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.)