Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hm. Cheerleading Started at the U.

One thing that I've come to appreciate about the TFA experience is that I will walk out with the patience of a saint.

Friday, we were finally fingerprinted. Still no Letters of Hire, but hopefully by the end of this week, I will have 90 kids to play science with (THREE weeks into the school year).

Friday itself was apparently a test to see how we would fare in the bureaucracy of an urban school district. I felt like we were a group of little white mice searching for the cheese at the end of a maze. We traveled to three different buildings (not counting the post office to get the money orders we weren't told we needed) - one to check in, one to fill out paperwork, and then to the basement of an old junior high school where a very intense and frustrated woman scanned our fingerprints all the while insisting that, "I'm just here for the kids. I would not be here if it weren't for the kids." I felt like I was being ushered around by members of a Vogon construction fleet. *

Things seem to be slowly falling into place (as always). My classroom is looking more and more like an elementary classroom, and I seem to have a pretty good rapport with my soon-to-be coworkers despite having very little understanding of what my role actually is. Hm, speaking of classrooms... Here are some "Between" pictures of my classroom (after the Befores and before the Afters).

I've had a few students come and chat with me in the mornings (many simply want to "come help" to get out of class). But I can't help but fabricate chores for them because they are such a joy to spend time with! The pictures above were taken after I had two students role up balls of tape and pick up all of the small scraps of paper on the floor - they loved it! "Floor Cleaner" is definitely going to be one of my classroom jobs.
Planning is finally fun now because it doesn't all seem like just a big tease anymore. My days are going to be long and exhausting and I can't wait. A big emphasis in my classroom is going to be SAVING TIME. Since I only have a half an hour with these kids, four days a week, EVERY MOMENT counts. I'm pullin' out the stopwatch and making it clear from the first day that they DO NOT have the time to waste. Mississippi tests Science in the 5th grade, so we're supposed to cover EVERY objective before the test on March 3 with an emphasis on Inquiry. The Inquiry part is my job. I'll be starting at least three weeks behind. AH! Anyway, the class that saves the most time gets to listen to the radio the last 5-10 minutes on Thursday - WHILE playing games with the Word Wall and/or completing the lab for an entire competency in one day.
In other news, our PD has gone above and beyond for us. He has been to our house at least 4 days in the past week, either just hanging out and offering moral support, or suggesting solutions to our problems. I feel so blessed to have received the support that we have (our ICE Leader is great, too), and I am confident that I'll have at least one person who will celebrate my successes when I can't help but focus on my failures.
Also, I danced last night. I put on my pointe shoes from our last performance of "Giselle", and danced in the ballroom of my house. I can never have furniture in that room. It was wonderful.
One day... I'll have enough money to take dance classes. Or buy groceries. Or pay rent.
*Just a little Douglas Adams humor for ya, there. TFAers are a well-read people, just lacking in the sci-fi/fantasy genre - I shall strive to change that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Honey, I'm Home!

Alright, so I have an entirely inadequate update for y'all.

#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

And so I drew a new face and I laughed...

That's my favorite line from "I'm Yours".

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

Of Travel I've Had My Share, Man

So, looking at the lyrics, maybe I haven't quite caught up to Johnny Cash but I sure am gonna give him a run for his money after the next two or three years. Fargo? Check. Minnesota? Check. Tennessee? Louisiana? Vicksburg? Check, check, and check. And that was before my own personal Odyssey across the Delta.

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

Making Lemonade

So, during this time of unemployment/paid vacation, we are determined to set our housing plan (plus several contingency plans), so all we have to do is press "Go" once we sign our contracts with JPS. Here are some of the places we've been looking at:

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!

Welcome to TFA Jackson!

Ten of us will be the first TFA Corps Members in Jackson Public Schools!
This is where I will share thoughts on living in the South, teaching, and the sweet little city of Jackson.
Food for thought...
"A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi... has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It's not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for."
- Thurgood Marshall