Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 26 2010

You forgot the zero.

The day after my “hardest day” I got this from Auntie Sue, my mom’s best friend since the fifth grade:

She loves you so much. She told me when you were little and when I was getting my teaching certificate that she thought of all of her babies, Caroline would be the teacher. She knew!

It was the perfect thing to get; I almost started crying on the bus to school.

My first week as a teacher. I know I need to say a lot but where do you start? How to describe something like this? Later in the week it started to sink in that I am in Mississippi, teaching, away from everyone I know I love, in a place where the standard is already set over my head, where it’s a given that I am smart, talented, driven and successful. We know that, now here’s how to apply here. Here’s what you need to know. No time to brush up on time management, on the ridiculous expectation that yes you will get less than five hours of sleep every night and deal with it. There is no time. We are wasting time. The kids are waiting. Their futures are waiting.

Urgency is not a core value here, but is. It’s in everything. Patience is encouraged but do not test it. Everything is valuable, and if it’s not we are working to ensure it is next time, or it’s cut. I love it. One may say I am drinking the TFA kool-aid. I say I am trying not to drown in it, so drinking is the best option.

Last night roommate Lucy and I were a classic demonstration of TFA. I came home from school, to-do list in hand, ready to go running as promised with Sally. I laid on my bed at 5pm, before dinner, to wait for her to get home from school. I woke up at 3:30am. Oops. I get up, out of teacher clothes, brush teeth. When I get out of the bathroom Lucy is awake. Lucy, what are you doing? She fell asleep at 6:30pm and was just as surprised to sleep so long. She went back to sleep, I lesson planned then slept around 7 until 11. 15 hours of sleep. My body demanded it.

I got two (forced) apology notes on Friday, and made a major error in my lesson. I was teaching 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication and forgot to bring down a zero. It was the Introduction to New Material, it is a crucial step. I noticed as students were adding their numbers and were thousands off. What did I do? Told students:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a mistake on a math problem, a silly mistake or a big one. (all students raise hands.) Well, class (I am in front of the room) I need you in Active Listening Position for this (all sit hands on desks, feet on floor, backs straight, eyes on me). I need to apologize. I made a big math mistake while teaching. Can anyone look at my work and see what I did wrong?

Here, our biggest behavioral challenge, Marchello, raises his hand immediately.


You forgot the zero.

I was floored. Marchello? Paying attention and immediately identifying my mistake? Marchello, who gets zeros on every assessment, cannot sit in his seat, and was by far the person with the most checks at the end of the day and the first to write an apology? Marchello who on Thursday I had to speak to in the hall privately about behavior?

Marchello has the lowest score in both math and reading in our class. But he is smart. He knows the content. He could do it if we can get him to concentrate. I hate the immediate “this kid has ADD” diagnoses and refuse to use it as an excuse. Marchello will learn. Marchello will demonstrate mastery. Marchello will do well in summer school. He will succeed.

In our class we have a cheer that’s call and response and changes every day: Levee Bowl Academy! Where we work hard and we succeed! How many days? 14! How many days? 14!!!

Monday marks 13 days until our final exams. I need to teach better. I need to learn more. I need to make sure Marchello and the other 10 students in my class have goals and meet them. One week done, three to go.

5 Responses

  1. Sounds like you’ve got it! I know it’s exhausting at first… I never thought to exercise and am glad I never even tried – maybe you’ll have energy later.

    As for not believing the ADD thing – that’s great… too many teachers (including myself) use that stuff as a crutch. You’ll be amazed/inspired/devastated to see how things go with your most difficult students…

    Oh – and TFA Kool-aid > politician/administrator Kool-aid. It’s not too bad for you from what I hear!

  2. dear teacher caro.
    i am so glad you are doing this blog. i love reading it. i’m so happy for all the experiences you are having.. and are going to have. i make mistakes everyday. you learn to laugh about it :)

    i love you!

  3. So you’re teaching math, huh? I’ve got English. I was determined not to drink the Kool-Aid. And then I realized I’ve been eating the food they’ve been serving all along. Good luck, my friend. Even though I know a few pre-TFA people in Phoenix, it’s still tough because TFA is a land unto itself.

  4. Auntie Sue

    I am soooo proud of you. You are so going to make a great teacher because you have already affected your first of many Marchello’s lives.

  5. Tommy G

    Hi Car-Car! (It’s about time I wrote you, right?)

    Yeah, I know…some days I get stuck in the past! Like calling you Car-Car in the email and remembering those little doll house thing-a-ma-bobs you and your big sis use to make and sell in front of your house, or the fashionable “recycled” cloths line you created with your friend and sold on- line, or the AWESOME CD you recorded ….LOL Opps! there I go again….drifitng

    I just wanted to wriet and say that from my perspective and almost 60 years walking this planet Car-Car, I have concluded a teacher can come in may forms, such as a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, an auntie, a husband, a wife, a significant life partner or a bad ass; Indian Motorcycle riding uncle, a niece or nephew, a best friend, and even an enemy and so on. While we may not realize the lessons being taught to us by these people at the time, they do stick and quietly mold us as we grow.

    You, our beautiful Caroline, have been gifted with an amazing collection of teachers in your young life who helped mold you into the teacher and young lady you are today! Especially your mom, Susie Snowflake forever she will be in our hearts. She was an inspiration to us all Caroline. While I never communicated that fact to your mom, she certainly helped mold me over the years in so many ways during our friendship. I know she is so very pround of you and stands tall watching over you to make sure you are not in harms way and to guide in your lifes journey.

    Not being an official educator myself, I can only sumize the required ingredients that create the formula to become a good teacher of life and educator which all lie within you Car-Car! That is why I and all who love you know YOU are making a difference in the world becuase you have been given the formula! You are tirelessly un-selfish, a goal setter, learning patient, willing to listen, share you zest for life, your unconditional acceptance of people, your charm, your wit, your spirituality and deep belief in finding the good and making ther world a better place. How lucky TFA is to have such a wnderful person like you in their organization. I suspect you will be the CEO of TFA by the time you are 30! LOLOLOL

    I truly believe that each person has the ability to be the Architect of thier own life, and realize today is not a dress rehersal, it is the real show and to make the best of it we can. From what I can see so far sweetie, you have a Masters In Architecture and are working on you Architectural PHD! Know I love you like a daughter and Auntie Sue and I are always here for you and your family. We are so very very proud of YOU!

    Now go out and conquer the world-but just do it one day at a time! :-)

    Luv ya Car-Car
    Uncle Tommy G.

Post a comment