Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 07 2011

The up side.

My obsession with gratitude is getting slightly out of hand. Five hours of sleep each night is catching up with me, but joy is beating out the ramifications. Also, five hours a night is inifinitely better than what I was at at this point last year. Barkles and I were debating a giant count down until Christmas out of a plea to get out last year. This year I do not want to miss out on two more weeks with these kids that I adore.

It seems like an exaggeration, but. It’s just incredible to have a grasp on this age group, this content, this school. To understand who does what and why logistically; to have phone numbers programmed into my phone so when a kid disappears from after school tutoring I know how to help solve the problem (true story); to tell students the bigger why behind every little thing in class. To finish the day without my throat hurting, my voice never raised, and kids asking me if I will ask the other 6th grade teachers to use the discipline system I use in my room, too.

Seriously?

I’m ending today filled up. I need to back up just a little to say why.

I had another call with Sacramento Principal on Monday, which I couldn’t describe to anyone as “bad” or “good”, but only as weird. Weird. I wasn’t sure what he was expecting from the call, or wanting from me, so I prepped some questions about the school and his leadership style just in case. Then I waited for 4:30, and picked up.

The conversation started with reviewing his mission/vision and asking if I’d be interested in working for such a school (and, really, these charter missions, school missions in general– in general, of course I want to work at your school? in general, all schools aim to send kids to college, right?) so my answer was yes. He then went on to highlight my finer points as a teacher, flattering. Our in-person debrief had plenty of positive, but this conversation sounded particularly genuine and also much warmer than our original observation. Establishing a relationship, eh?

In short, he said he “really, really likes” me as a teacher and “has talked to a lot of people” about what to do about me. (?!) See, I’m urgent, and honest, and care, and focus on the right things… but my management is shakey. My kids still shuffle papers and refrain from tracking. Mostly because I taught them tracking for 4 minutes without believing in it and never talked about it again.

The answer? Individualized professional development based on Teach Like A Champion. I ordered the book, he’s setting up a book-study type curriculum, and we’re going to have periodic chats about what I’m learning. Christmas Break I’ll write a behavioral expectations action plan, he’ll approve it, and after break will be a new Ms. L’s class roll out. In January I’ll send a video and “we’ll see what happens.”

I was giddy at the suggestion. The proposal. I laughed as I said, “Well, I think this is a win-win for me, because even if I don’t get a job with you I’ll be getting stellar individual development. So of course I want to do this!”

Slowly, I’m remembering that I’m the type of person that is more productive when I have more things scheduled. I’m also more productive when using the personal management system Achievement First PD’d us about. My life. My gratitude.

From that conversation, I’ve started being hypersensitive about my management. I take time to wait for 100% compliance (who am I!), I desperately try to be empathetic with consequences, and my students know my expectations. In three days, I already see enormous benefits. Additionally, achievement is higher. In two classes, I had all but one student complete the homework today. And I give homework! What!

My fifth period class, the class that this morning the teachers said “was awful today” left me with my heart exploding. I love them. I love them all, but fifth period is like climbing a mountain. Often climbing while my face is two inches from a massive surface, nothing but up, but every once in a while (today) finding a place where I’m confident to stop and look out at something incredible. Look at the height I’m already at.

Sigh. My brain is clearly mush. And without sleep my analogies are tied to mountains and other idiotic things, but . I’m sorry. I guess when my teaching skills improve, my writing declines. Right now I absolutely approve that trend.

Other 2012-13 Updates: I officially applied to KIPP Nola and Arkansas Tech (grad school), have a call with Achievement First’s recruitment director tomorrow, and got an email from KIPP Delta today about an info call. I’m kind of starting to wonder if applying to 800 schools is just like applying to Forever 21, H&M, and Urban. Should I be more picky and thoughtful before dedicating hours into applications? Do I really think I’ll only get accepted to one of five, and breathe relief that I don’t have to choose… or am I setting myself up for one very ridiculous decision between charters and cities across the United States?

And, oh yeah, the more control I have over my room here the more of an impact I see myself having next year! My biggest gripe is my lack of development… but if I keep going to conferences, meeting people like Sacramento Principal, and doing research, that’s development. That makes me happier in my current occupation. The culture in fifth period was phenomenal today; for the first time (I think) I was genuinely sad that class was over so soon. What if I just stayed here? I’d build credibility with faculty and students, and not have to haul all my stuff across the country in my tiny Camry. Again.

7 Responses

  1. Wess

    You are wonderful, and I’m so grateful to have done this alongside you. (look at me talking like two years is already up!)

    … Can you share the Achievement First system?

    • In short, it’s a “flexy” (plastic 5 section folder with a spine that slides on and off to add pages in) with these tabs: weekly, monthly, meetings, thought catches, resources. (Or something similar). Then there are a slew of weekly and daily action plan templates to choose for the first section. I’m not IN LOVE with the system (yet), but I think once I reformat some of the documents to be more my style (and double sided) it will be pretty great. AF is super share friendly, they have basically all of their resources available online. Let me poke around for the documents and I’ll email em.

      <3

      • Wess

        Haha! No need! My friend worked at the Philly institute this summer and brought the flexy system back. I used it for a while but it didn’t suit me–though I think I would have bought in more if I’d been introduced by an expert.

        I’m in the market for something to help me categorize and make sense of my life, though, so maybe I’ll give it another shot.

  2. Cindy

    You. Are. Awesomeness. Personified.

    I sincerely hope to see you before you bolt the Delta (if you do) . . . Hot Springs this spring!

  3. els

    What discipline system do you use?!

    And congrats, by the way!

    • My school has a grade-wide system called “the blue book” where students get “written up” when “breaking rules”. This can be something like chewing gum or punching a kid in the face. Last year I had an incredibly difficult time deciding what “goes into the blue book” and what doesn’t. This year I still struggle, but not as much. After reading “What To Do” and “100%” a la Uncommon Schools, I decided to start attaching consequences to things like calling out, standing up without permission, etc. All I do (nothing fancy) is put a name on a board the first time, check the second time (which means recess in my room, filling out a think sheet), and getting a blue book warning the third time.

      I feel a little guilty sending a kid to the office after calling out a third time, but it’s a disruption that the other students shouldn’t have to deal with, so…

      Idiotically simple, sorry if you were looking for something glorious! My TFA 8th grade math teacher uses the same system, which is where I got it from.

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