Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 09 2011

First post about the Second year.

Laura woke me up this morning, standing in my doorway at 6:30, “You still wanna go, girl?”

Eyes open, comfort of hand-me-down bed noted, “Yes. You?”

And off we went, into the overcast Arkansas morning, for a three mile run before our first day of professional development for the year. We then left as a house, the boys with us, and arrived to a full high school auditorium to hear our assistant to the superintendent try to pat us on the back for being on school improvement for the fourth or fifth year in a row. We applauded loudest for kindergarten because their scores were so high, then realizes that they use norm-based testing, not standardized. Meaning the scores are hardly worth noting. Sigh. The icing on the cake was when this same speaker made a demeaning, and arguably racist to her own race, joke about our students, their parents, and our staff. All in one swoop. Everyone laughed, but the kind of laugh where you feel dirty and embarrassed afterward.

Speaking of scores, how did sixth grade writing go last year, Caroline? How were your amazing writer kids? Brace yourself: their average scores dropped by 19% from the previous year. From 72 to 53%, no kidding. But you thought I was a good teacher, right? Those essays I posted last spring sounded so great!

YEAH WELL NOW YOU UNDERSTAND, that despite updating my blog and loving Teach For America, my teaching abilities are severely lacking. My kids are severely under-served.

I am chuckling as I write that, mostly because I am not currently considering the implications of these horrific scores on the 120 children that I love so much, that are now in the seventh grade. Chuckling because I know I’m not giving myself quite enough credit. “My” scores are really the combined literacy scores of both the reading teacher and myself. The reading teacher who missed a significant number of days last year due to sickness, severe weather in her hometown an hour away, and getting married. Who consistently relayed to me her lack of interest or expertise in her subject. I love that woman just as much as I love my sister, but we did not collaborate, did not concretely think about how to best reach our kids or about the long term effects of our daily lessons. It was my first year training and her second, both non-traditional (but different) routes, both first years to the district. It was a rough year. My last poor excuse for the dismal scores is that the year previous to my and reading teacher’s arrival in Dumas, the same pair of teachers had taught the our two subjects for over ten years. I would hope their scores were quite higher than what two brand new teachers could produce.

Now, excuses aside, my scores were embarrassing and, as a result, incredibly motivating. My students this year will not have scores anywhere near those. They will be proficient. Someone, by God, someone will get a perfect score on the writing section. No one did it last year.

Going to professional development today gave me the boost that Second Year Orientation via TFA didn’t, shocked as I am to admit that. I put my room together (kind of), I had an hour long conversation with the new reading teacher and I am equally pumped to work with her as I am sad that I’m losing one of my biggest in-school supports (last year’s reading teacher).

The icing on the cake came late at school. Past 8pm, making today a 12 hour workday, I went to Sarah’s room because I saw her car out front (one of three: me, her, and the principal). After I finished talking to Andrew (I tried to link to his blog again, linkfail, sorry*) about his first day in Greenwood (!!) on the phone, one of our retired third grade teachers was in her old room, pulling books for one of her two sons, both with her. Sarah and I went over to say hi. The boys were sociable and adorable. The older, I found, is entering fourth grade. After talking with him for about a minute and a half he impassively glanced about the room for a moment, rested his eyes on mine and said with complete sincerity, “I hope I have you when I’m in sixth grade.”

I don’t need anything else beyond that comment. Getting wrapped up in summer, in social life, in my own socio-economic class and race and speech patterns, I forget those sentences. The ones that make my veins bulge for a second, that disrupt whatever thought I was in and pull me into Dumas. That ground me, very securely, in Dumas. In the present. In the mission.

I don’t give myself enough credit, none of us do. We all talk about failing, about widening the gap, about not doing exactly what TFA asks of us. But it’s absolutely true, that our mere presence (the presence of any teacher) impacts students and community member and peers and principals and strangers in ways we can expect to never know. It is incredible. I am so grateful for those words, for the 14 friend requests on my new teacher facebook account, for all these Dumas kids I am so in love with. Ahhhh, new sixth graders, I can hardly wait for the day in which we shall finally meet.


5 Responses

  1. Wess

    OMG can we be friends on teacher Facebook? (speaking of which, check out!)

    • I downloaded an edmodo app for my android but it was HUGE and I didn’t like how it worked but I WILL TRY THE WEBSITE!


  2. Jessie

    Caroline, you know you really don’t give yourself enough credit! Every student is different from year to year, classes are different, and each class comes with different challenges.

  3. Too bad they don’t break those scores down into Reading and Writing subscores.

  4. It’s good to hear about how you’re doing!

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