Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 11 2010

Hello, Dumas.

Today I met the next two years of my life. I drove with the other three CMs placed in Dumas: Ben, Brittany and Laura. It’s a little over two hours from Cleveland.

For some reason I expect everything labeled a “small town” to be like Norway, South Carolina. This is a fallacy. Dumas is small (population 5,000), but doesn’t feel small until you talk to people. I expect a small town to be a town off the highway down a narrow road, post office next to grocery next to town hall. Not Dumas. Instead it’s a town built around the highway. It’s a nice representation of urban sprawl: Exxon here, apartment complex behind it, Mexican restaurant a little ways down, McDonalds, Piggly Wiggly. It’s not desolate, it’s not a few small neighborhoods. Not from what I saw today, at least. It is, however, the length of three traffic lights. When I spoke to my principal on the phone she told us to “go to the third stoplight, turn left, and it’s the first house.” Directions are always relative here. We knock on strangers’ doors and are welcomed in. The landlord of Ben, Laura, and Mitch (an ’09 CM) talked with us for a good twenty minutes, and I found out his wife is a distance runner. She runs five days a week at 5:30 am, and I plan to join her.

My principal invited us to Reed Elementary, my school. We spent the afternoon with her and her two-year-old granddaughter. We toured the campus- it’s huge. Reed Elementary has the biggest campus in Dumas, with about 600 students. Reed is 2nd-6th grades. The district is split into k-1, then 2-6, 7-9, and 10-12. My classroom has a single door that goes directly outside. It reminds me of a school that would be in California, because everything is connected by sidewalks, not hallways. Students walk outside to lunch, to the office, to the library, to art class… so different than up north. I got to see my classroom, and lost my breath for a minute, thinking about what it will be like, sound like, look like in another two months.

It’s a huge advantage that I’m not only placed already, but that I’ve seen my classroom, met my principal, looked for housing, been to my town… there are so many Delta CMs that have not had these opportunities yet, that are so nervous about the fall. I am so blessed to know what I’ll be doing. I learned today I’m going to teach sixth grade (not fifth) and I am a straight-up writing teacher. Writing is state tested, which means it gets more funding (which directly translates to me having a Smart Board in my classroom). I’m also an AIMS teacher, which means I’ll receive extra coaching, $800 to spend in my classroom or on professional development, and hopefully a mentor teacher who is also an AIMS teacher. AIMS is a grant:

Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, Inc., is a non-profit corporation that works with Arkansas schools and the private sector to maximize the number of students passing AP mathematics, science, and English exams by planning, implementing, and incentive programs. These programs are modeled after a successful similar program designed by Advanced Placement Strategies, Inc. of Texas. Training and incentive programs complement the Advanced Placement ProgramĀ® administered by the College Board.

This means I will work closely with a curriculum specialist, and my test scores will probably be monitered pretty closely. I’m incredibly nervous and incredibly excited. My classroom is BIG, and it’s rare for any class in my district to exceed 24 students. This means I already have big plans for a cozy reading nook, important data wall, and creative seating arrangements. I’m already thinking of a master teacher wishlist for friends and relatives to consider donating to. It will be posted soon and frequently updated. I feel my principal is ready to do anything to make sure I and all teachers in my district succeed.

Tonight I went to Hey Joe’s (bar) then the Pickled Okra (bar). I danced and laughed and sang. Today was a much needed good day after an extremely difficult week. Institute is hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s pretty much all anyone can say. What I realized while talking in the car today is that it’s not hard because of the rigor. Not because expectations are through the roof, because it’s hard to work in a collaborative, because everyone is smarter than you, because everything is data-driven. It’s not hard because of what TFA expects of you, at all. What’s hard is that in looking at your results you are no longer the most important thing. In fact, you’re invisible. What matters is your kids. What matters is if you can have an impact and show measurable success of all the 10 year olds that sit in front of you, whine at you, disobey you, shock you, impress you, show off for you, adore you, every single day. What matters is if you can teach them something that will change their life or not. If you don’t, no one is going to be surprised, and people will tell you it has nothing to do with you, that they’re unteachable, that you should feel bad for them. But if you do you might have saved a little boy from prison, you might have convinced a little girl to not get pregnant in her teens, you might have given someone the mindset necessary to get to college. What matters is that you stopped caring about yourself and started giving everything you have to people that need it more than you could ever imagine.

3 Responses

  1. Cindy

    I’m so impressed again with all you have gotten out of Institute and your commitment to your chosen path. You sound so excited, and I know you will be the difference in the lives of so many.

    I have a huge tube of stuff – some you can use in your new classroom, some you can share with other teachers . . . books, activity sheets, decorations, games, etc, etc etc. I thought about sending to you in Mississippi, but time is running out and I still have a bit of room. Your post today makes me think perhaps I could just send to you at your school. Do you think that would be ok? Do you have an address? I can’ t mail to the third light and then left . . . . I will wait so it can arrive when you do, if you can a) get me the address and b) confirm with the principal that it will be ok to send direct to you care of the school (via FedEx)

    Let me know . . .

  2. isabel

    For your wish list, you might want to try
    Just a thought! Best of luck

  3. Sally Korth


    You are on the right path.
    Each day is a new beginning.
    You are lucky to have the kids and they are blessed to have you.

    “Each day I learn more than I teach;
    I learn that half knowledge of another’s life
    Leads to false judgement;
    I learn that there is a suprising kinship
    In human nature;
    I learn that it is a wise who knows his daughter,
    I learn that what we expect we get;
    I learn that there’s more good than evil
    In this world;
    that age is a question of spirit;
    That youth is the best of life
    No matter how numerous its years;
    I learn how much there is to learn.
    — Virginal Chruch

    love, love, love,
    Auntie Sally

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