful!” and walked away. (Don’t get me wrong, my principal’s leadership style suits me perfectly, but that is exactly what she did.) I didn’t know for what subjects or grade levels I was to intervene, but I started making schedules for several different scenarios. When I went to ask my Team Leader what time of day would work best to pull her students out for math, she said to me, “Well, I don’t know! I’m a teacher, not an administrator! I’m not supposed to be doing schedules!” and continued venting for a few minutes after unnecessarily explaining that her frustration wasn’t actually directed at me. Eventually, I figured out that I am to pull only 5th graders who need math intervention work for half an hour at a time, and finally created a schedule that, as far as I know, works for everyone. But at that point, I was still looking at only half a day’s work on Fridays. Probably not ok if I’m getting paid full-time.

Then, at about 11:00, the woman I covered for in the ISS room knocked on my door and told me the kids from her room (I’ve had to stop myself saying “the ISS kids”) wanted to do an activity. PANIC ATTACK. An activity? RIGHT now? Turns out NOT right then, thank goodness, even though I offered to. Rather, at least two Fridays a month, I’ll be doing a science-related activity with the students from the ISS room – one that we can put on display in the hall. Any ideas??? Besides foldables, por favor. At least I have a couple more Friday afternoons taken up each month. Also, the girl who can leap over the backs of chairs from a sitting position is apparently going to come to visit me during her resource time. The woman I covered for literally said: “She likes you… I don’t know why. Probably because you’re young and attractive”.

In other news, at 2:00 p.m. my school gave me free nachos. I love my school.

And in case you were curious, if you type Obi Wan Kenobi into Microsoft Word (2007), it doesn’t tell you that you spelled anything wrong. If you type Quantarrius, Montaza, or Barack Obama, Spell Check yells at you. PCs are geeky racists. I’m getting a Mac.