Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Institute reflection guide

I found my post-Institute reflection from this summer, and reading it again at the end of the year may have helped me to re-focus. I was terrified of starting Teach for America in Chicago and later teaching in Jacksonville, but this is how I felt after I had made it through five weeks of "teacher boot camp". I'd like to share it here for anyone who wants to read it.

I came into Institute practically terrified of…just about everything.  Even before being accepted into the corps I had started to hear horror stories of Institute and tireless work, no sleep, and demon children our for blood.  I heard that we would cry everyday, and while some said that that was expected and it was OK, others simply quoted “a sad teacher is a bad teacher.”  Thank you for preying on my worst fears, I would think.  It’s not like my nightmare is being the most ineffective, sad teacher in Chicago and later Jacksonville…  No, I am of course supremely confident in my inexperience and lack of teacher skills. Please continue telling me how hard I am about to fall on my face.  I was worried, maybe understandably.   But then something wonderful happened:  Institute started
I was so consumed with figuring out all the intricacies of living at IIT, navigating the L, making sure I didn't miss my bus (whoops, guess I did a bad job of that one), and trying not to miss all my sessions, that I was surviving Institute, even succeeding in it, simply because I was forced to look at everyday minute by minute, session by session, day by day. 
I have had some horrible days here.  Days where I bomb my lesson by teaching to the wrong objective or executing bad classroom management or missing my bus or getting my schedule switched at the last second or finally “breaking the seal” and crying at school (and then later into my macaroni and cheese at dinner).  Oh, did I mention all of those things happened on the same day? Yep.
Institute tried to break me – but because I had tensed myself for battle, I was ready for it.  And despite my penchant for crying when I get frustrated or overwhelmed, I spent all but two days here dry-eyed.   I took every day as a new challenge.  Each new lesson plan was another chance at inspiring my kids and teaching them something they had been told they “just can’t learn.” I hope that this mindset carries over into my region, because as of right now, it is saving my life. 

It has. It did. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

card tricks against humanity

Sometimes teaching can make you want to tear your hair out. And other times, it just makes you laugh.

Early this year, one of my students asked to use my deck of cards after he finished a test.  (Being a probability/statistics teacher, I always have a deck of cards. It is especially helpful when it is revealed that your students don't know what a spade is or how many cards are in a suit - and in that case, how can you be exasperated when they can't determine the probability of drawing an ace? You can't. Exactly.)
I said yes, sure, just be quiet and keep them to yourself. I watched him practice card tricks in the back of class, and later collected the tests.  Several days later, I cleaned out my desk drawer and discovered that all I had left of the deck of cards was the flimsy box they came in. And two jokers, of course. Also directions to some card game no one ever plays.

Bottom line: they had been stolen. 

Well...the student had neglected to return them. I'll put it that way.  This happens daily with pens, pencils, folders, calculators and basically anything else I leave on my desk.  I mentally cursed the student for taking them, and promptly forgot all about it.

A week or so later, I had to correct the student several times in class for doing magic tricks; he used pencils and coins and paperclips, and yes, playing cards.  But I honestly did not connect the dots for a very long while. Obviously they were the same cards, but I was so busy with teacher life that my teacher brain refused to put 2 and 2 together. Which is ironic, because I am a math teacher (and getting really good at quick mental math).
 I called his mother and told her about the magic interrupting class,and she assured me he wouldn't be doing it any more. And for the most part he didn't.

Anyway, here's where the story gets funny.

I talked to another one of his teachers, and we discussed his class performance, behavior, etc., and she told me he was still doing magic tricks.

"Really?" I said, "he stopped doing them in my class. I called his mom, and since then I haven't seen him do it once."
"Yeah," she said. "I called her too. But he's still doing it. She said if I see him with the cards again to take them from him and not give them back."

I laughed, with amusement, and a bit of relief.  After months, I would get my cards back! Nice day. Wouldn't even have to go to the dollar store. I started to tell her they were really my cards - thinking she would get a kick out of the story-

"So I took them," she continued, "and went to the trash, tore them in half, and threw them away. Every last one."

I realize after a second my mouth was still open to tell my story. and the smile is frozen on my face.

"I realize it was a bit much, but I was sick of those magic tricks. And his mom told me to take them, so..." She smiles.
I laugh weakly, and murmur something about it getting old and it was probably a good thing. heh. heh.

Looks like I have to go to the dollar store after all. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

excerpts from grading

I was feeling a little down  today. Down on teaching, and down on my mission - to SAVE every student in the world. It's a tough gig, teaching, especially when you, like me, believe that every student can learn, it's just a matter of motivation and engagement.  Especially tough when you realize that the motivation and engagement all has to come from you. You're not teaching if they're not learning.

But then I started grading papers and I was cheered up a bit:

assignment: develop a research question for an observational study.
  • "Q: Who smoke more weed boys or girls? 
  • Observe different teens and see who smoke the most.
  • (I) go to four middle schools four high schools and observe 16 classes by getting a well-known jock to ask his/her peers about it and then I sit in on the conversations and take notes."
question (on a quiz!): explain how you would use simple random sampling to choose your sample group.
"I would take a group of people (mostly girls) and play spin the bottle with them. That would be considered random sampling wouldn't it."
BONUS question: for four points, list at least four X-men and the mutant powers associated with each.
"Black widow - turns black and disappears;  X-man - has claws out of his fingers"
"Never seen X-men, but I think I know the girl is stretchable, there is a fire man guy, a strong guy, and then a superfast guy."
"Wolverine = claws, Jade = psycho, Storm = weather, Wheelchair Man = physic powers"

Stay tuned for more gems. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The last time I wrote, I was a baby teacher nearing the middle of her training in Chicago.   Now I am a baby teacher looking back on her first month of teaching in a real live public school to real live children.
At least I think most of them are alive...they're pretty good at sleeping with their heads propped up, so for all I know, they could be dead.  But then again, they do leave like quick little bunnies when the bell rings, so there goes that theory.
Alright, so my students aren't all sleeping though my classes.  There are a few who have gotten away with sleeping if they prop their head on a binder- OH WAIT. No they didn't. Newsflash: teachers can SEE YOU. You're not fooling anyone just because you're not drooling on your desk.
Although, I do have one student who kinda roosts himself into his chest like a mama owl and falls asleep sitting up perfectly straight, most of the time with a pencil in his hand, poised on the paper. It's amazing.  Once he fell asleep during a quiz, and I debated just letting him snooze his way to a zero...but then I felt bad, so I rapped on his desk, and he carried on writing as if nothing had happened.

...So I just thought I would share my thoughts so far, maybe a few anecdotes, so that those of you who read this every once in a while will know what I've been up to.

I made it through my first whole month of teaching! The days go by faster now (they always go by much much faster than they did when I was a student) and that is partially because the feeling that I am drowning is dissipating day by day. Yay!  It's also because the school day is not very long at all: due to budget cuts, my teaching day goes from

7:30 AM (high schoolers love that) to 1:45 PM.

 Yup.  My kids get out of school everyday before 2:00. So when they fall asleep in my 7th period class, I can say to them "just wait 20 more minutes! then you can take a 4 hour nap and still wake up in time for dinner!"  It also makes their "I didn't have time to do my homework"-excuse really weak.

it's the bangs. it's always the bangs.
  • (male) Student:  "Ms D, I figured out who you look like. You look like Carly Rae."  Me: "Who? I don't think I know who that is."  Student:  "You know, (sings) before you came into my life I missed you so bad! I missed you so so bad/ So call me maybe! you know?"  Me: "Yes, but I am oh-so-glad you just sang that out loud."
  • (female) Student: "Ms. D, can I make up the work I missed this week? I was in jail."  
    • I don't even know what it was for, and I didn't ask.  All I said was "Sure. We did 3.7-3.9 in your workbook. Bring it to me tomorrow"
More to come soon!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

beating a dead horse?

I promised a lot of people that I would blog about learning to teach, and sadly I have let all of them down.  Until today.

The fact of the matter is, I haven't done so yet because I talk about teaching all. the. time. now, and when I sit down to the computer at the end of the day, it's usually to lesson plan OR (better) to do something completely unrelated that doesn't require my brain to be on at all.  Yesterday I was introduced to Phineas and Ferb and watched several episodes before finally going to sleep at :yawn: 10 PM.

10 PM is my new bedtime, and 11 PM is my new "why am I still awake"-time, mostly because 5:30 is my new wake-up time.  Also because (I don't know if you have heard this yet) teaching is exhausting.  I was teaching a lesson in summer school today about multiplying complex fractions.

Obviously the kids were not so into it, especially because their previous teacher has been known to say things like "they can't learn fractions. It's like beating a dead horse. So I just let them use calculators on the tests because they don't need to know how to multiply or add fractions for algebra. So why waste your time?"   My first response-thought to this was "my kids WILL learn fractions. and they will LOVE them."  So I poured my heart, soul and body into my lesson today and got very little in the way of enthusiasm back. Their teacher (who had been observing) said to me after "you put in waaaay more work into that lesson than the kids did. Don't do that. Make them work."   And as much as I may disagree with their teacher's view of their potential for learning, I think this advice is pretty good.

I learn lessons like this every day. Some are real lessons, with lectures and worksheets, and some are learned the hard way.  When asked to describe how I am feeling today with a color, my response was "dishwater" and it's true. I feel thin, translucent, grey, and, for lack of a better word, whooshy. But there is one thing that is keeping me from collapsing into a puddle, and it's my students.  Today, my kids took a lesson they had been told they'd never learn (or need to learn, but honestly, where does that assumption come from?) and tackled it. Even though they weren't jumping out of their seats, even though they may have been chatty, even though I wore myself out doing it, they went from 0% of the class mastering the skill to 83%.  

And that is what will keep me up till midnight tonight writing lesson plans.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

breaking up is hard to do

I woke up this morning and came to the sad realization that I would be waking up in Charleston (as a student/transfer-South Carolinian/Charlestonian) for the last time.  I graduated yesterday, and while that fills me with pride in my accomplishments and excitement about starting the next chapter of my life, it has also plagued me with sadness and nostalgia.

I have said goodbye to a lot of people I love and "see you later" to the ones who can never be rid of me,  but I am still grievously sad (as anyone within 40 feet of me can attest - I have cried a lot this week).  Why am I so sad though? This is the beginning of something new, even though it means the end of something beloved.   And then I realized why I am so weepy:

I am breaking up with Charleston.
I took this picture at Freshman Orientation, Summer 2008 :)

I once joked on Facebook that I was "in a relationship with the city of Charleston" and "it's complicated."  Complicated because so many people are in the same relationship, I think. Or because in the summer it gets really hot and smells like garbage and/or fish. Sometimes it's hard to love that. But I did.

In the summer I would joke that I was "in a long-distance relationship with the city of Charleston."   I would start to have dreams about just walking the streets, I missed it so much.  And then a month would go by and it would be time to move back. And I would roll down the windows as we drove into the city and say "it smells like beach" and smile.  And I would unpack and take a walk around the city, wishing on several occasions that it were possible to give the city a BIG I-missed-you hug.  (I had to settle for a lamppost. There was gum on it...)

I haven't experienced very many break-ups, and they have never been too devastating, and I think that's because I have never truly been in love.  Until I moved to Charleston.

I know it's a break-up (and that's why I am so inconsolably sad) because:
  • Every song is about us.   (me and Charleston, that is.)  Driving home from my parents' hotel room the other night, I heard two songs on the radio and I wanted to cry.  These are songs that I have heard millions of times before and on the surface have nothing to do with graduating or leaving or anything really. They were:
    • Hold on Loosely - 38 Special   "usually it's too late when you/ realize what you had/ so hold on loosely/and don't let go...etc."
    • Mr. Jones - Counting Crows  "when everybody loves you/ you can never be lonely"
    • thank goodness I didn't hear the Cheers theme or James Taylor or "How Far We've Come" or something otherwise reminisce-y.  Looking at these lyrics now, it seems really stupid, but the other night these songs were about meeee.  And that's how I know it's a break-up. Because I am acting crazy.
  • When people say "you can still come visit!"  what I hear is "we can still be friends...."  Visiting is such a hollow mockery of our relationship it makes me sad to think about it. I will always belong here, but I won't belong to Charleston the same way ever again.
  • I know that this is "for the best" but I don't care. We will both go on to grow and flourish. But I am allowed to be sad about something wonderful ending. So damn it, I will be sad. 
So goodbye, Charleston.

It sucks to leave you.  I will always have a HUGE place in my heart for you and for the College and all the wonderful people I met as a happy consequence of moving here four years ago.  I will miss you. I will miss the Farmer's Market and praline samples and Charleston Christmas traditions and nuns and church bells and crooked streets and lampposts covered in gum and old houses and boarded-up fireplaces and seagulls and the Cooper River Bridge and horse-drawn carriages and alleyways and the Battery and bicycles and the best cupcakes I will ever eat. I will probably never stop dreaming about walking these streets with the people I love.
Stay beautiful, Charleston.  I will be back to visit (we can still be friends).

I've cried a lot about leaving here, but this morning when I looked out my window I knew it was never a one-sided relationship:  Charleston was crying too.