Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 12 2012

What’s that riding on your everything?

Again I’m in a spot where a cohesive, single-themed post just isn’t in the cards. Thus:


After the seriously-taken advice from Sacramento principal, my teaching practice has almost – almost done something I can’t describe without knocking on all the wood in my house.

The simplicity of decent management (typing in a whisper here, as if saying “good” and “management” in the same sentence could break any momentum I’ve had and bring on nothing but classroom doom) is shocking. The less I say (#economyoflanguage), the fewer decisions I make (#firmfairunwaveringconsequences), the less I tolerate (#noexcuses), the less I plan (#routineexpectations) …the happier everyone is. The more successful everyone is.

In the first three school days of this year the Christmas break reset button was practically palpable. Every day starting yesterday my students will repeat: “I want to learn. I want you to learn. I want to be respectful and respected. So I work hard and get smart!” Every day there are four non-negotiables that students recite: enter silently, no side conversations, no blurting out, no moving without permission. We have seven hand signals and a guaranteed parent contact after two violations. This means I’ve talked to more parents in the past three days (nine) than the past two months– all before it went to the office, before it was a write up, before any student missed any instructional time.

I single out kids that don’t do homework, so the social embarrassment is enough to make them want to do it (I am so nervous to write that publicly… ask again in a week if it’s still working). They are responsible for their own punishment. First period gets ten solid minutes of sustained silent reading daily, and the complaints of, “Why don’t any other classes have to read?” have ceased. And my Wimpy-Kid-Worshipper asked if he could read the first Narnia book yesterday, and kept reading it today. The same kid who said he was too scared to read any book without pictures.

I AM NERVOUS TYPING THIS OUT. It does not feel like this could possibly be my life, or my classroom.

Everything Else

I’m teaching a course at ProSat called Write Now! that I can’t wait to lead. Problem is, I accidentally agreed to a trip to Sacramento (to check out Oak Park Prep, and the city, and wait for some divine intervention to tell me if that’s my new home) the same weekend as the first course. Great work, Caroline. Those first years are going to learn a ton from… not their leader.

The TFA cohort of educational leadership grad students was accepted to take the first class at Arkansas Tech. I registered and ordered my textbook yesterday. First all-day seminar is January 28th, and I’m beside myself looking forward to this (free) explorative class with a faculty that genuinely values TFA, values collaborative and realistic education, and values us.

Everyone is depressed, and I’m a buoy. (Did I just write that!?) If you were with me now I’d be shrieking at you, staring with disbelief, as if the words came out of your mouth and not mine. Can we please remember how all of last year my primary metaphor was of drowning? Being a buoy does not mean I’m not in the water, because Lord knows I’m still in the water (I haven’t ran in three weeks, I’ve taken up less-than-healthy habits, I haven’t been eating much…), but it means that every time a wave sinks me here comes air, here comes breath, here comes the wide open sky and some simple scientific explanation I will never understand for how I’m still floating. Is this even real?

I’ve been waking up near 5:30 daily again, slinking out of my bed to drink a cup of black tea (my only coffee is full bean, and I keep forgetting to grind it before I go to bed. Being the first one up has it’s downfalls, turns out, besides waking up to outdoor blackness.), and reading blogs or standing in my still-dark kitchen before sitting at the computer to write a survey, finish a lesson plan, check facebook… Doing this vastly improves my emotional health and attitude when I get to school. I walk in and smile at my room without meaning to. I talk to the walls and turn on music. I’m calm.

Last bit, today our new dean sat in on my third period for a solid twenty minutes. During first year orientation, before setting foot inside my classroom, we were required to write visions. “I want to teach from the back of the room,” I wrote. I wanted my students to lead their own learning, to manage themselves, to be proud and clear about what they were doing. Today, it happened. Not to say I had an amazing lesson, or they learned anything new, but I spent at least 30 minutes of every class in the back of the room, narrating every five minutes. After school, I walked past my dean to rush home for part two of my interview with MATCH. He paused me to ask about a sometimes-problem student and included, “I really enjoyed your class. I like the group set up. You’re doing a good job in there.”

Praise? Administrative praise? Can’t keep rubbing my eyes, nervous this picture is going to disappear. There’s more to update on, like the sample lesson I’ll be teaching in Hartford, Connecticut in late January (Achievement First invited me to a “finalist day” shortly after Sacramento offered me a job), but it’s going to wait. I’m determined to actually be asleep before eleven tonight.



6 Responses

  1. Very cool! I’m interested to hear more about your 7 hand signals.

    • All elbow straight, fingers toward ceiling, because that’s gotta be specified…. ;)

      First two are appropriate at any time during class:
      1. 5 fingers = question/answer
      2. invisible door knob turn = may I answer the door? (we keep doors locked by policy)

      Only appropriate during individual or group work time:
      3. fist = may I throw out my trash?
      4. two fingers crossed = bathroom?
      5. fingers rubbing = Germ-X?
      6. one hand covering nose, one hand up = tissue?
      7. hand up with pencil = sharpen?

      Frequently asked questions, easily given answers.

  2. Meg

    I’m teaching at a no excuses charter now – hand signals are AMAZING. One thing we have that you might be interested in is different hand signals for asking (one finger) and answering (two fingers) questions. I find it really helpful – there are few things that bug me more than asking a question and calling on someone to answer it to find they’re trying to ask me about something unrelated.

    • Thanks for that, girl! I’ve heard of it before but never implemented it, maybe that will be the golden 8th signal. :)

  3. els

    cool!! now how do I get to that place, short of waiting a year?

    • I don’t know about you, but for me it was entirely about my own confidence. I didn’t understand what I was doing, so I didn’t believe in it, so I wasn’t invested in it, so my kids weren’t invested in it.

      Now, I (mostly) understand, am invested, and am investing them (sometimes). If I had to narrow it to one word, it was my confidence, rather lack there of, that determined my classroom outcomes.

      So… BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!!! mush mush mush. And ask as many questions as humanly possible to as many people as humanly possible and OH a big game changer was observing high performing classrooms. See what is possible, believe that your students can do it, and FORCE IT TO HAPPEN.

      Granted, I’m not exactly great yet. Workin on it.

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