Teachin' For America

Thoughts and otherwise on one particular Teach for America experience.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Teaching for a WHOLE DAY?!??!?!?!

Well, I did it. I taught for an entire day. Sort of. There has been an awful lot of anxiety, complaining, wailing, and gnashing of teeth accompanying this week's forays by TFA's new teachers into teaching an entire school day. But let's be honest with ourselves for a second: we only taught by ourselves for ONE DAY. And we use the term "day" loosely since it actually only refers to a 4-5 HOUR SUMMER SCHOOL DAY. Only a little better than half of the typical school day we'll all be teaching EVERY DAY OF EVERY WEEK starting in less than a month. I'm starting to intimidate myself.
But in all honesty I do feel a certain sense of accomplishment in having gotten through all four of my lessons today and having emerged on the other side of them in one piece. I certainly had never done anything like that before. So to have done it and to feel like I could do it again and again is to feel pretty good about myself at this point. So what exactly was my first "full day" of teaching like?
The morning went very well. My program directors from STL arrived during Math/ Literacy hour and watched me instruct three kids with extremely remedial math skills on their 3's multiplication tables. It went well- we made progress. Next I had to embarrass myself by forcing the kids to mindlessly copy the definitions of their spelling words from dictionaries onto Ms. "Talley's" dictionary worksheet. This is done without any instruction and with a significant amount of mean-spirited yelling from Ms. "Talley". My PD's patiently stuck around for several minutes and observed me circulating and making sure kids were copying the correct definitions. My finest teaching it was not. By the time I was ready to start Read Aloud, they had left.
Read Aloud went well, if unobserved. The kids seemed to enjoy the two stories I read from Sideways Stories from Wayside School and did well making connections between what happened in the book and their own experiences. Shared Reading was equally as good, with everyone in the class reading out loud and enjoying Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. One of my favorite parts about teaching elementary school so far has certainly been the many flashback books I've gotten to read and teach.
After recess and "nutrition" (the latest legal word for a small lunch, generally consisting of awful-looking hamburger, some form of potato, and canned fruit), we returned to the classroom ready to tackle reading and math. But reading and math were prepared to behave like Bo Jackson and not be taken down.
In writing my goal was for the kids to be able to complete word-webs summarizing A&TTHNGVBD so that they could write paragraphs about it later in the week. This was an admirable goal and the book was good enough that they participated willingly in it. However, they once again proved themselves utterly incapable of understanding the concept of a main idea, making the word-webs, which include a main idea and several details, impossible to complete. The lesson was a failure.
Math was an even less mitigated disaster. I had created differentiated worksheets of money-related word problems. Unfortunately, even the easiest group was too difficult and we failed to complete the two problems we were to do as a class in time to complete the worksheets independently. By the end of the lesson, the kids had grown tired of not understanding what was going on and were beginning to drift off into elementary-school-kid land. When the time came to clean up and send the kids on their way, I was feeling conflicted. On one hand, the lesson was over and I could stop being all worked up over it. On the other, of course, the lesson and objective were incomplete: the kids hadn't learned what they were supposed to. The bad feeling outweighed the good and as they left I felt like I had taken my first full day with those kids and failed them.
This feeling lingered for a while, but with some time to relax and realize the day was over as well as positive words from everyone I ran into afterwards, I started to feel better. I had taught for a whole day. I had taught at least two good lessons. I had certainly given it my all during those disastrous, stressful, hectic, and overwhelming writing and math lessons. I'll get better. I'll get used to teaching all day long. The kids will learn. I've found yet another reason to be excited for what I'm doing.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Weekend

I haven't decided yet how much of this blog will be about me personally as opposed to me as a teacher. Therefore I'm uncertain as to how much much to include about this weekend I just had.
I'll say this: My right arm is slightly sunburnt while my left is slightly tan. This came about as I rode north up the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible for a number of hours. The four of us in the car had a great time feeling the wind (some of us more than others) and singing along with the radio. Santa Barbara appears to be a very nice city interestingly nestled between the uninhabitable mountains and the equally uninhabitable sea. I'm glad to say I've seen a bit of California. I am just about ready to teach by myself on Tuesday thanks to the work I did today and tonight. I am ready to be in my classroom in St. Louis. I am still tired after my two days off.
More on teaching tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Wouldn't You Know It

The day after I make the big promise about daily entries, I blow it and don't come up with one. I don't even know what I was doing yesterday.
I mentioned Ms. "Talley" in the previous entry. She has been in fine form lately, doing things that will serve as great examples to my readers of the kind of teacher she is. Yesterday, while chiding one of our quietest and meekest students, "Senora," for not having her homework, Ms. Talley told this child with special needs- and I quote- "You think you're so smart, but you're not; if you were, you wouldn't be in this class." I cannot immediately think of a more horrible thing to say to a child in a special needs class. While honesty is undoubtedly important when discussing the nature of the class of which we are all a part, demeaning remarks like that, which serve only to badly damage a child's self esteem, are so unbelievably unacceptable to me it hurts to recall the comment. Ms. Talley has been a special education teacher for 25 years and she still thinks this is an appropriate thing to say to her children. I will indeed be different when I get a classroom.
Today Ms. Talley had a child stand in the corner of the doorjam- that 4-or-so inches of corner between door and frame- for around 20 minutes. She stood stock still and stared at the blue paint. She being an engergetic young girl tended to fidget, at which point Ms. Talley questioned whether her feet worked properly. It was terrible to watch.
It has very often been difficult to keep in mind why Ms. Talley is in charge of molding me into the type of teacher she considers to be the best. It has often been very difficult not to speak my mind about what I see as the most egregious violations of our students' dignity and self-esteem. It has often been difficult to work with Ms. Talley.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Gracious. I don't know where to begin describing this ridiculous trip I've been referring to lately as "Institute." I've obviously been kept very busy, as evidenced by my utter lack of posts to thishere blog. But I think I'm going to implement a program wherein I make a post, however brief, each day. This experience is too memorable to fail to record it. Shall I describe said memorable experience?
I average 2-4 hours of sleep per night. I get ecstatic when I lay down to bed with more than that amount of time left before my obnoxious, beeping alarm goes off at 5:15 AM. I'm well aware of the fact that this pattern can't possibly be healthy and that I should really get to bed earlier. However, the extraordinary demands on my time here really don't allow that to happen. I go to bed when I'm done with my work, which includes writing lesson plans and preparing materials to be used in the previously planned lessons. Most lesson plans get written twice: once in rough draft form 3-4 days before they're to be delivered, another in final draft form to be handed in the morning of the lesson. Because of the difficult nature of planning a course of study for special education students- especially when it must mesh with the lessons of three other people, as our plans must do in the collaborative system we have here at institute- the rough drafts are typically complete and utter rewrites. It has been difficult to know what will be an appropriate lesson prior to the night before it is to be delivered. So I've been spending a lot of time writing plans. Executing them is a whole other matter and a whole other set of hours in the day I don't truly have.
I am teaching a 4-6 grade SpEd class at Baldwin Hills Elementary. I am doing so along with three other corps members, two who will be in Las Vegas this fall and one who will be in Los Angeles. They are good people and hard workers, and we have been doing a fine job of getting along despite what everyone knows is a potentially volatile situation where four leaders are forced to perform collaboratively. We all have our own ideas, some of which we push for, some of which we compromise and save for our own rooms in the fall. Aside from the obvious tasks of getting our work done and getting our kids educated, our "colab" has been able to unite around a mutually wary relationship with our faculty advisor, a Baldwin Hills teacher known as Ms. "Talley." An old-school, military-style educator, Ms. Talley is the type of teacher we all agree we will not be. While she seems to get results, we all wonder at what cost given her habits of yelling, demeaning students, and generally being a mean teacher. Her students are frightened of her and obviously do not enjoy the time they spend in her class. We in colab #3 all know that we will have to work in the fall to assure that we do not have classrooms like that.
There is so much more I could say about Institute. But, as you might have guessed, I have not the time. Hopefully the (again, hopefully) daily updates from here on out will give some kind of insight into just what exactly is going on here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

All This Teachin's Got Me Busy

Right. So. First post in quite some time. So much has happened- because I've been so busy- that I really have no idea where to begin. Guess I'll just go back a ways.

The last few days of Institute were teh hot. In all kinds of ways. I'm pretty sure it reached 100 degrees in St. Louis each of the last three days we were there. We were all, I'm sure, quite thankful we were in Wash U's swank, air conditioned dorms instead of a hostel, as I have subsequently learned the Chicago corps was at their induction. The final four days provided no fewer sweet evening meals than the first two. Monday found us at a progressive dinner sponsored by Metropolis, a group of young, St. Louis professionals dedicated to revitalizing the city. It was good. Appetizers atop a highrise apartment building followed by dinner complete with multiple glasses of wine at a nicer-than-I-could-probably-afford restaurant and dessert at a swank bar with a waterfall/ mosaic combination on one wall. Tuesday we were hosted by St. Louis uber-citizens Sam and Marilyn Fox at their home. To make this entry a manageable length, I'll shorten the description of the even thusly: Gorgeous home, gracious hosts, the superintendent, the mayor, many of St. Louis's finest (read: wealthiest) citizens, antique rifles, and, most importantly, a family portrait including a private jet. We, the corps members, were in charge of buttering up potential donors by impressing them with our couth, attitude, and credentials. I think we did okay, even if we mostly talked to each other. Wednesday, our final night in STL, we were hosted by Anheuser-Busch at the brewery. We were taken up to what appeared to be their hospitality room, where we feasted on such delicacies as stuffed mushrooms, design-your-own pasta, and free-flowing Bud and Bud Light. Good times were had by all at least partially because, as I kept reminding my compatriots, the beer was free. Thursday found us finishing up St. Louis Public Schools New Teacher Induction. Suffice it to say each of the three days was an utter waste of time. Thursday, however, was particularly useless, as we spent upwards of three and a half hours dealing with district human resources. The department seemed to have something of a love-hate relationship with paperwork. They loved- loved- paperwork, but seemed to hate it too much to gain competency with it. Our three-plus hours were spent filling out, re-filling out, taking, giving, approving, signing, filing, finding, and losing a myriad of forms. It was a bad enough debacle that somehow I still came out of the room feeling that maybe, despite the contract I had just signed and given to them, the St. Louis Public Schools will not be expecting me to show up to work in the fall.
After getting out of HR an hour and a half late, I made contact with the landlord of an apartment I had scheduled an (already missed) appointment to see. Luckily- very luckily- he was willing to meet me at the place at 6:00 PM. Long story short, the place was huge and I took it. After exchanging pleasantries, phone numbers, and credit histories with Jason Stone of Stone Development, I hit the road for Ann Arbor at around 7 PM. The drive was long, dark, and probably dangerous, but I arrived at my college-place doorstep at approximately 5:30 Friday morning. Sleeping and packing ensued.
Then came Institute. Here I am, learning to be a teacher. However, as I am due to wake up in five hours, I fear I'll have to describe it later.