Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 20 2010

Brush it off.

I consider today a good day, after a good week. Monday my students left, I shut the door, and within 120 seconds I was sobbing. Enough to not leave the room for 20 minutes, and then just to say hi to Sarah and get in the car. I watched videos of teachers, and observed teachers, and considered silence in a classroom to be miraculous. Nothing short of it. I had no near belief of my ability to make a class of 26 or so students quiet for longer than 30 seconds.

I WAS WRONG.

I told my principal. I told the school secretary. News trickled to the dean, who happens to be an incredibly large, tall male whose mere presence keeps kids in line at least more than mine does. They came in my classroom, stood outside my door, checked up on me and yelled at the students via the PA system (my thoughts on that last one are ambiguous, but beggers can’t be choosers). Today I gave out more class points than I have in the past two weeks combined, and I know it’s not because they were so much better, but because my confidence and management have improved considerably.

Though, I know I can’t speak too soon. Management is as solid as… well… water. Or something.

Other highlights from my week:

A parent came in to remind me I am not allowed to touch her student. She also asked more than once, “Why are you here?” Ah-ha, good question! And “What are you here to do?” Excellent question! Answer being: To teach. Her direction (and it was a fairly creative way to get to it) was that I can’t teach if I refuse to answer questions, which is something I frequently do in my classroom… DURING NOTES. And also I ignore a handful of students who tend to ask questions like, “Can I go to the bathroom?” “I need to go to the nurse.” “Ms. Lampinen, my mom told me it’s not polite to point, so why you pointin’?” Well.

The meeting, though, instead of discouraging me, made me really excited and accountable to a parent. Thank you, parent! THANK YOU. For being an advocate for your kid, for caring that there was a problem to begin with, and for remembering I told you to come in any day for any reason because I’d always be there by 7:30am. She took advantage of her resources, and talking with her gave me an adrenaline rush (really, a kick in the pants).

Incident number two:

Two students come up to me in the beginning of class today. This is my highest class (they are leveled), tons of pre-AP-bound kids, high grades, excellent behavior, we have fun. Both boys are black (this is faily relevent to the story). “Ms. Lampinen, we need to talk to you.”

“Okay, you need to take your quiz.”

“Ms. Lampinen, it’s important.”

“Take your seats,” (looks at their faces) “How important is it? … okay, wait outside, I’ll be there in a minute.”

After accidentally forgetting about them for ten minutes (WHOOPS), I make it out to see what’s up.

“We just thought it was really important for you to know something.” I realize that this is an issue beyond just these two boys, and that they were potentially encouraged to approach me by others in this class. “Ms. Lampinen, some kids are trying to get you fired. They’re saying you’re racist. There are rumors going around about it. We thought you should know. We just don’t want you to be surprised or anything, we wanted you to be ready for it.”

It was all I could to do not burst into laughter. I neglected to mention before that in that parent meeting, when said parent was a tad heated, my principal spit fire in my defense– even though she didn’t really know the situation. It became incredibly clear that my principal will fight for me no matter what. In that meeting I felt so supported, and like Dumas in general was going to make sure I stayed, and make sure I had no problems staying (or at least to whatever possible to minimize the overwheming obvious problems). So the idea of getting ousted for being racist by a group of sixth graders is quite funny. Especially considering the students that care enough to tell me are black. So doesn’t that kind of show in itself that I’m not racist? If students of other races trust and care about me that much?

So instead of being a point of worry (though to the students I said, “Oh! Thank you so much for telling me, I really really appreciate you looking out for me. I’m such a lucky teacher to have students like you that are willing to let me know things like this…”), it was a confidence booster. Proof that my students care about me, and trust me.

Incident three:

Yesterday I got a phone call from the administration building to my school. The admin building happens to be our next door neighbor (to my house). They called to say there was a package addressed to me that was found ripped open, sitting in a puddle of a ditch, with all the contents spewed across a yard next door to the admin building (two doors down from my house). They said they picked up what they could find, that it looked like Christmas presents.

Christmas presents?

I picked up the package during lunch today, it was still soggy and filled with wrapping paper. Anything with a wrapper was open, and one thing was clearly missing, but it was a seemingly standard auntie-package (which I am so, so fortunate to recieve). Usually some food, soap or some other form of personal hygeine product, a tiny notebook, and a book. I figured maybe something was taken, but the aunties are usually pretty low-key with their wonderful care packages.

Called auntie tonight. Again.

I WAS WRONG.

Auntie happened to send my Christmas present early, which happened to be some gorgeous Swarovski crystal snowflake, in honor of my late mother. Sigh. There was another beehive box thing that I can’t picture in my head that is also missing. It is supremely frustrating! My house recieves an average of maybe two or three packages a week. And has since we moved here. So why, after two months of living here, someone suddenly decided to take my package, rip it open, and steal the only thing of value that has ever been mailed to me… it baffles and angers me. I’m not letting it get to me. I feel worse for auntie, who was so proud to have her package in the mail and out of the way and sent to quaint little Arkansas town… only to be intercepted by unknown jerk who doesn’t even have the decency to take the actual package with him.

I called the police, and am crossing my fingers for a  pawn shop to have a snowflake show up.

Anyway, like I said, it’s been a good week. That seems like it could be really sarcastic, but it’s not. I still love my kids, am loving my classroom more. I had a student stay after and grade papers for an hour and ah alf with me today. I love her. I love out-of-school bonding with my kids. I’ve been craving more of it, and know that’s a major key to being more successful and more confident and happier. Mmmm, Arkansas. Bigger mmmmm: THANKSGIVING BREAK NEXT WEEK. Feel free to visit.

7 Responses

  1. “It became incredibly clear that my principal will fight for me no matter what.”

    Awesome. Seriously.

    I’ve had mixed relations with administrators in the past. When they’re willing to back you up, everyone wins.

    As for the students that claim you’re racist: I had that happen to me too. Why on earth, if that’s the case, did I have a poster of MLK on my wall?

    Must have been a facade…

    Sounds like you’re surviving. The year might get worse, by the way, as they get sick of you/you get sick of them more. That’s why I’m 99% sure Spring Break was a teacher’s idea.

    • Toni-Ann

      Haha! Having a poster of MLK on your wall does NOT support you NOT being a racist. Try again.

  2. Sieng

    Don’t worry if you are doing the right things. God bless you always. Thank you for teaching your students. Thank you for being a positive person.

  3. Monika

    Once upon a time I was Teach For America teacher in Arkansas and based on your post here I have two words of advice:

    1. Do not dismiss concerns of racism. Do not let them control you but continue to be open-minded and give them no reason to believe otherwise about you. Think about how your teaching can reflect your students, their lives and their experiences.

    2. Get a PO box at your local post office.

    Keep rocking on, so proud of how the Delta corps has expanded!!

  4. Ah-ha, yes, and thank you for pointing this out. To be completely honest, your last sentence is incredibly accurate. Racism, and all of its fine interworkings, is something I am learning a lot about here and AM ignorant of. Like a lot of TFA-ers, I grew up in a predominantly white city, with predominantly white friends. And, honestly, there are times when I can’t figure out if my actions or assumptions really ARE racist. Or how I feel about what qualifies as racist or not. Sigh.
    I appreciate you pointing this out and am still working to be as PC and fair as possible, but also think the experimentation with calling out race to figure out when it is and is not appropriate (rather than avoiding it all together) is still worthwhile.
    Thank you for commenting, and about something like this.

  5. I hope she is weighing her decision very carefully! It is definitely an incredible, worthwhile, and challenging experience. There’s no perfect way to describe it, and her experience can be very very different than mine depending on where she is placed. The Delta is a HUGE region with big variation from district to district and between Arkansas and Mississippi, and she won’t know where she is placed (most likely) until summer. If you want to talk to me personally with questions or concerns or anything feel free to email or keep commenting! :)

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