Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 31 2012

Second week, third year.

I spend half my class periods going over homework. I didn’t necessarily do this on purpose; it was a result of long homework packets, pumping up investment, and an attempt to prove to students that completing it would be valuable for class.

I hear piles of comments from district teachers that I wish I knew how to effectively respond to, gaps and problems that make me want a wire I can just clip onto my ear and link onto theirs, to transfer the knowledge over I’ve gained from TFA. Maybe these teachers have something in their way — that stops them from assigning homework, for putting discipline problems they saw and I didn’t onto my workload, for assuming me to be the master scheduler/calendar keeper of the school, for not giving explicit directions and getting angry when students don’t “follow directions” — maybe these teachers have secret insights and problems and are uniquely burdened. Maybe they have a right to not make our school the way we want it because they can’t.

Today’s homework has my students writing a page in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “The time is always right to do what’s right.” After a catastrophe during indoor recess (catastrophe this year is significantly smaller than last year), I had students relate it to actions in recess, then silently reflect and write about it.

I started this entry a few hours ago, left it open on my computer and slunk my way around my house and the other TFA house, avoiding doing anything I should. The hurricane has made its way up here. Two parents called to tell me power has been out in their homes for hours, and that their students are finishing homework and studying for tomorrow’s quiz by flashlight or candles. My student who was suspended for telling another student he put a bomb under my desk called to ask for help with his homework. Today was a good day.

I’m “working” this year as a learning team leader at Professional Saturday (ProSat). ProSat leadership is honestly one of the most difficult positions I think I’ve ever held, but there’s something alluring about it, so this is my second role within it. Last year I lead a course that I’d say failed pretty solidly. This year, ProSat is my connection to my now somewhat estranged TFA family and my biggest form of professional development as I leave TFA. I’m co-leading the south ELA portion with two other awesome teachers (a 2010 and 2011).

We recently got back data from the session, and today I had a one-on-one call with the director of literacy for my region (who I LOVE). The call went really well; I’ve been feeling relatively confident in life overall lately. I like my friends, my school, my job, my students. I feel like I’m never doing anything “right”, but that’s largely from not knowing what right is, not from feeling particularly wrong.

But we TFAs, we keep it real. I finally read through the data, after two days of it sitting in my inbox, and it was probably a poor choice for 10:30pm when my goal was to be asleep by 10:15. We have access to all of it: exact ratings, shout outs, comments, everything. And guess who got the most commented on feedback? This kid. Why? Condescending.

With a rough first week of school barely closed down, missing the learning team leader training due to grandpa’s birthday party, and feeling basically entirely unprepared for the session (watchmemakemanyexcusesahem), I decided to treat 80 much-smarter-than-I teachers much like I do my sixth graders. What I thought was entertaining and executed as natural came out like an irritating down-talking TFA mess. I was that kid that grates your nerves at ProSat.

Good to know.

Thank God for data, and keepin it real. I’m so blunt and so to the point, but it’s never easy to hear it spit back. I have so much respect for CMs; even after two years I feel inadequate and small compared to them. Critical feedback is so neeeded but difficult to stomach. I wonder, if my students had the vocabulary and structure to give feedback in the way CMs do, what they would say about me as a teacher.

Just updating a blog I’m still, pretty consistently, self-conscious of what I’m writing, how I’m writing it, and why. I hate that I can never read my own words fresh– that I can’t gauge my own reaction to myself. Half of me desperately wants a peer review for every word I write, and the other half is totally happy with blindness, even though it’s obvious which makes the purpose better off, makes the message travel further.

I intended to have more of a school-focused update, I really did. But data, man, data!!

2 Responses

  1. Mia

    “I spend half my class periods going over homework. I didn’t necessarily do this on purpose; it was a result of long homework packets, pumping up investment, and an attempt to prove to students that completing it would be valuable for class.”

    Half of a class period seems like a huge amount of time to “go over” something. Shouldn’t this time be purposefully spent on instruction?

    • Yep! I think that’s part of why I’m posting about it, because it’s not how I want my class to run overall, but how it is running right now.

      To elaborate, my homework is pretty intense for these sixth graders. They write one full page of moderately directed freewriting, then do all the grammar independent practice at home. This frees up class time for us to actually share and talk about their writing, instead of spending class time just silently writing.

      By “going over” I’m including a lot of direct instruction and collaborative time with writing. Last year my students didn’t have a chance to read their writing very often, but this year they share with a partner and read out loud every single day. This is part of “going over” but I think is incredibly important for a writing class.

      The grammar “going over” is students talking and interacting with a partner about their successes and failures on homework. This way they have a chance to talk about work (again, reinforcing communication, sharing, consulting another, and making them a little more comfortable than asking me a question) then we do whole group questions for the pairs that couldn’t get something, which ultimately becomes instruction for misunderstood concepts.

      Yes, I do think I need instruction. This year I decided to star the year REALLY reinforcing the importance and value of homework, so that as we start to reduce the amount of time we spend “going over” it, they are still invested and actually doing it. I’m starting legit content next week; this week we just introduced major parts of speech, freewriting, and how to get through my class.

      This is also just the end of my second week, and I’m still grappling with if it was a good idea to start the year like this or not. Time will tell!

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