Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 21 2011

The best part is the bottom half, entitled “OH ALSO, IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE SMALL SUCCESSES.”

Ran four miles today, and I think my body was surprised. Came home to sleep for maybe an hour and a half. Now it’s 8:36 and I don’t have a lesson. I’m a bit clouded by nostalgia and some lingering sleep-feelings and self-sustained laziness.

Today my PD observed my highest achieving class– they did so well I was floored. My lesson required tons of prep (read: cutting 20 individual words and paperclipping them for a class set of 30; my first powerpoint in months for a great SMARTboard return; actually thinking through a lesson for once) and I was determined to make it work with them. Third period was by far the most receptive. In fact, I couldn’t quite determine if the other periods had any idea what was going on.

I’m continuously frustrated by lack of consistency in my classroom. In my behavior, my kids behavior, routine, lessons… (sigh). This week lessons have been very hit or miss– yesterday’s lesson was amazing for first and second, and pretty terrible for the rest of the day.

I’m starting to understand part of our curriculum called Laying The Foundation. It’s a Pre-AP program, and sixth grade is the first year students are introduced to it. The idea is that any student should be allowed and able to take pre-AP classes, and we need to prep them in earlier grades so they’re ready to see the material. In the beginning of the year I was instructed to “find the big book” and “look through it” then “teach a close reading lesson”. From what I know now, these are pretty simple directions. At the time, I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were talking about (though I did find the book).

This week I finally implemented two of the lessons– a close reading lesson (which is technically reading but fit into our persuasive unit) and a grammar lesson today. It was pretty handy to have these lessons pulled right out of a book, then to throw in a little I Do, We Do, You Do.

I elaborately explained my state of mind to my sister via email recently, and will now condense it. Before Christmas I was treading water, doing everything in my power to not drown, to not stay beneath the surface for longer than my lungs could take, to not give up. Now that it’s late January it’s moved to the water being just below my nose. Still treading water, but now you can see the sky (and it’s overwhelming!) You know there is land (read: a big goal for the classroom that CAN BE REACHED simply because IT EXISTS), and you see it sometimes. You can also see the people treading water (or standing in nearby life rafts) and sometimes you hear them (when you kick enough to get your ears out) and they lift you up a bit, but sometimes you’re sinking just a bit too far to make out any of the words.

How’s that for a metaphor.

Professional Saturday is in two days, then my first 5-day teaching week in three weeks, and the only one I will have in a grand total of SIX WEEKS. WHAT. Next week I have professional development in Hot Springs on Friday; the week after is the TFA 20th Anniversary summit in DC (missing Friday).

OH ALSO, IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE SMALL SUCCESSES.

The sixth grade is notorious for having no line control. Our classes have doors that go straight out into the world; no hallways, no retaining area, just the great grand sidewalk of sixth-grade land. For some reason our combined lack of sixth grade sidewalk management or etiquette has lead to the following occurence in virutally every class, every day:

My previous class has two minutes left. My upcoming class is herded outside my door, screaming. Literally. At least two students every class, every day. Maybe one student from each class is holding a notebook, already dating his/her Do Now (bless your heart), and most are spilling over, stepping on and “accidentally” tearing down the orange construction fence that perimeters the sidewalk. I say something like “Oh hello! Happy Wednesday! I am so happy to see you! Please choose to get into your two lines.” Frequently immediately followed with, “If you choose not to get into the two lines, the consequence is no recess, then a referral.”

Let me say, I hate threatening kids.

Then I allow them to enter my room, usually still rowdy. Undoubtedly, one student pushes, trips, kicks, or pulls another student’s backpack, leading to at minimum one student on the floor per class, per day, before class has started. This causes another herd to occur inside the classroom in an attempt to get around said student.

While this is happening, one student is at his/her desk, fervently finishing his/her Do Now. Other students are talking or yelling from their desks, unloading unnecessary supplies from backpacks, further tripping students, or standing in a part of the room they have no excuse to be in.

That is the usual scene.

UNTIL THE (knock on wood) MIRACLE OF THIS WEEK.

Last week we had our Bobcat Bucks Auction, which happens once a semester. Students earn Bobcat Bucks for coming to school, getting things signed, behaving well, etc etc. After the auction, I realized some students really do value them (in the beginning of the year I was told and then came to believe students largely thought it was lame and a waste of time, not worth being good for).

This week, when a class arrives outside, I immediate ask for their Bobcat Bucks record (it travels from class to class with them). I pull it out and hold it up, “Hello! Welcome to Thursday! Enter silently and begin your Do Now. The first students I see working get 25. The next few get 20. Then 15, and so on. Come on it.”

OH LORD, MY CHILDREN! This method has very seriously saved at minimum FIVE MINUTES OF EVERY CLASS. Part of my PD’s observation notes to me today were, “All Ss got right down to work as soon as they walked in the door, despite the chaos of the hallway”

Please understand my blood pressure is down and my joy is extremely high. My lessons are still large messes, my grading is inconsistent, my students may or may not learn from me daily, but praise above for the lightbulb that came this week. I know such a method will not last for four months, but it’s the small victories.

I had no intention of that being so lengthy. Glory glory. Time to plan for Friday.

One Response

  1. Cindy

    Caroline, rest assured, like a sponge set near the edge of a puddle, your students learn from you every day, every minute. It may not be in your lessons, however messy, and it may not relate or the grades you give them, however subjective and inconsistent or objective and consistent (any combination applies) that they learn. They also learn from your showing up every day, from your funny shoes and creative attitude, from your mere presence in their school, their town, their lives. You are amazing!

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