Browse Category: Teach For America

Christmas Break

I made it to Christmas! As of Thursday at noon, I finished my first semester of teaching. I’m halfway through my first year, and a quarter of the way through my corps commitment. It’s weird, knowing that the hardest season of teaching is over.
My last week of teaching this term was less stressful than any other week, probably. We had testing on Monday and Wednesday mornings, then regular days of school for the rest of the week. Thursday, we had a half day and I only had seven students who came to school – it was possibly the most chill day of teaching I’ve ever had. We worked on phonics, then read a ReadWorks article about squirrels getting ready for winter, did GoNoodle, worked on some math, then had lunch and watched a movie.
I think that some different forces conspire to make the day before Christmas break the least stressful day ever, so that teachers don’t quit over break.
My loose plan for break was rest, then regroup.

I spent Friday in Jackson, taking care of errands and exploring a little beach with a friend, then left on Christmas Eve to go home to Michigan. I spent all day Christmas with my family, going to my aunt’s house for my dad’s family, and having dinner with my mom’s family at our house I haven’t done any work at all since being home – today was the first time I opened my Google Drive to look at a lesson plan and write a quiz. Thus, the rest phase of my break is over, and we’re onto the regroup phase – that means writing lesson plans and getting ahead, planning out new classroom management systems, that sort of thing. Right now, I’m working on the LP for the second week of school after the break. I have all these grandiose ideas that I’m going to get all my lesson plans for the term done – I think that getting everything planned out and organized in advance will make the term less stressful for me, which will make teaching and managing my classroom better and easier, in turn.


I made it to Thanksgiving, which felt like it took so long to arrive. I guess that’s some sort of achievement. I’m 39% of the way through the school year, nearly 20% of the way through my whole commitment. That’s such a strange feeling, that I’ve made it through a significant portion of TFA.

I’m home for Thanksgiving, in Michigan. I drove 15 hours with another CM who’s from Michigan, too. I couldn’t have made the drive alone, and even with someone to share the driving with me, it was grueling. I’ve already got my plane ticket home for Christmas, and I hope I don’t have to drive home again, unless it’s for the summer. It’s somewhat disheartening that I have nine days off for break and I spend two of them driving.

We didn’t do much of anything for Thanksgiving in school. I’m firmly against the “dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans and learn about the Thanksgiving story” idea, and that’s exactly what I did for Thanksgiving when I was in lower elementary. It’s culturally appropriative and teaches a sanitized version of history, but I also didn’t do anything else in it’s place. A better teacher probably would have.

I drove from Mississippi on Saturday, thenI spent Sunday with my family, and I went to IKEA, which is sorely lacking in Mississippi. On Monday, I went to visit Kalamazoo, where I had a total whirlwind day and saw a bunch of my friends. I also had the chance to visit the lab, the newspaper, and Wesley, which were wonderful. On Tuesday, I spent time with the cabal, my friends from Motown Mission, in Ann Arbor, and I saw some of them again today. I’ve been trying to write lesson plans for the rest of the term, the idea being that if my lesson plans are already finished, I’ll be much less stressed for the rest of the term and can focus more on having everything organized and prepared in my classroom. This should, in theory, make management better and maximize learning time (faster transitions.)

I’m worried that I’m not doing enough work over break and I’ll be lost and behind when I get back to school. I’m worried that everything will be a disaster. With these lesson plans, I’m following a new pacing guide that we got this term, but the curriculum I’m supposed to be using is stuff that we already used in the first term. I’m making do by picking stuff out of Engage NY and TPT, but it’s hard to know what to use and how it should all fit together.

I’ve worked out some ways that I can improve management with certain kids – for two of my kids who have been challenging, giving them little jobs around the classroom (usually picking up dry erase boards and manipulatives, passing out papers) has worked really well. I’m trying to work out how to handle another child – I’m thinking that I might try and make a daily ritual of talking with him for five minutes in the morning. Not telling him what to do, or anything, just making space to listen to him.

I thought that I might stop thinking about school over break, but I’ve been telling stories about my kids constantly. The one I’ve repeated most is me, asking one of my students about their baby brother. I asked if they get to hold the baby, and they said yes. Then, I asked if they get to play with the baby, and they get serious and say “No. It’s a real baby. It’s not a toy.”

Teach for America: I’m sorry

I feel so guilty, sometimes, about not being good at teaching yet. It feels like I’m working on it, and getting better, but I’m really not good at it right now.
I moved to first grade this week, and it’s been better than second grade was. Part of it, of course, is the size of the class – I have 18 students now, not 29, and the aid who is teaching alongside me is wonderful – not that the other CM who I was teaching with last week wasn’t wonderful, but that was a temporary setup – we planned to split that class.
I don’t know where the line is between normal first year teacher problems and me just being awful at all of this. I’ve spent some time this week teaching procedures, but I’m annoyed by how long and boring it feels – I’m not sure how many times is too many to run over our centers transition, or how specific I should be about what I want that transition to look like. We rehearsed our lining up procedures too. We can get in a line in about a minute and a half, but I’ve been trying to get it under a minute. There are one or two kids who refuse to get in line and are ruining everyone else’s procedure practice. Tomorrow, I’m hoping to practice our center rotation and the transition from the carpet to tables – it feels like that’s a time when kids end up wandering around the room and being close to someone they shouldn’t be close to.
Dismissal is kind of a mess right now, and I think fixing that is going to be a big goal for next week.
I’ve been working on class culture – I’ve boiled everything down to two keywords, kindness and teamwork, and I’m working on building an understanding of that in my class. I’ve been giving out stickers when I see my students showing kindness and teamwork, and I have noticed more of it. It’s funny – my students are showing kindness in a way that feels authentic but a little disjointed. It’s sweet, though. One of my students asked me if kindness was the same as nice.
I don’t know how long I can realistically expect first graders to sit still and be quiet, and how I can plan lesson plans that work with that. My students are really into centers, so I’m going to do my best to make more time for that and make a point of getting to it every day.
I feel like I should be apologizing to my students for being so bad at teaching. My students deserve a teacher who’s so much better than me, but because of circumstances way beyond their control, they’re left with me.

Where we are vs. where we thought we would be

Photo on 9-7-11 at 2.29 AM

Photo on 9-11-11 at 3.52 PM

The Photobooth pictures above show me, freshman year of college, working on a project for design school, and a drawing I did for class. Tonight, as I snapped another Photobooth picture of myself, my mind went straight to those.

In my freshman year of college, I had no idea I would end up here, in Mississippi, teaching. I expected to live in west Michigan, or in High Point, NC, and design furniture. It’s funny, the places life takes us.

Tonight, I put together some new charts about number words and expanded numbers. My class will work on this later in the week, writing numbers in expanded form, and writing numbers using words. We’re working on number sense, building an understanding of what even and odd numbers are, and how we can represent the same number in different ways. It’s fun for me because it’s this sort of abstract idea – numbers are just on a paper, but they’re also in blocks, and we can pair them up to see if they’re even or odd, and they’re also groups of hundreds and tens and ones.

My students have a mixed understanding right now – some of them seem to be getting it, and some of them are still working on it.

Photo on 8-22-16 at 6.40 PM

Photo on 8-22-16 at 6.56 PM

Teach for America: Sunday Night

On Thursday, I went to get fingerprinted and had my background check, and on Friday I got my contract! This weekend, I also got internet connected in my home and I got a couch! It’s made my home feel much more comfortable, and my life outside of school a bit less stressful. This past week, I haven’t been teaching. I mean, I taught a lesson on place value on Tuesday, but I haven’t been teaching, otherwise. I’ve been supervising the students at lunch every day, which is interesting – working out how to get students not to play with their food, that kind of thing. Getting everyone lined up to go from lunch to extension classes. I’m not sure how much teaching I’ll be doing this week.

I feel guilty about this. I should be in front of the classroom every day, I should be in the arena, so to speak. Instead, I’m watching from the sidelines, stretching, training. I’ve been observing a veteran teacher at my school every day. I’ve been helping her in her classroom, and looking a lot at how she runs her class. I’m trying to work out how I’ll blend her way of doing things with mine, how I can build a classroom where there’s collaboration and relationships between students, without it getting out of control.

It’s hard.

Teach For America: Week One

My first week of teaching went really badly.
Monday, I felt like I was just running around getting everything ready. School didn’t start until Tuesday, but I had to get my classroom set up in some way that looked presentable, and I had a mountain of curriculum in my room, which I was trying to go through and understand. I also had to run over to my house to be there when the gas company stopped by to turn the natural gas on. Open house was Monday evening, and I met a few parents of my students and a few of my students.
The first day, did an activity to go over rules, and rehearsed procedures – we practiced getting in line a few times, with a stopwatch. I thought we could go to recess after lunch, but it turns out that we couldn’t, because the construction on the roof meant that we couldn’t go on the playground. At the end of the day, we had a bit of down time and the students started to get a little rowdy. To me, it seemed like this was happening because I didn’t have enough planned. I still don’t have internet at my house, so I spent most of the evening camped out in a coffeeshop, writing my lesson plan for Wednesday, trying to get enough stuff packed into my day.
I got home that night, and my house smelled really strongly of natural gas. I opened windows and texted my mom about it. My mom called me, freaking out about the natural gas smell, and telling me that I should leave my windows open.
Wednesday, I went to school and it went badly and I felt awful about it. The school counselor sat in on my room for the second half of the day, and helped me rearrange my classroom in a way that used the space better, which was really helpful.
At the end of the day, my roommate told me that when the person from the gas company stopped by, they said the air in our house was 8% gas, and that you can have an explosion at 5%.
Thursday was rough, really rough. Someone else was in my room for almost the entire day, and it became this trend, where my students would behave when anyone else was in the room, then everyone would lose it the second it was just me and them. My principal asked if I’d be up for switching to second grade. There are 29 second graders in one class, and my class and the other third grade class, combined had 23 students. I said that I’d like to switch to second grade.
On Friday, the other third grade teacher and I combined our classes in her classroom. It was better, but not where I’d want it to be at all.
I’m worried that everyone in my school thinks that I’m going to quit, based on how the first week went. I’m worried they think that I’m terrible.
The bright spot, in all of this, has been the willingness of everyone around me to offer advice, resources, and support. Without me even asking, everyone in my school has offered advice and everyone I know who has a background in education has reached out to me. I’ve never felt like there were this many people who were doing what they can to help me out. Everyone has so much empathy – they know how hard it is, and how often you feel like you’re a failure in that first year. I appreciate everyone so much, for sending me all the love and support in the world.

Teach for America: First day

Today was the first day of school. It was a hectic – new students were coming into my class throughout the day and that made it tough to make sure everyone was on the same level in understanding of rules and procedures. When a new student comes in mid-morning, it’s challenging to get them to do their morning routine and still be teaching the rest of the class. I’m going to go over our routines again tomorrow to help students who came in late today, or are coming in tomorrow, to adjust.

But I’m trying to focus on the positives – this morning, I did an activity where my students explained why we have different rules in our classroom, and what it means to follow those rules. I was worried that they wouldn’t really feel invested in it, but they seemed to be trying. I’m wondering if the questions I was asking were more abstract than what they’re used to, or if I should have modeled what I was looking for more.

My plan for today wasn’t dense enough – I didn’t have enough planned and I was at a loss for what to do for a while. I had planned for recess because that was on the school schedule, but I didn’t realize that we couldn’t go on the playground because of the construction that’s happening on the school roof right now. After I realized that, I was planning to go to the auditorium, where we keep games and things (think indoor recess) but the auditorium still had parents registering their students for school, so we couldn’t do that. I took the students back to our class and we started silent reading while I tried to figure out what to do next.  It was kind of a mess – the silent reading books in my classroom weren’t in any particular order, and the students had a hard time selecting a book that was near their level and something they were interested in.

In the past week, I’ve thought back to my own third grade experience a lot. Mrs. Knight was my teacher for third and fourth grade (my school had split classes for 1-2 and 3-4.) I read Harry Potter for the first time in third grade and was enamored with it from that point forward. I remember 9/11 in the fall of third grade, and I remember the video we watched about it the day after, and I remember that we learned about Michigan history and local history, and we had a whole big thing about the White House Christmas tree coming from somewhere in the UP.

Teach for America: I have a home!


Today I signed a lease on a home in Jackson! I’m so excited – it’s a duplex in the neighborhood where my school is located. It’s cute on the outside and needs some work on the inside, but my landlords are fixing it up before we move in on Monday. Today was an adventure of getting water and trash set up at the new place, and getting horrendously lost on dirt roads somewhere south of Indianola when I took a detour to avoid traffic – that’s where I found the sunflower field pictured above.

Teach for America: Moving to Jackson

On Thursday, I moved out of Delta State University and to Jackson, where I’ll be teaching for the next two years. I’m looking for housing right now, and I’ve gotten connected to a place that will hopefully work out – a house near my school that I’ll rent with a roommate. I’m going to see it on Monday, and sign a lease if we like it. I spent all day yesterday driving to different houses and apartment complexes around Jackson, trying to find a place – it’s surprising how hard it is to find housing here, without knowing people who already live here.

It’s weird right now, because I feel out of place and in limbo. I’m in a hurry to move into my house and sign a contract with my school district, but I can’t do those things yet. I have to wait until at least Monday to hopefully sign a lease and move in, and I don’t know yet when I’ll get a contract.

Today I met a teacher who taught at my school this year, and it was so helpful to learn about the specific things that are going on at my school and learn about the context of the community where I’ll be teaching.

I’m working on my classroom vision right now. It’s funny, how much depth teaching at Institute has added to my vision. Half of what I’m writing into my vision now is what my classroom at Institute was lacking. We didn’t have a culture where students were kind to each other, and it didn’t feel like we were driving toward collective growth – we were only focused on motivating individual students to do their best. Classroom visioning feels like a small-scale social experiment – I have this ideal outcome, and I’m trying to work out the different actions I could take to get there.

Teach for America: But wait

But Wait

I’m really proud of this student’s exit ticket – we’ve been working a lot on comprehension with word problems and learning how to describe what we did to solve the problem. Also, I think it’s flat out adorable that they wrote “but wait, how can I do the next one.”

School went a bit better today. I’ve been working on giving more direct instructions and making sure to use MVP directions, but I still have a lot of work to do in following through on those directions. I need to work on actually giving out consequences when students don’t follow directions, for instance. Still, I’m feeling pretty good about the level of progress I’ve made during Institute, so far.

It feels like Institute has gone by so quickly –  we only have four days of school left! We start doing testing tomorrow, so we’ll be able to see how much progress our students have made over the summer soon enough.