Today is day three, grammar day. Laying the Foundation (LTF) is a program my district bought into with the AIMS grant. The purpose of it is to provide a[nother] framework to guide teachers in their pre-AP classes to better prepare students for AP classes.
Sixth grade in Dumas has no pre-AP classes. I teach sixth grade. I am at this conference. Also, at my last conference (APSI in Little Rock), the consultant that was the middle school ELA (English Language Arts) facilitator made a point of having us read the notice from College Board (the company that created and is expert on everything AP) that specifically denounces the entire concept of exclusively pre-AP classes. It’s tracking, exclusionary, and counterproductive for all parties involved.
Not to say I have any alternative.
The past three days of this workshop have been spent sitting beside Betsy, a self-contained special ed teacher. Most of the time she is holding, feeding, or patting the itty booty of 8-week-old Isabel, her daughter. First impression: why on earth did you bring your tiny baby to sleep in a laundry basket beside your feet at an English workshop for a week?! The answer was found when my lit coach directly asked her: her district made her come, by whatever means necessary. In other words, we don’t care if your infant is too young to travel or if you might be unprofessional or a disruption in taking her to a crowded classroom of educators every day for a week; professional development matters!
Can’t help but think of the priority of work-life balance and flexibility in the UK or at Google, with starry eyes.
To get to the conference, at a brand new high school in Springdale, AR, we travel in the Bobcat Bus, a 15-passanger vehicle my district purchased with pride before checking to see if our insurance would cover the transportation of students in such a machine (it won’t). It has a huuuuge Bobcat decal on the side with a vivid purple and yellow backdrop proclaiming DUMAS, AR. I typically drive. I left my wallet in Dumas this week (read, but don’t tell anyone: I do not have my license).
As for the training itself, we have four modules to get through, and three consecutive years of scaffolded training. I am in the first. Fortunately (or not, your call), I was required by my district to teach LTF lessons this past year already. Meaning I inherited all the print resources from the previous ELA teacher, self educated myself on how to apply them or what the program means in my classroom, and have already taught some. This, somehow, after one year and little formal training, put me ahead of my group in terms of knowing the content.
The saving grace is my facilitator, SP, college football player with a BA in English. Apparent poet and writer, he has a daughter at the U of Texas we hear about regularly, and he looks 10 years younger than he is. The first day he found out I’m a TFA teacher; the second he stated in the middle of a passion-for-education digression something like “I am impressed by these very dedicated teachers [pause]. She doesn’t even know I’m pointing at her.” I looked up from the compulsively small and regular lines I was drawing and realized he was pointing at me, paying me a high public compliment, largely because I’m a TFA teacher, something he then shared with the group (run on, I know, get over it). From behind me in the room came responses of “ooooh” and “wow…” and “what’s Teach For America?” It was the most (flatteringly) embarrassed I’ve been as a result of my TFA-dom since starting. He gets it.
Post-conference hours have included phone conversations, finishing Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, starting Monster, running with my lit coach (her demand, my happily obliging her), dinners with all eight of us Dumas teachers, and shopping adventures to Khols and Target. Today we went “to a show” (movie) and I’m about to re-pack for the five hour drive home tomorrow.
My favorite aspect of the conference is the culture, and simply being surrounded by Arkansas teachers. Even after a year, I am still attempting to learn to assimilate into teacher culture– totally different than TFA culture. The Arkansas teacher culture at large, from what I’ve seen, is realistic, intelligent, and passionate. Last night my lit coach (who I’m rooming with at this hotel) made a point to tell me that if I ever leave Dumas and choose to return to teaching, “Most schools aren’t like ours.”
Which is precisely why I’m there. (But also– how accurate is her claim?)