Sunday, November 8, 2009
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
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
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”).
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.
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.
Lastly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROB!!!!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
#1: "Before" pictures from my classroom. (I don't have "After" pictures because, well, my room's not done. I'll have "Middle" Pictures tomorrow or so.)
I spent two days reorganizing and clearing out boxes, and all day today scrubbing lab equipment and rubbermaids out using Clorox and dish soap. At least I'm getting a workout! (In professional clothes...)
The Scorpion-Spider Thing of Death was really just the biggest spider I've ever seen indoors, and it looked like it was related to a scorpion, because it wall all pointy and angular. When I saw it, I went through the whole process of deciding whether or not I was going to freak out, and then decided I shouldn't because the custodian was in the room helpin' me out. But I wasn't going to leave it there and keep it as a pet. So, I casually walked over to the custodian (Mr. White) and asked, "So, is it normal for spiders to be that big down here?" He looked at it and said, "I'll go kill it for you". In my defense, though, he did have to go get a broom to do it, because a shoe would not have been big enough. In related news, I've named the three dead cockroaches in the back of my room Moe, Curly, and Larry, and the two dead crickets Antony and Cleopatra. I was thinking about naming the spider Arthur or Artemis during my internal freak-out session, but decided I shouldn't get too attached since I wanted it dead or just very far away from me.
#2: Even if I don't technically have a job yet (still waiting on contracts), I have a bitchin' house to live in!!!!
Northpointe. My dream house. And even though I drew the one and only short straw for bedrooms, my bedroom is still actually pretty nice. (The only problem is that my bedroom IS the hallway to get to the upstairs living room; I'll get over it - the only time it'll be tricky is when we have friends over.) My closet has a light in it, I have a bookshelf on either side of my doorway, and my walls are a neat orange color. Plus, I basically have unimpeded access to: the upstairs living room (we call it the Wood Room because it has wood floors - we'll think of something better) which will have a bar and mini fridge, the dance/yoga studio where Lyndsey and I are going to do the Slim-in-Six workout, my own bathroom (according to me), AND the Small Room, which is where I was actually supposed to sleep, but refused, on account of my claustrophia. ;)
Ok, I really have to sleep because I have SO MUCH to do tomorrow, but I have to share one more thing first. My house not only has a rockin' 70s intercom system, but you can turn on the radio in the kitchen, and it will play in every room in the house. I almost cried when we realized this. And don't get me started about Lyndsey's master bathroom with jacuzzi tub. We're going to have a good time in this house.
Yay! I have delightful roommates and I'M NOT HOMELESS ANYMORE!!!
Monday, August 17, 2009
For some reason, that image of him fogging up the glass and drawing a new face seems so profound. I feel like that's what I've been doing during my whole experience with TFA. Nothing has turned out as expected; with each new twist of fate I've had to change the way I look at myself and then laugh at the uncertainty of it all.
After my TFA interview, I prepared myself for a No-how-dare-you!, and hoped to the bottom of my soul for a Yes. The applicants with whom I interviewed were extraordinary people: bright, outspoken, and accomplished (friend Tom being one of them...). I felt there was no way I could compare. Then, the day I was to find out whether I was in or out, the day I was to receive a clear yes or no, I was waitlisted. Over a month later, I was waitlisted again. And again. For seven months. AFTER deciding that TFA was the only thing I wanted to do after graduation.
Then, out of nowhere, I was placed teaching Elementary School in the Mississippi Delta.
I had pictured myself teaching Secondary English in an inner-city school. But I changed the way I looked at my placement and realized teaching elementary in a rural area was a position in which I could really have an impact. I'm used to the lack of anonymity that comes with living in a small town; I'd lived with a never-ending audience before and I could do it again. I could work the part of my personality that's all sweetness, discretion, and compromise like I did for 13 years and navigate my way through differences of opinion by living and breathing patience and tolerance. It might be hard, but I could do it, and do it well. I could, in one small way, understand where my students were coming from and help them learn from it and appreciate it.
Then I didn't get a job. Or have a place to live. I went home wondering what it was about me that made TFA so frequently hesitant to give me a job. Close friends had been placed all across the Delta, and I couldn't picture myself anywhere.
And then I was placed in Jackson. (What!?)
And then I got my dream job. At a school with great administrators, staff, and faculty. In a classroom with science equipment galore and enough room for a science library and a word wall.
Which brings me to my [clearly] somber mood. Tomorrow, the program the Jackson corps is a part of is going before the board. TFA says it's no problem. Several people from JPS say that the board seems to be vetoing everything these days. The house, the job, but mostly the people I've come to care so much about seem as close to being ripped from my fingers as they are to becoming a real part of my life.
So, again, I'm preparing to draw myself a new face and laugh. My life's not over if we're not placed here. I'd be so happy to have the opportunity to become acquainted with the real Delta. And if the Delta doesn't want to get to know me, I'll stay and substitute teach/dance/waitress in Jackson - like I would've in Minneapolis had I not started on this grand adventure in the first place.
One thing that this constant reinvention has led me to appreciate is that this is my life - right now. Neither my existence nor my happiness is dependent on what I'm getting paid to do. Rather, both depend on all the things I would probably be doing anyway - working with kids, teaching, dancing, and meeting new people. And that's such a redeeming thought when I start to feel that one of the most challenging and wonderful summers of my life could possibly have been in vain.
So, please pardon my morose self indulgence. Tomorrow or Wednesday, I will share pictures and thoughts from my first days at John Hopkins Elementary - as well as the Tale of the Scorpion-Spider Thing of Death. ;)
And by then, *hopefully*, I'll really be Ms. Dorman.
"There's no dollar sign on a peace of mind, the South come to know..."
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
When my Dad and Brother first dropped me and my pile of crap off at a location 1,119 miles away from home, I didn't have a place to sleep. Now, I know I won't ever have that problem again. As long as there's enough gas in the car to drive an hour's worth in the Delta, there is a floor/couch/air mattress to sleep on and someone gracious enough to offer it to you. I spent time in Lexington in a guest house owned by millionaires (and rented by some lovely fellow CMs!), met a dog named Jack who steals shoes in Greenwood (well, really Philipp), drove down Money Road, got lost in Yazoo City, and ate the best salad I've ever tasted in Indianola. And who can forget the myriad car washes of Helena/West Helena, the suggestive old man at the Clarendon gas station ("Be careful, you're a pretty girl"), and Mack's, America's Premier Waterfowl Outfitter in Stuttgart? If you watch "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", you'll know what the past few weeks have been like on my end. (Literally: Yazoo, Greenwood, and Itta Bena all make appearances.)
Anyway, we now have all the Jackson crew staying with us at the hotel and it's been a total pleasure to get to know everyone. At first I got the impression that we were all very similar: we shared the same feelings about our tentative placements, we were all relatively relaxed individuals but still up-for-a-good-time, and, as I've mentioned before with TFA, peculiarly kind, smart, and motivated folk that tend to fall into very geeky conversations. Now, we're starting to discover the idiosyncracies that will turn us into a full-fledged teaching family. We have the planners, the rebels, the partiers, the athletes, the artists - all sharing 5 hotel rooms for a span of 16 days. I'm grateful for the opportunity to get to know everybody (and the city of Jackson) before we start working - I think it's going to make the transition a lot easier on all of us.
The city of Jackson is actually a happenin' place to be. If you ignore the obnoxious frontage roads along I-55, you'll discover a small but thriving arts community in the young/hip area of Fondren, be able to look at the beautiful little houses in Belhaven (including The Eudora Welty House!), and experience the small-town-in-the-"big"-city feel of Jackson's Downtown. There are incredible antique stores and consignment shops, and the food is always delicious no matter where you go. At least I'll have a plethora of choices when I take visitors out to eat! (And did I mention the International Ballet Festival???) I think I'm going to enjoy my stay here, and I am excited to see all that the city has to offer!
Oops... sorry for the digression from "travels". It was bound to happen.
In other news, a fellow CM, Lyndsey, and I have been developing some extreme strategies to ensure our Dream House stays an option for us to live in. I'll let you know if we were successful...
Also, I used "y'all" today in regular conversation.
"I've been everywhere, man..."
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The Jackson "Dream House" --- Which, believe it or not, is becoming the Dream House for fewer of us each day. 5 bedroom, pool/hot tub, yoga/dance studio. I think we are somewhat intimidated by the amount of furnishing that needs to take place. Still my #1. The (carpeted?)dance/yoga studio might have something to do with it... :
Whitworth 1 --- We put in an application for this one; a few really love this place, but we're not getting our hopes up at the risk of jinxing it:
Whitworth 2 --- Literally a couple houses down and across the street. Someone else put in an application for this place already; I was a fan of the natural light and built-in bookshelves in one room, but again, less likely at this point:
House by Fenian's Irish Pub:
Also a couple blocks away in Belhaven and near Fenian's Irish Pub - soon to be the TFA Jackson Hangout. No matter where we live. Heard about this house from... the bartender at Fenian's Irish Pub. Looks nice, haven't toured inside yet, though we creeped around the outside and looked in the windows. A VERY close #2 after Northpointe for me. Its being near an Irish Pub might have something to do with that...
There's also a couple houses on State St. in the Fondren neighborhood (Jackson's equivalent of Mnpls.' Uptown) which few of us were fond of, but in a great location for socializing and shopping with people who are out of college but not yet old.
Well, that's it for housing, but I'll post another update soon. (Possibly once we get to see the inside of the Fenian's Pub House...)
Wish us luck! We're gonna need it to keep these awesome houses available for two more weeks!