Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 25 2012

The present: the future.

Week 1 of teaching, which is Week 2 of institute, is over.

On Friday, I put let it go by e. e. cummings into my CMs’ mailboxes. It is one of my favorite poems ever (I have “let all go dear so comes love” engraved on my iPod). Then I went to dinner, bowling with my school team (won the first game, lost the second, but with only a one point difference between the scores, this included lots and lots of screaming), and out. “Out” meaning B called a secret number and had a delta limo (not kidding here) pick Mo and I up from our dorm and cart us out the the classy establishment in which my number one ELA boy was DJing for a crowd of incredibly over-heated TFA dancers.

There is something truly astounding about going out during Institute. On my action plan for this week, out is identified as “RAGE!” It starts on Friday and is a red box.

Being a CMA is entirely what I expected and needed. I am developing a broader knowledge base of ELA, finally learning and understanding reading lesson plans and the structure the Delta rolled out to ELA teachers two years ago as the “pilot”.

I got texts about my sixth graders’ performance before I read the email from my superintendent’s assistant. Compared to the 2010-11 year, the sixth grade improved 13% in literacy. Not a large jump, considering they started at 53 and grew to 66. It’s still embarrassing, no TFA success story here. The entering sixth grade was in the seventies– a fact that made me immediately text Ms. Reading Teacher back to say, “I’m SO glad we’ll both be there next year. I truly think we’re going to rock it. 5th lit got 78 this year; we can totally get them to 80.”

I think it’s relatively ridiculous that we compare last year’s students to this year’s students and call the data reliable. Scenario: the 2011 sixth graders got 53 in literacy; the 2012 sixth graders got 66 in literacy; in 2011 the fifth grade (same kids as 2012 sixth graders) got 73. We call this a gain. Is that logical?

I don’t know how to get reliable data when it comes to state testing; I do not spend my time researching or even really seriously considering this. I do know that when I get my students’ results back and they’re at a 66% I am not proud. I’m moderately less embarrassed than I was last year (remember, that 53 was me, too), but I’m not happy about anything.

I do think, though, that 2012-13 is – just typing that much honestly gets me nervous. Sends those butterflies raging. I got an email today from the coordinator of Tales from the South, a radio program that gets recorded live in a Little Rock restaurant once a week. This is what it said:

When you get back when can come up with a plan. We can look at coming there and doing a show with the kids, and local businesses and/or other entities could sponsor it. Or you might look into the Arkansas Arts Council Arts in Education program. I am on the list of artists, and you can get a grant and I can come down for a 1-day Tales workshop for the kids. Or I can come down for a teacher-training to show you how to recreate Tales there for the kids.

I’m dying over here, dying. I want to go to Little Rock right now to talk to this woman about my kids getting on her radio program. I want to make lesson plans and hone my students’ stories into beautiful, autonomous, empowering master pieces that show the universe who these people are. What makes these giggly, angry, rambunctious, bored, real students who they are.

The thing that gets me the most, that I think about constantly, is what took me so long? I know my third year is going to be a successful year; I know my students will learn more than any student in my first two years did, and it kills me. It makes my heart sink to think of that entire first year, the amount of learning that didn’t happen. While I regret nothing in my life, I’m utterly disappointed that I’m able to give so much more in a third year. That so many CMAs at the Delta Institute can boast 30, 40 percent gains in their kids.

This year, y’all. You just better be watchin’.

One Response

  1. Cindy

    Every year those Dumas kids get a teacher with one more year of experience in and out of the classroom – Practice makes perfect! (or at least, practice makes routine. Can’t really expand until then!)

    And nothing about standardized tests makes sense . . . sad and true. Meanwhile, go fly Caroline, and take those kids with you, for wind under your wings when you soar. The more you know, the more they can learn from you.

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