Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 07 2012

Rebirth and Victory.

Monday is the weekly rebirth. I often feel like in the gap between 7pm Sunday night at 7am Monday morning, I forget how to teach. I forget I’ve been teaching for over a year, I forget that I have any idea what I’m doing.

Then I get to school, shuffle around for an hour, and the second I see a sixth grader my brain oozes happies and my movements ooze business and my kids plop into their seats and show me what the week will be like. Today, it was a girl fake-throwing fists at another girl in the middle of my room at 7:59. Where last year this would be a full out catastrophe, this year, I separated them and issued an immediate consequence. I sat the fist thrower aside from the rest of the students and made the call to have a very quiet, very personalized conversation with her before addressing my class as a whole at all.

This was a toss up decision– tiny quiet conversations tend to be opportune moments for the rest of the class to erupt. However. As I had my conversation:

Teacher: Qyn, how was your weekend?
Student: Fii-iine.
Teacher: I need you to remember than you just began a new week of school, and there is a way you need to behave when you enter the room. Do you understand?
Student: Yee-es.
Teacher: You are going to sit in this seat and make no noise, alright?
Student: Yes ma’am.

As I had my conversation, I did not call out a single kid. When I looked up, I gave them a class point because they were all either reading (as expected), digging for a book, or staring right at me. Though this isn’t 100% (they all should have been reading), this is a major miracle compared to what would have happened last year, or even two months ago.

My students are learning consistency and expectations. I was amazed before I said a word to my class. Qyn, after another individual conversation, was a mouse for the rest of the class.

The rest of my day followed suit. I’m learning to pry out student thinking, to weed out improper English as students speak, and to allow enough practice for students to actually understand what I’m teaching. It’s direct experience of mastery vs. content. I get through one objective every three days, but the majority (I might be exaggerating) of kids can not just give an answer, but explain their thoughts, challenge incorrect thinking, and find mistakes in logic. I am beginning to see teaching as teaching, not as zoo-keeping, behavior management, a science experiment, or a test of my own personal will and ability to endure. No, this is teaching.

***

After school I had a call scheduled with the founder of Teacher Capital. He emailed me last week, and at first I was skeptical. I don’t understand this middle-man type of recruiting that he, in partnership with Victory Education Partners, is attempting. It’s a school management company (Victory, which is in charge of many schools across multiple states) that hired an outside source (Teacher Capital, an independent teacher-placing-agency??) to staff some major changes at Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS, which is technically I think 16 schools, but Victory only manages four). Sounds like a company more than a school system.

However, Mr. Walker (from Teacher Capital) had such a comfortable and flattering email (maybe that’s just continued business practice…?) that it seemed like an enjoyable idea just to talk to him. Correct assumption on my part.

I don’t think I should consider being a principal at 25 and with two years of teaching experience, but he was a very genuine person that clearly has a lot of connections and will be kept in my head as excellent networking for the future. He told me about this recent endeavor with Victory, as well as his personal history (TFA Baltimore, law school, NY dept of ed, super genius, etc.) He knew I was from Detroit-ish from my area code (always ups anyone in my book), and said my resume stuck out on the TFA resume collection because he knows the person in charge of these Victory schools likes “young, hard-charging, TFA-type people”, and he identified me as one of them.

***

I had a room full of kids at lunch (three boys managing my class library, four girls planning our end-of-the-year grade-maybe-school-wide talent show, one homework-finisher, and a bystander), gave my kids a new incentive for doing homework (YES), and smiled when one kid in second period asked, “Can we … share? Again today?” meaning have group therapy, like last week. (Didn’t happen, but I simultaneously am depressed and proud of their thinking of talking about feelings as a reward.)

The icing on the cake was super problem student, who most students know blames himself for his brother’s death and consequently spends most of his school days in in school suspension or staring into outer space, calling me at 5:47 to say…

Ms. L, you comin to the game?
Coming to the game?
Yeah! You comin?
When does it start?
In fifteen minutes.
Fifteen minutes?!
Yeah.
Okay. I’m preparing for a phone call [I'm leading a Diversity & Inclusiveness session at ProSat this weekend and had a conference call at 7, which I had done very little prework for], but I’ll try to make it before half time. You do your homework yet?
No.
You going to do your homework tonight?
Imma come to your room! In the morning!

Last week was the first time this student ever received a passing grade on homework, and he got an A. He was benched most of the game tonight, but getting that phone call helped me remember sometimes I don’t have to do anything to be doing something, and students tend to notice all the things we forget.

One Response

  1. els

    People like you and stories like this tell me that it will, indeed, get better. Keep ‘em coming!

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