Browse Author: Samantha

Mid-Year Progress Report

Glenn Carstens-Peters

We’re halfway through 2018, which feels weird and unexpected. It also pushes me to evaluate the progress I’ve made towards the goals I’ve set towards 2018, and adjust my actions as needed. Here’s the post I wrote in December about goals for the year.

  1. Maintain my current level of fitness and make progress throughout 2018.
    I have been consistent with this goal – I can run faster and further than I could six months ago, and I successfully completed my first half marathon in February. I have hit PRs in my one mile and 5k times this year, and I’m running a 5k on Wednesday. Depending on some variables in my life this fall, I may or may not be running a second half marathon in the fall, and I’ve registered for the Mississippi River Half Marathon in 2019.
  2. By the end of 2018, I will drink 68 oz. of water daily.
    This is harder in the school year than it is in the summer. On a majority of the days this summer, I’ve been drinking 68 oz. of water – it’s so much easier in the summer because there’s more motivation. If I’m not well hydrated, running will make me feel like death because it’s 95 degrees outside.
  3. I will floss every day in 2018.
    This is going well and I have also become a low-level flossing evangelist, which goes over really well at parties.

I’ve started using HabitBull to track my health related goals, and I highly recommend it.

  1. Write two blog posts every month.
    This one has not happened with consistency. I’ve met this goal in 2/6 months, in May and June. A major challenge for me has been finding time to devote to blogging, and finding ideas to blog about. I’m not great about keeping up an editorial calendar, which is silly – I have a degree in PR and I ran my college newspaper, I know how to do this. It just wasn’t a priority for me earlier this year.
  2. Write one book review every month for the blog.
    This one is embarrassing – I’ve written 1/6 book reviews, and I have another draft of a book review in Google Docs. Reading is lower on my list of priorities during the school year, and as a result, the book reviews haven’t been happening. Coming up soon will be reviews of a few nonfiction books I’ve read over summer break.

I’ve also set other categories of goals – personal, finance, and career. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of all the goals in all the categories, but it’s interesting – I haven’t really told anyone about those categories, and I didn’t blog about them. They feel a bit less “real” than the ones I articulated on the blog, and I have a harder time tracking my progress towards them. Because I don’t blog about them, I don’t feel accountable to anyone. Any ideas for holding myself accountable, but in a way that’s more private? How do you set goals and track your progress towards them?

The World’s Largest Man

The Worlds Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key, on a blanket with sandals nearby
The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key

I read a book!

Years ago, this would not have been a noteworthy development in my personal life. As a child, I was a voracious reader, powering through book after book. And then jobs and college and teaching came along, and they took up my time, and I don’t read for pleasure like I used to.

That’s changing this year, right? At the beginning of the year, I declared my intentions to publish a book review every month, and now it’s June and…this is my first book review.

It’s important to set big goals for yourself, even if you fall short of them.

Harrison Scott Key spent his early childhood in Memphis, and this memoir opens with this explanation of the south and storytellers and it paints this image of slow, quiet Mississippi. He gives some background on his family, and how his parents ended up together, and about telling his daughters stories about growing up in Mississippi. It’s setting the stage for being a storyteller about Mississippi.

The first Mississippi story starts with this bit, which sums up the experience of explaining that you live in Mississippi to people who have not lived in Mississippi.

This funny thing happens when people ask where I’m from, especially when I’m at academic conferences, where people are so often from uninteresting places.

“Mississippi.” I say.

“Oh, wow!” they say.

I can tell they’ve never seen a real live racist before, or at the very least someone who’s related to a racist, or has seen one in the wild. It’s exciting for them. They want to tweet it. They want to write a memoir about it.

“So,” they say. “What’s Mississippi really like?”

He moves on to writing about his father, and about his family abandoning Memphis for a more rural lifestyle in Mississippi. Key’s father is a living, breathing stereotype of a rural southern man. He’s interested in hunting and sports, but not sports like running or soccer, manly sports like football and baseball.

The family moves to Mississippi, and Key’s father is intent on creating a farm. Key and his brother are roped into working to create this farm with him. When Key goes to school in Mississippi, his peers are a world apart from his classmates in Memphis – they are bigger and tougher than him, they know how to hunt, they sport injuries from outdoors behavior and questionable judgement.

In Mississippi, Key’s father takes him and his older brother hunting frequently. His brother takes to it, Key does not. Personally, I have never been hunting and have zero intention to ever go hunting, but the passages about it are entertaining and resonate on a level of failure to live up to expectations.

That theme of failure to live up to expectations flows throughout the book, breaking at a key moment – Key’s father is the coach of a peewee football team, and takes Key, who is in high school at the time, to play in a game. Key crushes it. He crushes it against children who are much smaller than him, but crushes it nonetheless.

The book loses steam when focus shifts from Key’s childhood in Mississippi to adulthood, when he is married and struggling in his relationship, when he is a father who is sometimes not as present as his wife would like. It loses steam because we transition from a focus on those unique stories about his dad to more ubiquitous stories about struggling in adulthood in the way we all sometimes struggle in adulthood.

Was this book great? The first two thirds were. The last third? I read it but I didn’t love it.

I made it through TFA

It was hard. Really hard, actually.

It’s funny – school got out not even that long ago, but my memories of what every moment of TFA felt like are blurring fast – I can name my kids and describe their personalities, but can I remember everything I taught?

We read Whistle for Willie both years. I remember that. I struggled to find time to do guided reading and math interventions. Spelling and phonics showed such a wide range of student understanding and I never really figured out how to bridge that gap. The multiple-choice-exit-ticket-in-groups-with-plickers thing worked out really well. I tried to make phonics more interesting, but honestly, it was a challenge.

I remember how irritated I was that we had to split one class set of books between two first grade classes, that we only had one set of teacher books between the two of us, that kids had to share books because I had 15 books and 16 kids.

I remember the constant struggle surrounding the bathroom in my classroom, preventing kids from making a mess in it, failing to prevent kids from making a mess in it.

The day they told us that yes, our school would be closing for sure, there was an adult who was in my classroom and they told me I couldn’t manage student behavior in front of my students. I held it together all through dismissal and the meeting after school where they told us we would have jobs in the district next year. Then I went back to my classroom and I called my mom and I cried.

I was too strict sometimes and maybe I raised my voice too much.

I feel like I should be able to distill the past two years into this short, sweet list of 7 things I learned from TFA. I can’t, really.

I learned how much I love my kids.

I learned how weird it feels when your kids mention that they saw you walking out of your front door, and you know that half of your kids know exactly which house you live in.

I learned what phonemic awareness is. I learned what a phoneme is. I learned what sounds short vowels make, I learned which g sound is soft and which is hard, I learned what a digraph is and what sound digraph oa makes. I learned what decoding means. I learned what an open and closed syllable are.

I learned that it’s a good idea to stay late at school on pantry night to get a bit of face time with parents.

I learned how often special ed fails our kids. I learned how complicated it is, and how often parents don’t understand it. I learned that having a baby doesn’t come with a manual in how to navigate special ed systems.

I learned exactly what things needed to be in order for when MDE comes in.

I learned how to make use of 39 days of extended school day because the city was out of water for a week and a half in January and now we have to make up that instructional time.

I learned that being alone with 16 6 year olds from 7:15 to 3:15 on those extended school days can be grueling or it can be inspiring but usually it is a mix of both.

I learned that this complicated, challenging, engrossing thing is something that feels worth it to me.

Dear Future Samantha

Dear Future Samantha,

I hope teaching is going well! I hope that you’ve inspired your students to achieve and love school and learning.

I hope you’ve helped your students realize that they can do anything.

I hope that your students love to read and have favorite books and seek out new ones. I hope your students ask questions about the way the world is, and that they don’t stop inquiring. I hope you’re able to control the classroom effectively and create a culture where students feel cared for and supported. I hope you’re taking time to have a life outside of TFA, too – I hope you make time for friends and family and health and sleep. You’re gonna be great.

I wrote that letter to myself at the beginning of Justice Journey, nearly two years ago. It’s funny, looking back and seeing what is and isn’t true, where I’ve succeeded and where I’ve struggled. It’s funny how hard it is to put myself back there, two years ago, trying to remember what I was expecting going in to all of this.

I didn’t expect to learn half of the things I’ve learned here.

I didn’t expect to feel as deeply connected as I feel now.

I didn’t expect to want to stay here at least a third year and teach longer than that.

I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it has been.

I thought year two would be easier than it has been.

I thought I would be better than I am.

I had no idea how funny and unique my kids would be. I had no idea my school would be closing and I had no idea how weepy my school closing would make me. I had no idea that I would get as loud as I sometimes do in the classroom. I had no idea that I would care as much as I do right now.

Bringing Yourself to the Classroom

In TFA, I’ve heard people talk about how your classroom is a reflection of your personality, how you need to bring yourself and your leadership experiences to this work.

I’m skeptical of the idea. I feel, often, that my identities are not particularly helpful in the classroom, and I generally don’t see how they work with the classroom in any kind of purposeful way. I try to keep my life pretty private at school, just because I feel like it isn’t relevant and isn’t helping my kids learn.

For TFA, we have to do a student leadership project. I wasn’t particularly excited about this requirement – it felt like another thing piled on top of everything else going on at the end of the year. I collaborated on the idea with the other TFA teachers at my school, and we decided to make a video about the history of our school, because of the upcoming closure. When I talked about this with my kids, I framed it by saying this “Have you ever watched the news on TV? Do you know how there are the people who are on the news every day, the reporters who work for the news station? Do you know how they sometimes go and talk to regular people and ask them questions? Well, we are going to become reporters, and we are going to interview people we know about what it was like to go to our school a long time ago.”

We’re journalists. We’re reporters. We’re interviewing people. We’re telling stories about our community.

What was my leadership experience in college, which basically got me in to TFA?

I was the Editor in Chief of my college newspaper, the Western Herald.

You can only connect the dots looking backwards.

Mississippi River Half Marathon

I did the thing. It was raining the entire time. My time, according to the chip, was 2:57:34. My unofficial, I will be okay even if I don’t make it goal, was under three hours.

I made it.

Here’s the full race report:

Before the race – I spent the night at my friend’s house in Indianola, about half an hour away from Greenville. I had driven into Greenville the night before to get my race packet, and then had dinner in Greenville. I woke up around 5:15 or 5:20, and left Indianola at 5:40 or so. It was a very early morning. All the runners park at the finish line, then busses take everyone to the starting line – either the Mississippi half, or the full marathon/Arkansas half. I sat next to someone on the bus who I consider to be TFA-MS famous, and I fangirled a little bit.

I planned to walk for some portions of  the race – I walked some during my long runs in training, and I noticed how much better it made me feel, even if it was just for a short interval. Initially, I planned to run the first five miles, walk a mile, then run the rest of it, relying on race day adrenaline to carry me through miles 6-13. Continue Reading

My 2018 Reading List

Alfons Morales

One of the blogging goals I’ve set for 2018 is to publish a book review every month. That means I need to write a book review every month which means I need to read a book every month. (Yep, I learned about backwards planning from TFA.)

Here’s a tentative list of books I want to read in 2018. I’m prioritizing reading fiction by women of color. If there’s any other books that are wonderful and amazing that I should add to my list, leave your recommendations in the comments.

  1. Little Fires Everywhere – I’ve already started this.
  2. The Hate U Give – I started this one months ago and put it aside, will pick back up.
  3. NW: A Novel – This has literally been on my Kindle since 2013 and I just haven’t read it yet, how embarrassing.
  4. Turtles All the Way Down – Yes, I realize this is by a white guy.
  5. Harmless Like You
  6. Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
  7. Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke that Changed My Life
  8. No One is Coming to Save Us
  9. A Good Country
  10. The Tower of the Antilles

My plan is to add books to this list as the year goes on and add links to the book reviews that I write when I’m done.

2017 >>>> 2018

Jungwoo Hong
For me, 2017 featured a lot of growth and a lot of learning.

I know this is a surprise to zero percent of the people who know me in real life, but I am a little bit Type A and a little bit goal oriented and I love setting New Years Resolutions. I love how they have this promise that we’re all going to make vast improvements, fix all our flaws, change our lives. If there’s one part of the year when I want everyone to believe that it’s possible for people to make a change, it’s the grey chill of January.

In the spirit of New Years, I’m going to share my health and blogging goals for 2018. Continue Reading

A running update

I ran six miles this week.

I mean, I ran 11.7 miles this week, but I ran six of those in a row. I’m really proud of that.

Two months ago, I was definitely not capable of running six miles, but now I can. I could probably do seven right now, but I’m all cozy and I don’t want to right this minute. Maybe tomorrow.

I’m decently on track for the half marathon, but I haven’t been following a plan with any kind of accuracy. I’ve been using the Nike+ Run Club app, but I haven’t followed it exactly because life is a thing that sometimes gets in the way of running.

It’s funny how running more and getting halfway okay at running changes the way you feel about two things: running and your body.

Running first, because that’s a lot easier than bodies.

When you first start running you are inevitably kind of garbage at it, and it’s hard, and you just kind of hate it. In my last year of college, I started running again, with plans to run a 5k, and I started running a fair amount, doing Couch to 5k, and my own program of running as far as I could, and increasing the time by one minute for every run.

It was awful! Western’s incredibly hilly campus didn’t help. I would cuss out loud while I was running because it made me feel marginally better about the awfulness of it all. The only good part of it was when I would lay down in the cool, moist grass for ten or 15 minutes after every run.

Continue Reading

On Christmas and Loss

My grandpa died a week ago.

I was lying in my bed, in Mississippi. Groggily checked my phone, there’s a text from my mom saying “Call me, urgent.” I didn’t need to call her to know what it was, my grandpa was sick, in and out of the hospital, for months. My mom kept me updated on how he was doing, talking about whatever surgery he had, how dialysis was going, how he was going to have the hyperbaric chamber treatment for wound healing.

He came to Thanksgiving dinner, at my parent’s house. He was ill and he was in pain and his condition was not going to improve. Maybe it’s good that he went when he did.

I really expected him to be around another week or so.I went home early, on Thursday morning, getting home just in time for the visitation to start. At funeral visitations, I always do this, I go into friendly and presentable mode. I think I told 50 or 60 people that I’m in TFA, in Mississippi, and so on. I’m not going to actually feel sad when there’s that many people around.

We went to the funeral on Friday. It was at our church, where I spent my childhood running around barefoot and sneaking around the belltower. I actually cried there, during an eulogy that a family friend gave.

We did a funeral procession, all the way across town to bury my grandfather next to my grandmother, near my great grandparents and my great aunt and great uncle.

All of the realization that he’s gone has been hitting me in waves. Everything’s good one minute, then the next I think of something little, anything really, and I realize that my grandparent’s house is not a place I’m ever going to go back to.  I realize I’m never going to use my grandfather’s deathtrap drill press again, or see my grandpa spoil every dog, giving them too many treats. It’s this mix of nostalgia and grief, so much of what I’m missing was so long ago.

In my family, the only force capable of causing any kind of change in holiday traditions is death. On my dad’s side, we had Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house every year, until my grandmother died. On my mom’s side, we had Christmas every year at my grandparent’s house, until the Christmas right before my grandmother died.

On my mom’s side, Christmas is formal, sit down dinner, traditional food on nice china. This year, it was sitting on the couch, funeral food leftovers on nice china. I’m not complaining about this, I advocated for a chill, low-stress Christmas.

When my grandpa wasn’t at Christmas dinner, it was another wave of remembering. He’s not here. He isn’t going to be here. Not this year, not next year, not ever.

I feel compelled to come up with some bible verse or some quote about how he’s in a better place, but that doesn’t feel right. I miss him, and that’s all.