Monday, December 18, 2006

Today Joshua Stopped Talking

For 1o minutes.
Then another 10 minutes.
Then another 10 minutes.
Thank God for mini pretzles and timers.
The long story will come later. All of you special ed people that have been trying to help me with behavior plans - it finally worked!!
Let's see if it works again tomorrow, and if I can get him to actually work, not just be quiet so that I can teach and not have to constantly speak over him. (all bolds because that's how I speak all day because Joshua never quits talking) - UNTIL TODAY!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The story, the long version, will not be posted here. There's too much emotion involved...too much realness, even for me, to share. In short, I have a medical condition, which my students now know about. They found out in the worse possible way. I didn't get to tell them....they were all in tears, and then they didn't see me for 2 days. The staff at my school couldn't have been more supportive. Neither could my kids. I, in spite of so many things that go wrong on a daily basis, am blessed.
Strangely it was almost what was needed to bring us back remind me just how much I love them and just how much they love me, even though they really have no idea how to show it.
In the days after I had so many people asking me why I was here, at this school and in this city.
"To teach," I told them. "Those are my kids."
I didn't feel it needed more of an explanation. Some people smiled. Some just shook their heads. Either way, I think they all believe me.
I love those kids, maybe not more, but differently than I've ever loved anyone. I'm ALWAYS on their side. Not to say that they don't get a consequence when they're in the wrong or that there aren't days when they frustrate me, but in the morning I get up to fight for them. I live my life, 5 days a week, for them. I've never done that for anyone before. The fact that I only have 13 of them only makes it more intense.
I'm looping with them next year, which means that my entire TFA experience will be with these 13 kids. 3 months ago I would have considered it punishment. Now I can't imagine having anyone else teach them.
I can't wait to see them tomorrow morning; to walk up the sidewalk littered with chicken bones and into my tin building with bars on the windows and teach them something.
PS - On Friday we had a graduation of the level A,B,C, and D level books. (Which are beginning kindergarten level - eek!!) My kids took them from the baskets and gave them to the speech teacher, then I had some kids come with me on my prep to get M, N, O, and P (end of second/beginning of third grade) books from the book room. After school I rearranged the shelves and added the new baskets. I hope they're as excited to see them as I was! Go my babies for working hard to read on grade level!!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Optimism Returns

Sometimes all it takes to make you look up is hitting rock bottom.
This day will be remembered, by all of us, forever.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

13 Days

-A para who hasn't shown up for 2 days.
-Kids who are increasingly disrespectful to each other.
-A staff on edge and trying to adjust to the fact that there is a room sitting empty while others are overflowing with desks and kids who are falling through the cracks of a broken system.
-Today we started class jobs. They have to earn their position. 9 out of 13 have yet to be hired.
-We slip back in to disillusionment. In spite of the gains that have been achieved kids go home to a culture that hasn't bought it - they haven't really bought it, and I'm not sure if I can sell it.
-13 days until the biggest test any of us have had all year and sometimes it's very very hard to love them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"There's beauty in the breakdown"
Frou Frou

There is opportunity in this. Today we wore jeans and sneakers and prepared for a day of work. Not just teaching, but explaining and moving and cleaning and continuing to fight this battle that seems to be forever up hill.
It started with our AP telling my friend's kids that she left because they were bad, then splitting her class up among the other two fourth grade teachers. They're not hiring a replacement. A class was split as desks were pushed down the hallway in two separate directions. Classes of 22 turned in to classes of 30 overnight.
During the day her kids were in and out of my room, some in tears, some just being obnoxious. I ate lunch with others, some guilty, some angry, all with questions.
The 'bad' kids from the other 4th grades were in and out of my room today, needing a safe, quiet place to come and learn. This is not going to work, 30+ of them in one room. There's too many of them with special needs. Too many of them that need too much attention. Too many of them that really should be in my room full time. They can't be, so instead they'll come when they can't handle it in their own room anymore. When the cramped space and fast pace is too much for them to handle. It's not legal and it's not what MY kids need but at some point everyone else's 'bad' kids became my kids, too.
There's a lesson in opportunity to come together as a staff and a community. We supported each other today. Listened, laughed, talked, vented...persevered together. One day at a time we'll make it.
"I'm glad you're still here," one person said.
"I can't believe she left and you stayed," said another. "You have the crazy kids."
There's beauty in the breakdown.
I do have the crazy kids and I love them. I refuse to leave them unless I am physically unable to teach them anymore.
We'll look back and realize that this was a turning point.
There is no looking back...only forward.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Right back what is wrong
We move along
All American Rejects

Today a teacher at my school quit. Not just any teacher. A fellow 4th grade teacher who was getting her masters in special ed. A first year teacher I would have dinner with on Friday nights of weeks we had both had a little too much of our students and our school. A teacher who's room I ate lunch in because my students are now self-contained during both lunch and recess. She was not only my colleague, but my friend and confidant. Yesterday at lunch she told me she was quitting. I didn't believe her. She'd said it many times before.
Today she didn't come back. Her room was empty. She was gone.
There were no goodbyes, not to me or her students or administrators.
She was just gone.
Over the phone we talked. I was shocked, then sad, then angry, then numb...then I went back to my kids.
MY KIDS. Who have learned to read and subtract with regrouping and multiply and can tell you all about why static electricity happens.
MY KIDS. Who made me want to quit almost every day for the first month but who I can not imagine walking out on now.
MY KIDS. Who work their butts off for me.
MY KIDS. Who other teachers hate and can't control and don't appreciate.
This system is broken. Things don't happen the way they should. Kids and classes and teachers and entire schools fall through the cracks but at the end of the day some of us are standing up and taking responsibility. These are MY KIDS. This is not my system or my curriculum or my school but they are MY KIDS and I will NOT abandon them.
It's time for people to stand up and fight for them because they haven't been given the skills they need to fight for themselves.
I am so incredibly angry and all I can do about it is get up tomorrow and be the best teacher MY KIDS have ever had.

Monday, December 04, 2006

19 days

The result of planning (and teaching) 3 and a half hours of test prep a day.
It's what we'll be doing until after Christmas.
We're judged on this. All of us.
Oh my goodness.
Please let it be over already.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Neither will moments like today when Adony and I both realize that he has jumped 9...NINE Fountas and Pennel reading levels since September.
This is the kid who told me I was wasting my time with him in the mornings.
The kid who freaked out when Jose stepped on his foot and drug me down the hall in bare feet in my effort to restrain him.
The kid other teachers are afraid of because he's so big and...well...angry.
Neither one of us could quit smiling today as he read a level K book and understood it.
Maybe he will drop out and maybe he won't pass the damn ELA that is just around the corner.
But by the time he leaves me he will know how to read on grade level.
It's my mission and I refuse to fail.
It will not be televised but it may very well change both of our lives forever and that's what we're here for right?
To be changed...

Monday, November 20, 2006


Today Jose tore up an entire notebook of paper and sprinkled it all over the rug. He then laid down and made snow angels and said in his toddler voice, "I'm making snow angels!"
There was no punishment or reward that could have stopped him. I tried. Instead I kept teaching, the rest of my kids kept learning, and Jose kept making snow angels until he was done and I made him pick up all of the paper.
He tried to use the broom. "You made the mess with your hands so you can pick it up with your hands," I said.
"Okay!" he said. He bounced as he picked up every single piece of paper.
It was a moment that reminded me that there are times I have no clue what to do with some of my kids.

Then Malik threw a pair of scissors at Mario. Child proof scissors are not so child proof when they are thrown in anger across the room.
Almost hit by the scissors, Adony hid under his desk.
None of us could stop asking what had happened - it seemed completely random.
The cause? A math worksheet they both thought was theirs. Nevermind the fact that there was an extra one on the floor (one had fallen)...After school Mario and 5 of his buddies waited for Malik. I requested that he be escorted to the bus. Unfortuneatly I cannot always be there to protect them.

I need a break. A home where I am not in charge of anyone's safety or education.
2 more days and I head to cold weather and good vegetarian food and friends who became family during my 5 years of college. For the first time in my life, I'm actually hoping there's snow on the ground when I get off the plane in Minneapolis.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Somewhere in the time between the end of May and now my kids learned to read.
Maybe it was during the summer, or maybe my attempts at teaching over the last 10 weeks actually resulted in progress.
Either way, they're breezing through the EClass (our reading diagnostic). Some of them jumped 3 and 4 levels in some areas. The average growth was 2 levels. That's almost a year's worth of growth. That means that my little Joshua has grown a year and a half in reading since the end of May.
He came in reading on an end of kindergarten level and he now reads on a mid second grade level.
When I showed him his progress he asked me to take his picture.
"I've never had a smart day before," he said.
I wish I would have had my camera.
I left school on cloud 9.
I can catch these kids up.
I can get them ready for general education and LIFE.
Holy buckets.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I cancelled their field trip.
For throwing pens and fighting and cursing and refusing to do work and not listening to directions.
It was not a logical consequence.
It was not fair.
In 10 seconds I took away something we've all looked forward to for over a month.
But the respect that they used to show is slowly fading away and something needs to change.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I feel like I lost focus.
Like this stopped becoming a mission and started becoming an effort to survive.
Like the passion is there but not like it used to be, then maybe again I associate passion with the rigor of institute when really that was closer to insanity than passion.
I love my kids.
I think about them all of the time.
They are a part of my everyday life, even on weekends and holidays when I don't see them.
I am not teaching like I should.
I am not assessing like I should.
My instruction is not driven by data as much as it should be.
I let my kids get away with not walking in a straight line because I don't have the energy to teach it, even though I know it will save me time in the end.
I do the things I have to do (like bulletin boards and portfolios and grad work and grading and planning) but the creativity is gone, lost in the overwhelming number of never ending tasks.
My kids work silently and instead of rewarding them I relish in the peacefulness.
There is not a sense of urgency, even though we know the ELA is only 33 days away.
How do we get that back?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Somewhere within the past 2 weeks we started having more and more days like today.
When a majority of my kids are on 'good day' in our negative consequence tracking system.
When they LEARN and actually do their independent work successfully on their own.
Where they work together and hold each other accountable for behavior in the classroom.
Where kids notice the room is messy and clean it without me asking them to.
Where I'm not on edge or stressed out and don't have moments where I think, "Oh my God, I don't know how to get their attention right now."
If you walked by or in my room today you would have had no clue I taught 13 emotionally disturbed/violent kids.
I come home thinking, okay, this is my job, and I like it.
Who'd have thought 2 months ago I would ever say that.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Professional development was really 8 hours of too much overwhelming information.
Teach to the test.
Don't teach to the test.
Start now.
Don't start now.
8 weeks left until my babies show what they know on the ELA. Our school year won't be even half over, but if they don't pass, they'll be retained.
After school I added new books to our library and graded their morning journals. A lot was accomplished today, and my classroom and spirit are ready for my kiddos to come back tomorrow.
In spite of all of this, I can't stop thinking about 8 words said to me by an administrator.
A person who's job it is to HELP me help my kids pass these tests.
"A****, we know he won't pass the test."
He's the one I read with 2, now 3 days a week in the morning.
The kid who stays in during recess to do book reports.
My 13 year old working as hard as he can to get out of the 3rd grade.
This past week we took another 'practice' standardized test. I handed it to him and pounded his fist on the desk. Then he cried.
I almost did, too.
He couldn't read it, we both knew it, and all he could do was guess - how do you guess at short answers? He has the potential to be very very screwed, in spite of all of the work we're doing.
But for someone else to write off the hope and the work and the POSSIBILITY that both of us have - the knowledge that he WILL learn to read - it's all I can think about.
All I could think to respond was, "He WILL pass that test, no matter what it takes."
She laughed.
I couldn't be more motivated.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Janitors and Parents

Of all the people in my life, janitors and parents were my heros today.
After witnessing my scolding from my AP for not filling out a form to get my printer fixed, and I responding back to her that a broken printer was about the last thing on my priority list, one of the janitors came back to my room at night and fixed my printer.
The same janitors that instantly clean up bodily fluid, fix broken lightbulbs, close my windows when I forget, climb ladders to get Jose off of the roof when he decides it would be a good idea to hang out up there, and rescue me when I get trapped in the school yard are now fixing my computers.
Janitors are the unsung heroes of my classroom.
Most days I feel like they're the only people who believe in my kids.
Even in the moments when I don't, they do, and they, for some reason, believe in this white girl from Kansas who came to teach the class nobody wanted.
And then there's my parents, who listen to the good and the bad and still answer the phone at the end of the day, and then send emails that say, "No matter what ... Dad and I are behind you all the way. Our support and faith in your ability and decisions is one constant in your life."
They're a seatbelt on this rollercoaster that I chose for myself.
I could leave tomorrow and have a place to call home.
2 places, actually.
That knowledge is what allows me to stay.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I don't know how to fight for myself when my kids seem so much more important.
Professional development and missed preps and illegal ratios seem unimportant when I look at all that needs to be accomplished.
Today I got scolded for not filling out a form to fix my printers.
I really don't care about printers.
Could we fix my kids first please?


Part of TFA's recruitment strategy this year is having current corps members replace their myspace and facebook pictures with a banner linking to the TFA website that says, "2 years from now you won't recognize yourself."
Clever, but kind of scary.
We arrived at institute these idealistic people who couldn't wait to spend the next 2 years saving the world. Now so many of us are burnt out, overworked, discouraged, and in bad need of a hair cut, but who has time when you work 70 hour weeks?
We see each other on the train and in the gym and many times the conversation consists of a weak smile and hope that eventually life will get better than this.
It least that's what we're counting on.
Someone asked me today if I would recommend TFA to upcoming graduates.
It's not about recommending. It's an incredible organization that has the potential to change education in this country. It's about coming prepared to give yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Before your jump at the thought of changing the world, know that it is not easy and that never, not even on good days, have I felt like I'm saving the world (because we're really not - we're first year teachers trying to survive). They say that to you all the time. They prep you for this to be the biggest challenge you will ever face, but there's lots that doesn't get said even in the 17 hour days of institute.
I wish someone would have told me I would have fights in my room almost everyday, and that there would be no where to send kids after (or during) their outbursts/meltdowns, because there's really no one in the school that can manage them.
I wish someone would have told me that violence is the culture of my school, and that eventually I would become numb to it just like my students have, and that this numbness would leave me questioning who I am and why I chose this as my profession.
I wish someone would have told me that I would think about quitting at least 2 times a week.
I wish that someone would have told me that idealism is not what gets you through this. The big picture is sometimes only seen at the end and on many days the only thing that gets me up in the morning is knowing there are only 2 more days until Friday.
Instead, they told me that at the end of the day, I wouldn't be able to imagine my life without these kids and what do you know...they were maybe at the end of 2 years we won't recognize ourselves....
Hopefully we figure out how to squeeze in time for haircuts.

Monday, October 30, 2006

She Couldn't Resist

Or at least that's what I'd like to believe.
My para came back today.
Despite the fact that she talks on the phone during class and is often late and sometimes falls asleep during lessons, I wanted to give her the biggest hug ever.
My kids shouted her name when she walked in the door like it was Christmas.
She tried to hide her smile when I gave her the letters they had written her on Friday.
Even with their chair throwing, melt down antics...she couldn't resist.
Something about my kiddos is powerful :)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

“This city’s made us crazy and we must get out.”
Maroon 5

From the bottom you can only go up, right? That means tomorrow will be a better day.
Friday brought drama. Friday was full of kids who were off even before they walked in the room, drama between my para and principal, seeing first hand what happens to kids with emotional disorders when they are (or feel) abandoned, and the chance to see what happens to my classroom when all of this happens on one day…
It started when we said the pledge 4 times. None of the fourth grade classes were participating so we stood outside in the yard and said it over and over and over…
Christopher was having an off day – yelling, attempting to hit one of the girls, tipping over desks and throwing the contents around the room.
Drama between my para and principal resulted in her quitting – walking out at 10:30 in the morning. It was not a discreet departure – she told everyone goodbye, let my kids know she was not coming back, the whole nine yards. As she walked out the door Joshua begged her not to leave. “I promise I’ll do my work!” he pleaded. “COME BACK!”
“It’s okay,” I reassured him and myself. “Sit down at your seat.”
My first plan was to ignore it – move on with our spelling test and writer’s workshop, but one by one they cried until 12 of them were in tears.
We could not move on.
I passed out their writer’s notebooks. “It’s okay to be sad and to be upset,” I said, “and it’s okay to cry when we feel sad or upset. One way to get out our feeling when we’re sad is to write.”
I gave them 20 minutes to write or draw or sit quietly and they did. Most of them wrote letters apologizing for their behavior and begging our para to come back. When the timer went off we had a brief discussion where they asked me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer…why did she leave, is she coming back, why don’t people like our class…I told them over and over again it was not their fault. I don’t think they believe me.
The rest of the day was chaos. Me trying to push us forward academically and my kids feeling abandoned and unable to focus on what we needed to learn.
Worksheets and activities got us through the day, but not before at least 7 fights and 2 kids running out of the room and around the building.
My kids are not getting what they need and it’s my fault for not advocating for them.
I’ve never been so emotionally drained in my life.

In an effort to recover mentally and escape the rain me, a roomie, and friend went to Boston. Rented a car, drove, ate, explored, listened to music…I came home feeling rejuvenated but now, with Monday morning just around the corner, I find myself counting down the days until Friday.Do people really live like this?

Friday, October 20, 2006

How To Save A Life

Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed
The Fray

We spend 2 mornings a week together, reading level A books as he eats breakfast in my classroom. 'The cat jumps over the couch...the cat jumps over the plant..." He struggles less and less each time and never complains that he's reading kindergarten level books.
He was my biggest behavior problem - now he's my biggest crier.
Where kids responded with anger they now respond with tears, my disappointment in them the worst consequence many of them could imagine.
On Tuesday, in between lines of a story about a balloon, he brought me closer to tears than I have ever been with a student.
"You know, Ms. G, I really appreciate what you're doing with us but me and M, we're gonna drop out."
"What are you talking about?" I asked. "You guys are both doing great."
"Yeah but we blew it. We're too old. We're just gonna be in here until we old enough to leave."
3 more years and they'll be old enough to leave. If they're not retained any more they'll, at best, complete the 7th grade.
At first I thought he was kidding, until the book remained on the same page for 20 minutes and I found myself pleading with him...trying to convince him that he was too good for the streets and this life. That I cared about him and would do whatever it took to get him to succeed.
"You always say that but it's too late," he said.
"It's never too late. We're going to get there together," I said in a voice that begged him to not give up.
He's the kid I restrained 2 Fridays ago.
The kid who was the biggest thug in my room until his mom, in a meeting I demaded before I would let him in my room again, admitted to me that neither she, nor any of his 4 brothers, can read.
It was at that moment, as I held him while his mom yelled, that I committed to do whatever it takes to give him everything I had.
People keep warning me not to give too much - not to try to save these kids because most of them don't want to be saved, but I don't know how not to.
How not to ask their side of the story before condeming or run outside when I hear them fighting during recess or hold them when they cry because they've finally realized the severity of their actions.
I don't know how to not fight for them or how to mentally leave them at school. I don't know how to teach them subtraction with regrouping so that it actually makes sense and I don't know how to get them to walk in 2 quiet, straight lines but I do...each and every day...know how to care about them.
Unfortuneately, that's not enough and if they're going to have the chance I want them all to have I need to step it up and figure out how to do the other things....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chaos comes in bits and pieces.
Yesterday I had 7 extra kids in my room - 9 at some points.
That means 22 kids in a 12:1:1 environment.
Not good.
We started out learning, then keeping busy, then crisis managing, then just coping.
Iran walked around the table repeating 'blup, blup, blup'.
"Iran," I said with my hands on his shoulders. "This is not an appropriate reaction. I know there are a lot of extra people in here but we need to try really hard to make good choices," I said.
He stared at me.
"Blup, blup, blup," he said.
Malik was doing backflips off of chairs.
Christopher kept asking for me every 5 seconds.
"Christopher, I know there are lots of extra people in here and it makes things confusing, but I really need you to work on being a good role model right now," I said.
They don't know how.
They don't cope well with new people or a change in schedule and all of the coping mechanisms I've taught them (go to the rug, read a book, draw, hang out in my 'Austrailia' corner) were not available because THEY WERE FULL OF EXTRA KIDS.
Not just extra kids - the kids who were having behavior issues in other classrooms, because someone decided it makes sense to put them all in one room.
I'm beginning to have some serious questions for people who decided 12:1:anything was a good idea.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Maybe...just maybe

I can do this.
Today was good.
I woke up ready to go to school because everything for the whole week was planned.
During my prep I talked with a student who was having an off day instead of frantically making charts for the rest of the day.
During lunch I helped other 4th grade teachers instead of planning, and after school I planned math and guided reading for NEXT week.
Suddenly my life has purpose.
I know where we're going, even if it's only for this week.
I realized today there have been no fights in my room for over a week. At the beginning of the year I was happy when there were only 5.
Maybe...just maybe...we...together...can do this.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

7 Hours of Mad Productivity

What I did today:
2 grad assignments
All of my week's grad reading
2 sets of progress reports (the ones I send home every week and the quarterly ones required by my school)
Graded 3 days worth of standardized tests
Graded spelling and math unit tests
Entered and sent my student achievement data to my program director
Wrote detailed lesson plans for the whole week in every subject (first time I've ever been able to mentally do this - yes!!!)

My brain is tired, but ready.
That's a good feeling.
No lesson planning at night this week - wahoo!
Now if I could only figure out how to work 5 days a week instead of 6...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Herbivores Have Mad Love for Worms

Today we went on a nature search. After observing nature for the past 2 days and learning about ecosystems for the past month, today we got our hands dirty…literally.
They came back in with clear cups full of worms, dirt, and leaves.
One of the worms escaped to the floor. My big bad thug boys were going to stomp on it.
We all stopped. I had just yelled in my classroom. That was the only time it had happened that it had not been an issue of safety.
“Sorry for yelling but we do not kill living things in this room,” I said in a more calm voice.
“Man, herbivores have mad love for worms,” said Mario.
“Yes we do,” I said. “I’m sorry I yelled – it was not necessary or appropriate,” I confessed.
“It’s okay Ms. G,” said Jose. “You can work on it.”
My little echos…
We went about our day with worms watching us from their place on individual students’ desks. (Try letting them dig up worms and then taking them away – doesn’t work.) At the end of the day Iran asked me if I would like to keep his as a class pet.
I smiled and told him no. All of the worms needed to leave at the end of the day.

Today was a good day. Hands on activities all of the time = engagement = human like behavior from my kiddos.
Now if I could only figure out how to give them that each and every moment of their time in my room.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Heart Electric Pencil Sharpeners

Our biggest issue today was pencil sharpening.
Our school doesn't provide pencils or sharpeners and while it wasn't such an issue in the beginning of the year, it is quickly becoming one.
The hand held pencil sharpeners I bought for my kids lasted about a week before they were either stolen or broke. Guess the $0.99 store isn't good for everything after all.
I had a few that still worked and had been letting the kids use them until they started breaking the lead in the sharpener, at which point I became the official pencil sharpener.
Bad idea.
Today, on our first of 3 'practice test' dates when my students take last year's ELA test to show them how much the need to learn before they take this year's ELA test, the pencil issue erupted.
They all needed 2 pencils.
No one had more than 1.
The ones they had weren't sharpened.
That meant that I was sharpening 25 pencils with a hand held $0.99 pencil sharpener in the moments before they were to begin a test.
The problem only got worse throughout the day so tonight I decided my sanity was worth $20 and bought an electric pencil sharpener. They will be allowed to use it - 1 at a time - first thing in the morning and right after lunch.
This should save my sanity and my fingers!
Now...anyone feel like donating pencils?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Today was not great, but it was better.
Learning happened in my classroom today.
There were no physical fights.
Anger was released by Jose coming up and asking me for a hug instead of punching someone.
Transitions were smoother because I wrote directions on the board.
No one complained that the classical music was 'wack'.
When the math coach walked by singing 'Chicken Noodle Soup', one of my kids reminded him that, "that's not appropriate for a business setting."
Progress is what was needed on this day where the thought of seeing my students again made me want to call in sick.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No para again today.
Me and my 13 babies made it through on our own, struggling through every mini lesson, guided practice, and independent practice...every transition and melt down and change in schedule.
Slowly but surely it became Friday afternoon.
10 minutes until it was time to go home. In our own ways we were all counting down the seconds.
Then Jose, in his excitement to come to the board to participate in our math lesson, accidentally stepped on Adony's foot.
Jose is tiny.
Adony is almost 6 feet tall.
Adony gets up from his chair and gives a look to Jose that tells him to run.
Over backpacks and coats and garbage cans Jose runs with Adony right behind him.
He squeals - it's a game to him.
He trips and falls and Adony begins kicking him.
He realizes it's not a game and curls up into a fetal position.
In the 5 seconds it takes me to run to them from across the room Adony kicks his back, ribs, and head.
I restrain Adony and tell Jose to run down to the in school suspension room.
2 of the other boys run next door for help.
They all saw it before I did - Adony had snapped.
He began pulling on anything he could - the ledge at the bottom of the white board, chairs, door knobs, trim along the closet. "Relax, relax," I kept saying. Usually he would be calm by now. His body only got more tense and his heart beat more and more rapid. It wasn't until he was pinned up against the door, with my hand between the cold metal and his chest that I realized how serious this really was. He was beyond the point where he was able to bring himself back and was pulling me along with him to go finish what he had started.
"Call security," I yelled to the teacher next door, my bare feet on the floor. You can't restain kids who weigh more than you when you're wearing heels.
Before I knew it the social worker, in house suspension worker, and a literacy pull out teacher were all at my rescue...sort of.
They yelled.
And yelled some more.
They told me to let him go and he tore off down the hall.
In bare feet I caught him again. He was not ready for freedom.
Jose was removed from the building and as they once again told me to let him go I knew that no one else knew that his heart was racing and tears were streaming down his face.
I looked back at my classroom and realized that my kids were silent. 2 of them were crying.
I gave Adony over to security I entered my room and shut the door. He screamed and pounded the metal with his fist.
I WANT MY TEACHER. LET ME IN TO MY CLASSROOM! It was not a request. It was a demand. It took 3 of them to physically restrain him as I braced myself against the door so he could not open it.
"Put your homework in your backpack and your chairs up on your desk. It's time to go home," I said in a voice so calm it suprised me.
They did.
By now at least 30 kids were in the hall.
This is the closest thing to chaos I've seen in a very long time.
One by one they left.
Outside Adony stared at the wall and waited for Jose.
Before they left there would be another, smaller fight.
I walked back in the building to pats on the back and comments like 'I don't know how you do it,' or 'I'm glad it's not me in that room all day.'
10 minutes after my last student left the yard I left.
It wasn't until I got on the bus that I realized my whole body was shaking.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

No paras or push ins today.
Illegal in more ways than one.
Too many kids, not enough help, assemblies and library time that throws us out of routine.
Today was not a great day.
Tomorrow will be better. Fridays are always better.
Days like today I realize that despite sometimes good intentions, there are many people at my school who a) really don't care where my kids end up in life and b)are scared of my students.
Fear combined with people just earning a paycheck does not set a first year teacher up for success.
I have to fight day in and day out to make sure my kids are getting what they deserve.
Today they didn't.

My roomie has a quote on his door that says, "It is impossible to teach without the courage to love, without the courage to try 1,000 times before giving up."
I love my kids...their funny sayings, their artistic ability, the fact that they come to school everyday and how they hug me SO tight when they're angry...but there are moments when one can't help but feel overwhelmed by the situation and how hopeless it feels at times.
Everyday they show me what I'm made of. I hope I do the same for them.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I came face to face with New York City this weekend. On Friday evening, my nice quiet apartment invaded by a mouse.
He ran across the hall in the kitchen and I told myself to ignore it - it had to be my imagination, right? After all, I'm TERRIFIED of mice and both of my roomates were gone and my dad was 1000 miles away.
Pretty soon the mouse ran in to my room.
I screamed.
The mouse ran from my dresser to the bookcase.
I screamed more.
The mouse ran from my bookcase to my closet.
I stood up on my bed and began to scream even more.
I called my dad - no one was home.
I called a friend, who laughed. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked.
"I don't know but there's no way I'm leaving this bed until something happens to that mouse."
In the next 3 minutes the mouse ran back and forth between my dresser, the bookcase, and my closet, me screaming each time the furry little grey thing ran across the floor. At one point it stood in the middle of the room, not knowing where to go next, and I just stood on my bed and screamed.
Soon my friend arrived to rescue me along with one roomate. The mouse was not seen for the rest of the night, but appeared the next day ON OUR KITCHEN COUNTER.
Where are all of my midwest boys when I need rescuing?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Yesterday I left with blood on my arms and clothes.
Not my blood - blood of 2 of my students who in a 30 second episode beat each other's head against chairs and stabbed each other with pencils.
They sat in my room with paper towels over their wounds while I tried to overcome what had just happened so that I could actually teach something.
Nothing prepares you for days like yesterday, but even more than that, nothing prepares you for days like today.
When you get up to see your bloody clothes still soaking in the sink and despite the lump in your throat and nauceus feeling in your stomach you must go to work because you made a commitment.
A commitment to an organization, a community, a school, a classroom, their families....YOUR KIDS. Even in the moments where I feel like a failure I know that having me in the classroom is better than having a sub in that classroom.
Today was better - not good, but better.
It took me until at least 10 to breathe not be on edge or angry or apprehensive.
As they worked together through reading centers and guided reading classical music played in the background.
"Man, it's peaceful in here," said Malik. "This is mad cool. Do you like it Miss G?"
"Yeah, Malik. I do," I replied. I gave him a pat on the back. It was a moment where something profound could and maybe should have been said, but instead it was just a small little moment in this thing that has become my life.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Culture sneaks in....
When I respond calmly to their anger.
When I recognize good behavior.
When I teach from the doorway because my para is absent and I have a student who needs to take a walk to calm down. He paces while I teach and watch all of my babies from my maroon poster covered door.
When they call each other out for being disrespectful.
When they greet me with a firm handshake and good eye contact.
When they ignore Jose who sometimes crawls across the floor like a catepillar because they respect the fact that he is still learning how to calm himself down.
When they run up to hug me after recess and the boys - the ones that are too cool for that - give me a little wave from way across the school yard.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Today he won the lottery.
The kid who was supposed to be the toughest - who hides in closets (not this year mind you) - finally won the lottery.
He held his bag of cookies and danced around the room. When classmates offered to pay him for a cookie he responded in a voice that sounded a little too much like mine.
"You can't buy success," he said. "Hard work pays off!"
And that is how we left. With them all parroting my phrase in one context or another.
They're buying it - so am I.

Now for reading. I just got their scores back. 2 of my third graders don't even test at a beginning kindergarten level.
Kiddos - we've got a lot of work to do.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Things Change

And there are moments when this does feel like some kind of home (though not the wide open spaces, hang out with my niece, bike around lakes kind of home). My students are, day by day, becoming mine. We're figuring out each other's buttons and intentionally not pushing them.
They listen to me when they won't listen to other people.
They're excited to introduce me to friends when they see me on the street.
They love stickers and lottery tickets but love it even more when I pat them on the back or tussle their hair and tell them how proud I am of them for something very specific they did.
They're my babies - through thick and thin.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I debated posting this since many of the people that read this only know very small parts of my life.
However, in order to keep this blog an authentic account of the life of a first year TFA corps member, it’s important to talk about what happens when we’re not in the classroom.
Today was our first real day of grad classes at Pace. (By the end of my 2 years teaching I will have my master’s in Special Education.)
Our classes were actually meaningful and I left with so many strategies that I can take to my classroom on Monday to help me understand and be patient with my students.
What was even more useful was reconnecting with the people who are in the same boat as me - teaching violent kids in a room where they’re unsupported in a system that is failing both them and their students. We’re underappreciated and overwhelmed and working 70 – 80 hours a week to try to make the impact we came here to make, and at the end of the day we crawl in to bed exhausted, sometimes inspired, and many times asking ourselves how we can live like this for 2 years.
We came here from separate lives - colleges where we excelled and friends who knew us inside and out, families that loved us, relationships we’d been in for years and futures that seemed to be falling in to place. We came here for a cause – because we believe in “the movement” and wanted to do something for the kids in this country.
Little did we know how much it would cost. It’s hard to start over in a city of this size. You can go for days, sometimes weeks, without seeing familiar faces. People that can see in your eyes when you’ve had a bad day are half way across the country and relationships that lasted years (including mine) don’t make it through the stress and distance and long work weeks. Lives are changing and while friendships are being formed the most tangible thing we have left at the end of the day is this….cause.
It’s not even that we don’t believe in it…we do…but the connections that made us us are gone and we’re not the same people that interviewed for this a year ago.
We’re first year teachers in survival mode trying to make it in this city where real connections are few and far between and we’re slowly realizing that this is not just a 2 year commitment. We’ve committed to live different lives and it’s too late to turn back.
I think they’ve raised the price of dreams.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Just Told Them

We had a class meeting. We talked about 'peace building' and what we need to do to make our classroom a better learning environment. I reminded kids how much potential they had and that I moved here to teach them.
Then, one by one I pulled them out of the classroom to tell them what I couldn't figure out how to show them - that I care about their future too much to let them continue down this path.
Some of them bought it. Some didn't. They will eventually because it's not a line - it's the truth.
Today was our only good day all week but it came at the right time. They left with smiles on their faces and fought over who would hold my hand and I was reminded that some of my babies are still.....babies....even at 13.
I also broke the no smiling until November rule today. Not that I hadn't smiled until today, but today I laughed - let my guard down and enjoyed moments with my kids without worrying about 'asserting my authority'.
We played a vocab review game during science today because our enrichment teacher spent his 45 minute period telling my kids they had failed their quiz because they were stupid and not going anywhere. Actually Mr. Bad Teacher, they failed because you have them copy definitions and give them no time to explore or LEARN them.
So today we played a game - Jeopardy with ecosystem vocab. It took 15 minutes to play and 50 minutes to plan but they LOVED it. My toughest kid, the one who hides in closets, kept getting answer after answer right. I couldn't believe it. Neither could he.
"I'm smart! I'm smart!" he said as he jumped up and down after each answer.
I wanted to hug him and say YES YOU ARE - hello! I tell you that all the time!
But today he came to the conclusion on his own and it was so fun to watch that I couldn't help but forget the fact that he was not raising his hand before he spoke and that he was not sitting in his chair.
Learning is happening in my classroom, damnit.
There may be fights and disrespect and disabilities I have not yet learned to work with but my kids are LEARNING.
At the end of the day that has to count for something, right?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Asked For This

I wanted to teach special education.
I didn't want to team teach - I wanted my own classroom with kids who were my responsibility.
I wanted to build culture and relationships and I wanted them to be my babies.
I didn't know it would mean stabbings would go unpunished.
I didn't know I would be SO over ratio that I don't have workbooks for everyone.
I didn't know that my room would be the 'throw away' room - where people send their old curriculum and rowdy kids.
The end of the day today brought overturned desks and violence.
The day starts off well then slowly goes down hill, first when the enrichment teacher comes in, then right after recess. then the extra 50 minutes of the day when my kids are supposed to do worksheets above their level with only one of me and way too many of them.
By the end we are all angry....them at each other and me at the amount of instructional time spent yelling over kids and sometimes, on days like today, I'm angry at them for throwing away so much potential...
Kids refuse to work.
Kids repeatidly choose to be disrespectful.
There is no consequence other than my call home and loss of classroom privledges.
I love them and care if they succeed.
How do I go in my room and convey that tomorrow?

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I need to do something.
Yesterday after school one of my kids climbed on top of our tin roof and proceeded to run around/riverdance on top of the building. The janitor brought him down and reminded me that, in a month, it will be a funny story.
Today one of my kids broke the mirror on a teacher's car. He then stabbed another student with a piece of the window. The student was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
My student was brought in, yelled at, and sent back to class.
In the last 2 hours of the day there were 11 fights in my room. I removed 2 kids for fighting and disrupting our learning environment and they came back from our discipline room with comics and smiles on their faces.
There is no system for major misbehavior in my school.
My kids can NOT be punching each other all day. How do you rely on classroom culture to fix these problems when you can't do team buildeing or culture building activities without students punching each other? How do you use the 'don't do this because you'll get in trouble' approach when there really isn't any trouble to get in to?
Call parents.
No working phone.
Visit parents.
Students are bussed and school doesn't have record of current address.
Someone knows where that kid lives.
I need to do something.
We will not learn in this environment.
The behavior of a few cannot hinder the education of the rest.
How do I balance reaching the disrupters with rewarding the workers?
How do I react out respect and not anger and how do I teach my kids to do the same?
Surviving isn't good enough.
"Bad day?" a veteran teacher asked me today.
"Yeah," I said, realizing that it was really only a bad afternoon and I should give my kids credit for a great morning.
"Don't worry," she comforted. "It's not you, it's them."
I couldn't decide if she was just trying to make me feel better or if she really believed that.
There is something I can do to change this situation, I just don't know what.
Veteran teachers, help!!!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

We Survived

Me and my 12 kiddos (2 were absent).
They did great in the morning, the afternoon was considerably more rough. I showed up to pick them up after lunch and 3 were missing - running the halls of the other building apparently.
The after school "enrichment" program turned out to be an extra hour to do a pre-assigned worksheet that was way above the level of my kids. Instead of stopping them I tried to work in small groups and one on one, which meant that while I was teaching 1 kid, 11 others were building towers with base ten blocks or seeing if they could get them to stick to their forehead.
Bad teaching - bad managing. Tomorrow will be different. Come on teacher self, you know better than to let chaos happen.
And then there were the fights - 2 of them - on the way back from lunch. The first one stopped when I issued a consequence. The second one didn't, so I stepped in between them and said, "Who do you think you are? My students don't punch each other." They both gave me an 'I can't believe she just said that' look, and joined the others in line. Looking back I can't believe I said that either. We do funny things in moments like that...
There were many great moments, like seeing their faces when I told them my principal said they have potential, and getting them to realize that that meant both he AND I believe they can do ANYTHING. And the times they corrected each other for being disrespectful, and how they follow procedures like lining up and moving to the rug so perfectly we didn't have to practice either one.
I got 4 hugs on the way out today. After the manipulative throwing and fights and craziness and way too many worksheets and just plain bad teaching, I got hugs.
Kiddos, I promise you I will work harder for you than I ever have anyone in my entire life.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."
Chinese Proverb

Tomorrow my students and I take our first step in what will be a 10 month journey. I'm not as ready as I thought I would be. I'm not sure it's possible to be as ready as I thought I would be.
I spent the whole weekend copying and buying and creating and re-doing and dreaming about everything that could go right and wrong and I'm still not ready.
Thank goodness the first day of my first year of teaching will never happen again.
Kiddos, please know that however nervous or frazzled or unorganized I seem tomorrow I have a plan for you. A plan made out of a genuine desire to make sure you have choices in your life. I came here with a mission and I will put every ounce of what I have in to making sure you succeed. I will not tell you that staying in your neighborhood or living in the projects for the rest of your life is the wrong decision. When it comes down to it it will be your decision. But you will stay because it was your choice, not because you didn't have the skills needed to leave because tomorrow marks the beginning of a very bright future for all of us.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


We FINALLY have internet access - yay!
The past few weeks have been spent in training either with Teach for America, the Department of Ed, or my school. This week I spent 15 hour days in my classroom sorting through tons of curriculum (none of it is mine), meeting people, doing and re-doing bulletin boards, and yelling at kids trying to break in my room.
I'm beginning to recognize people on the bus and in the gym and on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. On Friday night I lugged everything I would need to prepare for Tuesday on the bus. A crate and a big pad of chart paper and numerous books and supplies screamed teacher to everyone I passed. One guy at the back of the bus insisted on giving his seat to me. As I argued with him telling him that I didn't need his seat, a lady sat down in the argued over seat and I was offered a seat by yet another person. I sat this time, saying thank you more than is natural in this city.
"You a teacher?" they asked.
"Yep," I replied in true middle school fashion.
For the next 45 minutes we talked about my former students and future students and why I was here. We talked about their struggles with drug addiction and unemployment and what it's like for people who fall through the cracks. They both live in shelters now.
We reached my stop and they shook my hand. "Welcome to our community," they said. "Keep fighting for our kids - we're glad you're here."
I got a couple of 'Amens!' from people sitting in our area of the bus and as I walked down my street with 2 bags, a crate, and aching muscles, the back section of a Bronx bus waved at me.

Friday, August 25, 2006


I passed my certification tests! If you remember, I prepared for them by eating junk food and talking to my mom on the phone.
1 less worry.
Still no internet access.
Life is chaos and there's no students to give it focus....yet.
10 more days!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

An attempt at a vacation in Kansas with my family + more TFA training + the start of grad classes + an apartment that is still in transition because the belongings of 1.5 out of 3 roomates are present = 1 very distracted girl with no time (or internet access) to blog.
Our first day of grad classes was today, with our second full day being tomorrow. I have a literacy workshop all of next week, then school training the week after that.
At some point I want the training to stop so I can PLAN.
Relaxation and sleep would be great too, but planning is my first priority right now.
Things will slow down, I'm sure, and the first day of school will come whether I'm ready for it or not, and I know me and I will be ready.

On a side note, a friend and I got lost looking for empanadas and ended up down on Wall Street at the Trump Building. Talk about tourist central! Pictures and crowded street food stands and people who stand - STAND - in the middle of the sidewalk make for very frustrated...'New Yorkers'. Are we New Yorkers yet???

Monday, August 07, 2006

Maybe it was the 20 boxes of 10 cent crayons or the 30 spiral notebooks (also on sale for 10 cents) or the 8 boxes of markers that gave me away but somehow the Target checkout lady knew.
I was a teacher.
"Where do you teach?" she asked.
"The Bronx," I told her.
"Oh, that's nice," she said.
She continued scanning crayons and notebook paper and stickers until it clicked.
"The Bronx? Like New York City?" she asked.
"Yep," I said with a smile on my face. The pride my students have in being from the 'BX' has rubbed off.
"Wow, I bet that's scary," she said, still not scanning.
"Actually, I love it," I said, still smiling.
The next couple of minutes were full of scanning, then pauses to ask questions I could tell she wasn't sure were appropriate. She wanted to know if my students brought guns to school, what their families were like, if there were metal detectors and police officers in my building.
One by one I answered her questions and after nearly every answer she would say, "God bless people like you."
People like me???
She continued scanning and totaled up my supplies. By now other people in line were also involved in my story, asking similar questions and giving me similar 'God bless you' looks.
I picked up my bags full of pencils and paper and folders and scissors and walked confidently out of the store, having shared more of my life than is normal for a 2 minute checkout line conversation.
"I'll pray for you!" said the check out lady as I left.
The phrases 'people like you' and 'pray for you' stuck in my mind all day.
The stereotypes people have about my kids make me sick. The only way to break them is to keep sharing, honestly, what has been my experience.
My experience has been that my kids, who have lived much more life than I had at their age, just need someone to teach them how to believe in themselves.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Tomorrow is clean up the school day.
Time to take down posters and erase chalkboards and make it seem like we didn't spend the last 5 weeks pouring every ounce of ourselves into that building.
Our room, however, will stay as is at the request of our summer mentor teacher. The kids are invested in our system and are already upset enough about us leaving that to change the room would only remind them of the fact that we are not coming back. To hear that come from the person who sat in the back of the room as a bystander on both our best and worst days is possibly the biggest compliment we've gotten all summer.
In the process of investing our kids we also invested ourselves and in each other.
The feeling of having made it though this experience is impossible to explain to someone who hasn't been through it.
It's exhausting and inspiring and humbling and unbelievably intense.
I've ridden on 100+ degree school busses and eaten bagels with gross cream cheese and soggy veggie burgers for over a month now. I succeeded and failed and laughed and cried and I can safely say, as I near the light at the end of the tunnel grows near, this is the most important thing I've ever done in my life.
Don't believe me? Ask me to send you pictures of my students.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Tomorrow we celebrate!
The finishing of papers and mastering of concepts.
The passing of time and the perseverance that brought my students to school even when it was "optional".
The fact that, together, we learned...them from us and us from them.
That they will, in less than a month, walk in to someone's classroom as 7th graders.
There is so much to celebrate but try as I may I cannot get comfortable with the idea of celebrating our departure.
I need more time with my kids.
Maybe not need - want.
I fell in love with all of their too many hormones and not enough deodorant selves, and now I have to leave them.
I will celebrate my own freedom on Friday with no reservations. I am ready to leave this place and when I return the relationships I have formed will be here to welcome me back.
But tomorrow I leave my kids. Not the bureaucracy and red tape and micromanaging, but the best part of this whole experience - my students - and the lump in my throat won't go away...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Shout Out To Myself

All my lesson plans for this experience are done.
Tomorrow my kids turn in their final drafts. I can't wait to read them. Check back for highlights - they have a lot to teach all of us.

What would DCA think about our white girl dancing?

After sitting in an unairconditioned auditorium with 550 other sweaty, smelly, preoccupied corps members and being told that "we are Teach for America" even though the very fact that we have to be told that proves that we aren't....yet....we de-stress.
Eminem blasts out of laptop speakers and we dance around.
We should be lesson planning.
We should be grading.
We should be reading or collaborating or contemplating...
But we dance.
We look rediculous and laugh and if feels like life, if only for a few minutes, is a little more balanced.
When we're done we pack.
Not too much, but enough to comfort ourselves with the fact that we're almost done.
Soon we'll quit packing, quit dancing, finish lessons, talk about our amazing students, and go to sleep.
Tomorrow we'll be better teachers because we danced.
We'll be sane people because there is a half packed suitcase that serves as a reminder that even though we're almost done we have 2 more days to make an impact.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Dear Students,
Today was not our best day. I tried to teach too much in too little time. I didn’t give you enough time to transition or go to the bathroom or do things I know I would need if I was in your position. I need to remember that you are humans and not learning robots. I didn’t enforce consequences and when I did it was too inconsistent to be effective. I gave you the “I’ve passed 6th grade and don’t need to know this,” talk. I hate that talk. Today I was not me in my classroom.
Tomorrow will be better. If you are disrespecting your classmates by interrupting their learning time, there will be a consequence. I will not argue with you about this. It’s week four of our time together. You know what is expected of you. I care about you too much to let you waste these next three days.
Tomorrow I promise to leave my outside life at home. I am your teacher. I am not allowed to bring my sleep deprived attitude into the classroom. It is not your fault that I have to jump through hoops to leave this weekend. It is not your fault that I stay up late grading TAI. It is not your fault that I am really tired of evening sessions and that the weeks of 17 hour days have left us all feeling very…exhausted. I ask you to come to school ready to learn. I will come to school ready to teach.
Be ready for the old Ms. G to be back tomorrow. I expect silence when I tell you to work silently. I’ll hand out lots of ‘scholar dollar’ stickers. I’ll smile when you do something great because it really does make my day.
I told you I was disappointed in you today. Tomorrow I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again.
Love Your Chicken Noodle Soup Dance Teacher,
Ms. G

Friday, July 28, 2006

You stand in the line just to hit a new low
You're faking a smile with the coffee you go
You tell me your life's been way off line
Daniel Powter

We have 5 days left. 4 days with students. Too tired and overwhelmed to do a 'what I learned' list - maybe tomorrow.
There's been so many moments this week when I feel like we're failing our kids, not because of lack of effort or even that we're bad teachers, but because politics put us in the middle of a battle we should never have seen.
Elaboration here would not be appropriate as I do not know all the details, but I do know that the past 3 days have been chaos.
What I need is Minnesota. Friends and babies and hugs and a slower pace of life. I miss afternoon walks with strollers and weekends filled with live music and coffee and friends who had become my family.
We're all a little homesick, I think, and as much as we'll miss our kids my 7 am flight a week from tomorrow cannot come soon enough.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Draft Party

During lunch today we had a draft party for our kids who had finished their rough drafts for their non fiction pieces (everybody qualified!).
We had donut holes and candy and more upbeat music than I usually let them listen to.
They asked about our families and pets and where we lived...they talked about where they lived and what they want to someday be and they taught us the chicken noodle soup dance.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. There is a dance called the chicken noodle soup dance.
It's to an actual chicken noodle soup song.
It's the rage among middle school students, kind of like the macarena was when I was in middle school.
It's embarrassing, and pretty much ridiculous, but it felt like an honor for them to teach it to us.
The principal walked by and did a double take.
25 minutes after school was out all of my kids were still in my room.
And we were dancing to a song called chicken noodle soup. All I could do was smile.
I'm pretty sure it's one of those moments I'm going to remember forever.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rising Above...

Dorm rooms with no water.
Traffic that doubles our normal commute time.
Lines so long at dinner we don't get to eat.
Kids who punch other kids and principals who refuse to have students in their office unless they are being kicked out of the summer program.
Curriculum that changes daily and big wigs coming in to our class and making judgments about our teaching and our students when they do not have the courage to stand in our shoes.
It's time to rise above.
To take ahold of our kids and invest and care and put things in the language they need to be in to appease the politics while still giving our kids what they need to make it out of this system that only continues to fail them.
Egos and suits and Rolodex watches have no place in my classroom.
Hands and clothes covered in chalk and an arm full of worksheets at all different levels - that's what earns you respect in my room.
Overheads that don't work and chalkboard without erasers and air conditioners that work sometimes and the lack of a working pencil sharpener are nothing compared to the obstacle of people with too much power that don't take the time to connect before condemning.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Small Successes

The space between
The tears we cry is the laughter keeps us coming back for more.
Dave Matthews Band

In the midst of the chaos and fights and kids who punch walls and curriculum that still isn't totally in place and report cards done at the last minute and people who are ever so quickly burning out lies success.
Assessments that prove my students are learning.
Hand shakes and smiles and attitudes that show me they're invested.
6th graders who work cooperatively in teams because I expect them to and that's reason enough.
A morning and afternoon routine that is executed silently because we taught it that way.
I LOVE my students and am so incredibly sad that I only have 6 more days with them...

Friday, July 21, 2006

I prepared by eating a cookie and talking to my mom for the second time today and looking online at grad programs trying to figure out where my life was going...(any ed people out there have advice on Pace vs Bank Street?)
My test prep book provided by TFA is sitting on the bookshelf, exactly where it's been since March when they sent it to me. It's been moved to 3 cities but never opened.
I need to sharpen pencils, take a shower, and go to bed.
Studying for these kinds of things is over rated anyways, right?
For the sake of my students, let's hope so.

Pineapples + Printing Cartridges = Sanity

On a crazy Friday afternoon where our bus ride home was an hour longer than normal and we're all frantically preparing to take our certification exams tomorrow, sanity comes in the form of printer cartridges and pineapples.
Who sends pineapples in the mail, you ask? That would be my mom :) My parents just got back from vacationing in Hawaii where they toured the Dole plant and who'd of thought - Dole will ship pineapple care packages! I wish I was teaching so I could share with my kiddos....we're not allowed to provide food for our summer school students :(
Time to get back to work studying for a test you can't really study for, but we'll all try anyways.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Capturing Honesty

It's easy to be calm and reflective and optimistic on Friday nights.
The 4 nights of the week that lead up to Friday are much more raw.
Curriculum changes that happen daily, unclear expectations and not enough guidance coupled with too much micromanaging leave us all understanding why there are many that don't make it through this part of the program.
Being one of many and stuggling to learn and teach at the same time is exhausting and more intense than anything I've done in my entire life.
The straw that breaks the camel's back comes in forms of showers with no water and 100 degree busses in stalled traffic and bus drivers that, despite driving the route everyday, still get lost sometimes. Phone calls home to vent are cut off by the obligation to do more....go more...stress more.
The only time I feel calm and confident is when I shut my door and teach my kids.
The first day of induction we did an observation at a school. 60 of us got off the bus in our business suits and walked up the sidewalk in the South Bronx and as we neared the school a car pulled up. They rolled down their window and asked, "Are you teachers?"
We looked at each other and eventually somebody said, "Yeah."
"Good," they said. "We need some here."
I smiled. I still smile when anyone tells that story.
We're here for a purpose.
The struggle to hold on to that is one that I face everyday.
But I'm still here...and so are so many people I've come to admire.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

How Do I Reach Them?

Kassy- boy crazy, always tired, so incredibly smart that she's bored and never does her homework
Sael - into classical music, wants to please me so much that he turns in 2 drafts of his homework everyday - unfortuneately the fact that it's revised and neat doesn't change the fact that he's missing the content...
Los- Kindergarten reading level, has trouble merely copying down information, let alone processing it. Bully - socially expected to give me grief - wants to pay attention but knows it's not socially acceptable
Bry - Intellegent, polite, wants to be president someday - stuck as a 'role model' at a table where he constantly gets reprimanded when I warn 'Table 3 to respect me as I respect you...'
Imir - Math genius but so incredibly lost at reading
Aldrio - Chip on his shoulder that's way too big for me to eliminate this summer
Shak - Sweet girl, so incredibly behind...
*Names have been altered to protect the identity of my kiddos...*

The list goes on until there are 22 names, each with their own strenghts and weaknesses and personalities. Their own way of saying my last name so that it is no longer German/Swedish but 'gansta'...head bobbing to the white teacher music of Nora Jones and Amos Lee and Jack Johnson that I sometimes play during their independent work time.
There are 5 tables of them...some enrichment (meaning that they choose to come to summer school and are on or above grade level), some special ed (so behind I can't believe the 'system' hasn't caught them yet), all reaching out for some part of me I'll need to leave with them when institute is over...

Things I Learned

-Eating peanut butter and jelly everyday makes you never want to eat it again in your life. This is a bad thing if you're vegetarian.
- I have a lot to learn about implementing reader's and writer's workshop. My students are not getting nearly enough independent practice.
- Management is the key to all things good in the classroom. So far it seems to be my strongest trait as a teacher...
- 6th grade is a fun age. The girls are all taller than the boys so it's cool to like 'shorties', (short boys).
- It's hard to explain things like least common multiple and greatest common factor.
- Some of my students are reading on grade level or a level above.
- Some of my students are reading at a kindergarten level.
- The achievement gap is real and exists in my room. I have 3 weeks to do something about it.
- Even 13 year olds will work for stickers and jobs like 'master of the overhead' (which is really just someone to turn off the lights, pull down the projector screen, and hit the button to turn the overhead on.)
- You don't really need a pencil sharpener in your room. If you don't have one kids learn how to be more careful with their pencils.
- Working 17 hour days 5 days a week is not good for anyone.
- I LOVE TEACHING. The 90 minutes when it's just me and the kids is the best hour and a half of the entire day. No politics, no classes, just students.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Life could not get much more crazy.
Deadlines and no sleep and stressed out people and classrooms with no air conditioning.
Medical emergencies and friendships that only grow every day and realizing that this organization really cares about our well being.
We're making it through this together.
Faces are familiar and we greet each other with hugs instead of 'what's your name again?'
Moment by moment this is becoming home...

Sunday, July 09, 2006


It's the best word to describe today.
Realizations that taking days for ourselves yesterday that included 3 hours in Staples meant a 13 hour day today. My hands are covered in glue and smelly marker and I had to charge my laptop twice. No workout or talking with friends or breathing, just frantic lesson writing and copying and decorating and creating and thinking because tomorrow this all becomes very real.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Things I Learned

I'll try to do this every Friday...

Things I Learned This Week...
- Teaching and planning as part of a team is much harder than teaching and planning alone
- Bus drivers don't always know where they're going (we got lost this morning)
- There are sometimes random dead bodies on the freeway (we saw one yesterday morning)
- My parents somehow managed to raise one pretty fiercely indepent kid who insists on always acting like she knows where she's going even when she doesn't
- Triple decker peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches are bad news
- Good teachers are extremely organized
- I function better than I thought I would at 5 am
- They sell pineapple and cottage cheese mixed together in the same container. It tastes like toes (not that I know what toes taste like, but one can imagine.) Gross.
- People in New York listen to their Ipods all the time because it's the only way to ever be alone
- There is such a strong correlation between literacy rates and the ability to be a good citizen that some states actually plan prison construction based on the reading scores of standardized tests (does that make anyone else extremely angry???)
It's the end of week one.
On Monday we have students!
All 50 of us practically skipped out of our school in the South Bronx today.
Elated at a day that finally went smoothly after a week full of high strung, stressed out, there's never enough time 17 hour days.
Elated at having begun our day in the classroom - moving desks, designing bulletin boards, making signs....planning for these kids we can't wait to meet.
Elated that the end of week one means there are only four weeks left.
Elated that relationships are starting to form. We don't eat or teach or interact with strangers anymore but slowly, through conversations on the bus or at dinner or in the elevator, we're cultivating friendships that will pull us through whatever the next 2 years bring.
This week was intense. We were up at 5 am everyday, on the bus with our bagels and bagged lunches by 6, at school by 7:30, then in classes until 4:30. We come back to campus by 6, inhale dinner, then have sessions from 7 until 9 or 10. After sessions there's work to be done and showers to be taken and phone calls to return. As soon as our heads hit the pillow it's time to get up again...
Tonight, we'll sleep...take tomorrow as a 'me' day and Sunday as a lesson planning/poster making/prepare for the week day.
We will make it, and in 4 weeks we'll be teachers, not just a bunch of recent college grads with good intentions and big dreams.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

6 more days until we have students.
Over the next few days we'll spend time giving our kids reading assessments.
I'm ready, I think.
This teaching and learning and classes and not enough sleep is already getting to people.
It's only day 2.
There's just so many of us, and even people that went to big schools can't help but feel mass produced sometimes.
But then there are times, like today in our 'life map' sessions, where it's just a few of us, getting to know each other and coming to the realization that we are surrounded be amazing people. People who believe in why we are here and want to make a difference in the lives of our kids.
A few of my roomies and I went out and bought breakfast food today so we don't have to deal with chaos at 5 in the morning. I'd rather have my million grain bagles with natural peanut butter than hard white bagles with cream cheese any day!
Hooray for little things that make a world of difference...good food = happy teachers!

Monday, July 03, 2006

1 Day Down

I'm not sure than anyone can effectively function and absorb for 17 hours (minus 20 minutes of free time).
Today was the first day.
Chaos reigned.
Long breakfast lines and running out of food and late buses and the realization that managing this many people is still too much for staff to patiently handle.
We're numbers, not people, and questions are answered only in the context of very carefully timed sessions that would be effective if people could focus on the content but we're still learning how to be attentive and inspired while getting used to the changes that never seem to end.
This will get better, but in order to see the progress we made we must remember our beginning.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Home Sweet Home

High ceilings and three fireplaces. Big rooms with lots of closet space. A street with trees and families and the subway only 5 minutes away on foot. Within my budget ($735 a month)...
I'll be living with an '05 and '04 corps member. (Bemidji people, my one roommate is just like Bill's brother only 6 inches taller !) Our living room, with a blue couch and table, has already been nicknamed 'the blue room'. This was the first apartment I looked at here and I got SO lucky. Now I can spend time focusing on my kiddos and being a good teacher rather than worrying about where I am going to live.
On a side note, I spent the entire day wandering around the city on my own and didn't get lost or turned around once, quite an accomplishment for this small town Kansas girl who used to not be able to read a map to save her life!
Things are going better than I thought possible.
This is where I'm supposed to be - that's an amazing feeling.

(Note about the pictures: For all of you smart alecs out there, I'm not living in the side that's boarded up. I was going to crop it out, mostly for the sake of my parents and other people who worry, but I though it was very symbolic of Harlem at this point in time so I left it. Harlem is definitely going through a renaissance (no pun intended) but parts of stereotypical Harlem still remain, thus the boarded up windows.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I have a job.
A self contained 3rd and 4th bridging room.
What that means in non teacher language is that I will have the same 12 - 14 special education students all day every day. My students all have both emotional disorders and learning disabilities.
They're said to be 'born in hell'...wild...uncontrollable...but teachable. That's all I need.
I left with both my 3rd and 4th grade writing curriculum and having signed up for a reading workshop in August. I saw my room and met one of my students (who was, ironically enough, in trouble for sneaking in to the building...hhmmm).
They couldn't stop warning me how much of a challenge this would be.
How they didn't want me to take the position if it wasn't right for me.
How these kids need a really special person.
They need a life changer.
I'm ready.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Roller Coaster Continues

An afternoon spent getting my bearings, alone, in a city so big I'm always confused.
Giving someone directions and having them ask if I'm from here because I actually knew what I was talking about.
The rejuvenation and optimism that comes with beginnings, and the exhaustion that comes from constantly meeting new people.
Dinner in a fancy restaurant right across the street from Madison Square Garden with an alum.
Playing phone tag with friends I love and miss and can't wait to talk to...
Taking the wrong train, twice, then going the wrong direction on the right train and turning a 1 hour trip into a 3 hour trip with laughter and soy milk and smoothies to comfort our wounded egos.
Frantically preparing for an interview at 11 at night because I just found out I have one tomorrow at 1:30.
Focusing on the kids.
Remembering that this day will only come once and I'd better make the most of it because there's kids waiting for me to be the best teacher I can possibly be.
It's life - raw and not perfect but incredibly...real.

Day 3

The middle of day 3 is here and we have an hour of free (well, kind of) time. Time to finish paperwork, meet with placement staff, get faxes made and documents mailed, but free time nonetheless because we're not sitting in a session.
The past 2 days have been a blur, filled with constant new faces and an overload of information. We spent Monday afternoon doing observations at a school and then had a chance to ask current corps members questions at a panel and over dinner. Tonight we have dinner with an alum in the city (we're in small groups).
Overall, the most overwhelming part so far has been the sheer number of us. There's 566, and we're herded like cattle for the most part. Despite the attempt at small groups, it's largely impersonal, although sometimes the anonymity is nice.
I've met some awesome people with a wide spectrum of life experiences and am already learning so much from the people I live with. The process is messy and the organization imperfect (for some reason many of us unfairly expected something different), but we're slowly getting there. On Monday we start institute (the boot camp part) and I'm excited to meet the kids and start actually doing teaching stuff.
Time to go do my errands and hopefully squeeze in a workout before I leave to find my way to dinner....

Sunday, June 25, 2006


That people are down to earth and focused on the kids.
That it's not a big meat market and other people are missing people from home, too.
That no matter what this summer holds, we're in it together.
This rocks.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

No parachutes or safety nets here
One foot on the water to face these fears
Mat Kearney

Ready or not, it's time to live off of passion. Not everyone gets the chance to do something they've dreamed of.
The goodbyes are said and bags (for the most part) are packed. In 6 hours I 'll be leaving.
There's no profound way to sum it up - it's

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Live with intention
Walk to the edge
Listen hard
Practice wellness
Play with abandon
Choose with no regret
Continue to learn
Appreciate your friends
Do what you love
Live as if this is all there is
Mary Anne Radmacher
I fell in love with a disfunctional school. The vice principal offered me a 1st grade job with staff that were oh so welcoming in a room with a round window and blue carpet and for once I felt like this whole experience could actually really be happening.
But I'm supposed to take a special ed job because that's what my license will be and people just can't switch because Teach for America has to negotiate with the NYC Department of Ed and my enthusiasm is quickly squashed by red tape and unreturned phone calls.
I expected this. Disfunction and things not going the way I planned. For some reason I didn't think it would start until I entered my classroom.
Teach for America is, for the most part, efficient. But even the best of organizations break down sometimes. People are human and make mistakes. They apologize. It wasn't intentional. It's not really even entirely their fault. I just wish it wasn't happening to my dream.
It's time to pick up and move on because it's not about me or the staff at TFA or even the room with the little round window in the school that met me with open arms.
It's about kids. Kids in a classroom that are waiting for me to give them everything I have for the next 2 years. It's time to focus on that and not the messy, human process that it takes to get to them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Room With A View

I got a job! The position I had prepared to interview for (2nd and 3rd special ed) ended up being cut because of funding, but they had a general ed 1st grade position open, which I was offered before I left the school!
I got to see my room and meet some of my future students, as well as meet the staff in the building. They're so welcoming and I left with lots of email addresses for advice on housing, moving, or just questions in general. The school seems very structured - there are no kids randomly wandering the halls and kids seem to really respect their teachers. Much different from other urban schools I've seen.
My demo lesson went well. The kids were good, but not so good that I never had to correct any behavior, which gave the principal a chance to see my management skills.
The room I'll be teaching in is amazing! It's big, with lots of storage space and a round window right above where my desk will be! The walls are a pale yellow and there's lots of natural light - what a great learning environment! The only downer is no AC - it was over 90 degrees in the room yesterday at 10 in the morning! The school has AC but the assistant principal, who's been there for 6 years, doesn't remember a time when it actually worked in every room. Oh well - if that's the biggest obstacle I face there I'll consider myself lucky and just buy some fans!
Time to finish getting ready - packing and sorting and transitioning....3 more days! There's too much to do to really process right now.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I'm Here!!!

What follows will be random - I'm too overwhelmed (in a good way) to form my thoughts in to neat little paragraphs that make sense.

I'm here and in awe.
The Memphis airport smells like bacon. Everywhere.
I sat by a really cool old guy on the plane who was born and raised in Brooklyn. He was my tour guide as we flew over New York. I took pictures out the window and forgot my vow to not look like a tourist. He also let me in on a little transportation secret - New Yorkers take the Super Shuttle (basically a mini van stuffed full of people and luggage) to Manhattan from the airport - it's much cheaper than a cab! He got me subway maps and made sure I knew where I was going :) See Mom? No need to worry...
My interview for the 2nd/3rd grade Special Ed position is tomorrow morning at 9 am (8 am for all of you KS/MN folks). Pray for me or keep your fingers crossed or send me good energy - whatever it is you believe in because I'll need it! I teach a demo lesson at 9, interview with the vice principal at 10, then haul all of my luggage and excitement with me on a couple of busses and the subway to get back to the airport.
If my flight is on time (which it wasn't today) I'll be in Minneapolis long enough to have dinner with Brandon - wahoo!
4 days to pack and do what I've been putting off for the last few weeks, then it's back here for training!
Thanks to everyone who has written comments or sent emails. My life is chaos right now and it's good to be grounded in people who know and believe in me!

Friday, June 16, 2006

I’m getting excited.
Reading over our institute mailing was strangely comforting (after freaking out that I have to buy new shoes). We have a busy schedule, and it looks like we’ll be up by 5 every morning, but we’re teaching – in teams – but we’re teaching. We’ll have guidelines on setting up objectives and goals for our students and people to help us when we’re failing (or feel like we are). In the afternoon and evening we’ll have various breakout sessions that relate to our teaching area and we’ll also have time to plan and debrief with our teaching team. In our sample schedule we never go past 10, and Saturdays are totally ours to plan, workout, do laundry, etc.
And to top it all off we get to hang out with cool people who share our passion for education and kids and then we get to live in this AMAZING city for 2 years.
Seriously people, how bad can it be?
No bootcamp philosophy for me - it’s like professional development Disneyland – as long as we take each day as it comes and remember to breathe and focus on the kids, it’ll rock.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Leavin On A Jet Plane

A week from now I will be in NYC. They're flying me in for an interview (well, kind of - I have to pay for part of my ticket and all of my other expenses) with a principal for a 2nd/3rd grade Special Ed position. Much better than the 6th grade they originally wanted to interview me for!
I'm pumped - to get a sneak peek of the city and to interview when I can really focus on just the interview, not a million other TFA things.
I have a week to prepare - I'm going to be the most professionally enthusiastic teacher they'll ever meet!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Change of Plans

My original intention for this blog was to chronicle my experience with Teach for America for myself, family, friends, and others in TFA or interested in TFA. I originally thought that this experience would begin on the 25th of June, the start of Induction. What I'm realizing as the summer progresses is that the experience started months ago. The past six months have been filled with paperwork and curriculum and emails and phone calls. There were days I couldn't wait to leave, and other days when I'd wonder if this program was too much for me to handle.
Starting today I'll blog every once and a while about the transition. She says it best in her post about preparing for the best.
"We (all the new corps members) are leaving things behind. Really hard things to leave behind. Nobody takes this leap without loss."
I left a city and a boyfriend and jobs that I loved to pursue this program because I believe in it.
It's time to take that belief and passion and preparation and do something with it that will change the lives of my future students.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

My Region Assignment

Don't know what school I'll be at yet, but it'll be in the Bronx! Home to the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx zoo, and the Yankees.
Here's a map of my region for those of you unfamiliar with NYC.
Here's where I am in relation to the rest of the city. (I'm region 1)

Friday, May 19, 2006


I'm a 23 year old college graduate from a small town in rural Kansas. I've dreamed of living in New York since I was 10 years old and alas, in a month I will be making the move to the Big Apple to participate in a program called Teach for America.
This blog will chronicle my experiences in the classroom and in the city.
Please check back later in June for updates on our training and life in New York!