Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 16 2012

Flattery. | Caroline in the Delta

This morning I arrived at school late, 7:30. This week I’ve prioritized sleep above all else, literally. I have had nothing less than seven hours of sleep every night, in an attempt to thwart this cold from getting the best of me. I thought I had kicked it until fourth period today, when I starting feeling what seems like a golfball lodged in my throat. According to my google searches, this is likely acid reflux. Hoping pepto takes care of it.

So, 7:30. I walked in and walked through the gym, where the entire school gathers before we dismiss them for homeroom, and glanced for Brax or Reem, my two boys I tend to bring into my homeroom for fifteen minutes to try to get them to do at least half their homework for the day. I didn’t see either. Walking past the cafeteria to my room I saw Brax walking, pulling his hood over his eyes, trying to avoid me. I wrapped my arm around his shoulder and held his homework in front of him (I had it sitting in the passenger seat of my car from yesterday, incomplete.) I said, “We’re going to do this.”

I let him grab his breakfast from the line and followed him to a quiet table. I put a Hello Kitty pencil in his hand and asked, “What’s a sentence? What are the two things it has?”


“Good, what else?”




“Write it down.”

And so it began. There was zero push back. I read each question aloud to him, and he answered. He knew all of the answers. He finished his homework. Then he threw out everything he picked up from the lunchline without opening any of it, and went to the gym.

In class, he raised his hand for every single question. I called on him as much as possible, and the class applauded when I told them he got 100% on last night’s homework. He tried to hide his grin, but I saw it.

He even read when the class did.

God, Brax, what is this inconsistency? I’m so glad he was working today (I made a point to copy his homework and put it next to his work from yesterday, to show his counselor next week), but this is not a celebration. I will not be surprised if tomorrow he decides to write “I don’t know” on every single test question. I can’t predict him.

I won’t lie, though, after class I said a prayer. Thank you God for this day, thank you for this boy making positive choices, thank you for giving me the patience to keep trying.

Other highlight: during block today our district’s consultant was running copies and I was gathering mine from earlier. “Where were you a principal?” I asked. Mostly to break into conversation, though I was interested. I had almost forgotten that yesterday she stopped in my room for a five minute drop in. I have no idea what I was doing or why with my class for those minutes, but she has never been in my room before that. In the lounge she brought up, of her own accord, the visit.

“I really enjoyed your class yesterday.”

“Really? Thank you!”

“I’ve been looking at classrooms, especially yesterday, for rigor. So far I’ve only found two rooms with real rigor going on with students. Yours was one of them.”

“What? Really? Who was the other one?”

“In the younger grades, Sarah…” (as if I didn’t know who that was… hah!)


“You know, it’s hard to teach teachers how to teach rigor. We all know they need content, anyone can teach content. But the depth of the common core standards is rigor, and it’s very hard to teach, but some teachers do it naturally. You seem to do it very naturally.”

I took all of this with a grain of salt, and “rigor” as something to teach is a strange concept, but this was a lift I absolutely needed and wholly appreciated this morning. I know for fact it’s a result of the principal of KIPP Blytheville’s feedback from her observation two weeks ago when she visited with my M,TLD. She told me to work on “Making students’ thinking visible” and gave me some resources to work from. It absolutely transformed my classroom… again. This means I had one principal (Sacramento) transform my management, and now this second principal transform my actual teaching methods. I do believe my classroom is inching towards being much more genuinely “student-centered.” I make a very conscious effort to talk as little as possible, and make my words 90% questions that probe for thinking and 10% very explicit directions. Not saying I succeed all the time, but dear god is my classroom worlds apart from where I was this time last year.

Last note: thanks to all recent parties that have made any comment on this blog in recent weeks, in real life, FB-world, on the actual blog, whatever. I’m perpetually amazed that anyone reads it at all.

3 Responses

  1. V

    You have come sooo far since the uncertainties in the DC :) I am so proud of you caro and miss you loads!

  2. Roserock

    Hi I have just interviewed with kipp as an incoming tfa cm. I am trying to find more blogs about kipp so I can gain more insight into what it’s really like working there! I enjoyed this post, but can you post an example of what it means to make a students thinking visible? Like writing their sentences on the board and having the class correct them together? Thanks :)

    • Could be. Making thinking visible, in my case, means verbalizing EVERYTHING that goes through a thought process. So let’s say on the board it says:

      “the cat walked across mr. Ben’s room.”

      Having the class correct them together and making thinking visible would be:

      Teacher: What’s up with this sentence, what do we think?
      Student: It’s wrong!
      Teacher: Really? It is? Why?
      Student: It’s not a sentence!
      Teacher: What makes a sentence a sentence?
      Student: a subject and verb!
      Student 2: it has a subject and verb! cat and walked.
      Student: but it’s not capitalized
      Teacher: does it need to be capitalized to be a sentence?
      Student: well… I think? Maybe not, but all sentences should be capitalized.
      Teacher: Explain.
      Student: The first word in the sentence needs to be capitalized.
      Teacher: OOOOHHHH… Okay.

      etc etc

      Then the Teacher could go on to ask about the second capitalization error. Making thinking visible means making students explain their conclusions as much as possible. So letting two students argue about what makes a sentence a sentence, instead of asking “what’s wrong?” and giving leading questions like “So if I’m writing a sentence what do I always do in the beginning?”

      Instead you let them think everything out loud. It helps you as a teacher understand where the breakdown comes from, and helps students get used to explaining themselves and really thinking things through.

      There are TONS of articles about this, this is the first thing that popped up when I googled it:

      Also, congrats!! KIPP is an amazing network… which KIPP are you at? KIPP Delta or another region?

      Feel free to email me at [email protected] … I know a little about KIPP, but better I know others that actually work there (non-bloggers, sorry!)

Post a comment