A small town girl takes on the world

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

...On Feeling Rejuvenated (and some "good stuff")

Right now, I'm at Zoka working on this scholarship application. It's the first real day of fall weather (true fall weather) in Seattle. Pouring rain, thunder, and cold. There's a little boy outside the coffee shop, dancing in the rain for his mom, who is sitting inside by the fire. It's pretty cute, and I'm glad to see someone else enjoying the rain instead of complaining about it. I'm sure I'll change my mind, since my school is mostly outside (trips to the copy machine will be miserable), but I still appreciate the green.

The middle of the third week has come, and it's time for me to go back to UW for classes. This is the last scholarship I will ever write, and I can really feel my entire journey of college coming to an end. Although I'll still be in classes, what's most important now is the field experience. It's making me nostalgic!

Last weekend, I was feeling like I needed to get out, so I went out to Rattlesnake Ledge, which is a short hike (2.0 miles) up to a fantastic viewpoint. I wanted some solitude, so I went for a sunrise hike. I wasn't alone on that ledge though, there was a mountain goat! It was on a ledge next to me, but didn't seem bothered by my presence at all. Lots of animals were out, since it was so early, and the sunrise was brilliant. I'll try to upload some pictures and add them to the blog later tonight when I'm home. It was only ~2 hours of my life, but it made all the difference. It reminded me how beautiful life really is, and how important it is to pass on that sentiment to young people (well, younger than me). It's easy to forget the beauty when you're surrounded by ugly situations...perhaps I can help some of my students see the real beauty of life, especially of the natural really set up my week nicely!

I've had a great week so far with the students, too. I feel that I've really reached and found ways to make sure they see that I mean that I care about them. I've been trying to make leaps and bounds with certain students, and I've made an effort to say something to every kid in every period, no matter how small. I've been working on framing everything I say in a positive light, whether it's behavioral, academic, or just personal. I've never believed it more that students can see your genuine nature and intention, and that they feed off that. I think that my efforts are making a difference, and it really motivates me. Too bad this feeling is coming right when my days at the school are cut in half....

I'd like to start sharing some "good stuff" each entry. This is something that my good friend, Rebecca, does when she sends updates on her teaching in Berkeley, CA. She taught 2nd graders last year, and is a Teach for America starlet. :)

So, in true Becca nature, here is some good stuff:

A student, Lawrence, was talking about how dumb Homecoming is and how he isn't going. I said, "Lawrence, I'll be at Homecoming!" He slowly, deliberately replied: "No offense, Ms. Kramer, but that doesn't change my opinion...."

In Advisory, discussions about babies came up when Gala, who is pregnant, shared her first ultrasound with us. Bisart, a particularly vocal student, said loudly, "Man, when I have babies, I'm going to get me some twins!" As if he could just go pick them out?!

Our classroom has a gas leak (science classroom, hence the gas), so after we figured out there was one and turned OFF the gas with the main shut off switch, we needed to get the kids out of the room because it smelled awful. We walked around campus for a few minutes, chatting and letting them feel free and happy. It was fun, but frustrating because it reminds me how old our building is...not sure why this counts as "good stuff"???? :)

Another student, Daniel, has been impossible in terms of sitting down and doing work. Today, for the first time, he sat down and took his work seriously because BOTH me and my teacher were PUSHING and PUSHING him to get something done. Instead of grumbling through it, a sparkling little scientist emerged! It was incredible. He was asking questions of other students, of us, and they were great questions! I was was a great way to leave the day.

And so, I'll leave you with a good feeling that I have:

"Teach for the pleasure of doing something you are good at, not out of a sense of duty. Teach for the satisfaction you feel at seeing others succeed, not out of a desire to 'help' them. Teach for the joy of the subject matter you are discussing, not to attain 'standards' deļ¬ned by others. Teach out of the love you feel for students, not out of some larger mission of social transformation."

This quote is ringing true for me this week. I am acutely aware of myself, my successes, my failures, and how all of those things, no matter how glorious or painful, have brought me to right here. And it feels GOOD.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

...On Juggling My Life

My latest challenge has been trying to balance my life so that teaching doesn't consume me. Not that I'm putting in too much time, but it's really overwhelming at first. Today, for example, I don't have much energy to write anything. I woke up sick (THANKS, kids.) and need a nap, but definitely needed to eat first. I also need to get some work done, desperately, so I'm headed down to a local coffee shop to do that, after a quick nap.

Needless to say, this is difficult, but I'm getting better. I am teaching more and more full periods by myself, with few to no problems or snags. I actually got 1st period to LIKE me today. We played a game that makes you share one unique thing about yourself, and a Samoan girl said, "I can sing a Vietnamese song". So, naturally, we asked her to sing it, because none of us knew that she could speak any Vietnamese! It was beautiful, and everyone clapped at the end. It felt good to be a part of such a great community. That's what I really love about this school; it's all about community! And there is a fairly tight-knit community here....

Unfortunately, it's still high school, so there is drama. One girl is trying to switch to another school (and district) to avoid the mean girls here. I don't blame her, she's pregnant and doesn't need any extra stress.

Anyway, I need to nap, so that's all for today!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

...On Teaching an Entire 100 Minute Block....Alone!

Today, I taught an entire 100 minute block period by myself. I did the entry task (warm-up), the administrative stuff, the lab, and the "oh-no-we-ran-out-of-time" activity. And here's the thing: the students actually listened to me.

This might seem like a silly celebration, but only two days earlier, most students were definitely of the mindset that I "was a student teacher, so therefore not a real teacher, so therefore we don't need to listen". Wrong! Right? Yeah, but they didn't budge at all, no matter what I did. So, today, I started class out, and after trying to keep them quiet for a bit, I announced that I was assigning them seats. Without a peep from my mentor teacher - she didn't even flinch - and they knew that somehow, they had misinterpreted my power. It was AWESOME! Respect, for the rest of the class, was easy to come by. All it took was a few names called out, and relative, working silence followed.

At the end of the period, we were taking books down to look at, which are numbered and ordered so that each student is accountable for one book each period. That way, if any go missing, we know who to ask. Anyway, they were having a really tough time actually figuring out that if someone else took their book, they should probably find it instead of just grabbing a random book. Instead of just sorting it out, I made them ALL put the books back, and practice grabbing the books again. Oh MAN you should have heard the moans and groans, but they did it. I think that may have helped with the whole authority issue, again, because AGAIN Ann did not even flinch, so they knew that I meant business and that she was going to back me up.

Now, this was only one period, but it did wonders for my self-esteem/confidence in front of these kids. It's amazing how incredibly daunting and intimidating these kids can be, but are they EVER!

To top it off, the termites we ordered from a biological supply company (who will remain nameless) are not coming in on time. So, I spent the afternoon prep period digging in the gardens at school searching for pillbugs (potato bugs). Needless to say, they don't WATER the gardens at my school ($$, probably), so everything was super dry. For those who don't know, pillbugs are fond of dark, wet places. So, I spent the evening digging around in my back yard. I found all the pillbugs I needed, and several spiders and centipedes that I didn't. Ugh. For an ecologist, I sure am creeped out by things with lots of legs (except octopi).

Anyway, another day in the life, I suppose. Things are becoming more of a schedule, and a student actually asked me, "Ms. Kramer, are you teaching us today?" which implies that they at least know that I'm SUPPOSED to be teaching them something, whether it's working or not....Also, it shows that they know my name (BOO-YAH!).

My new motto has become: "Small gains = big smiles." Those who have taught/are teaching will understand particularly well what that means.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

...On the First Few Days of School!

First things first: photos of my room!




So, that's a taste of what the room looks like. Old chairs, etc. Lots of chemical supplies, though, even if they are mostly really old. It's all good. We have been mixing things and showing kids reactions and lighting hydrogen balloons (small ones) on fire in class. The usual, you know. It's funny because it's not entirely the kind of science I've been being taught to teach (was that a confusing sentence or what?!), but it's still fun. So much planning is required for anything that it's hard to do much else than demos and introductions right now. We're putting a lot more planning into the first few units. These are the "warm up days" of school, it seems. Especially since we are doing 6 classes a day right now, and starting Monday we will be doing 3 2-hour blocks a day instead. Things will change a LOT then.

Things have been very difficult. I memorized all the students names today, and I think that earned me some street cred. Okay, maybe not STREET CRED, but some type of cred. Does classroom cred exist? Doubtful....anyway, I can feel myself exponentially becoming more of a permanent fixture in the classroom. Students still call me "Miss", but that seems to be the default title for a woman whose name you can't remember. Especially if you are a Spanish speaker. They tend to use Miss instead of Mrs., which is fine with me because it's accurate. I told a kid the other day that I was 36 and his eyes got HUGE. Kids are gullible. Don't worry, I told him that I wasn't, but I still didn't tell him my age. They don't need to know that I'm only ~5 years older than some of them. Later. :)

I've been able to do a little Spanish work in the classroom, translating a few words (siblings = hermanas y hermanos) and catching people saying naughty words (sometimes it's just the WAY they say it, I don't know the word, but when I look at them and pretend I understand, they get sheepish...ha!). One student wrote on a survey we gave them that he wishes one of his teachers would just ONCE speak Spanish in class. I can feel the anxiety already (about speaking Spanish in front of a native speaker), but then I remember that he can barely speak English. Maybe we can trade lessons, who knows?

I've already caught myself focusing in on the typical people that I focus on: the very intrinsically motivated students and the ones that people seem to have given up on. I gravitate towards the extremes. It's something I have to be very mindful of, since there are students who exist in the middle ground who shouldn't be forgotten either!

All in all, this has been stressful, exhausting, awkward, and sometimes a little nerve-wracking. I've found myself really questioning my ability and my drive, etc. etc. However, I also met with my science methods professor and several grad students that work with him, and they really gave me hope that everyone goes through this stage of "HOLY S*%&, WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO?"....So I think I'll ride it out and wait for the successes to pick me up and give me that certainty back that this is something I truly believe in.

I already love the kids, even the mean ones...and especially the scared ones!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

....On Being Proud of Yourself (Myself)

I am currently sitting in Zoka, a coffee shop near my house, working on a few scholarship applications. I am going into the last 6 months of my program, but there is never a better time for help paying the bills, right? I really should be working on these, but I can't stop thinking about something.

Lately, I've been really down on myself, my goals, my life, my accomplishments, etc. I've been thinking things like, "I haven't done anything" and so on. I'm only 23, but I haven't been able to shake the thought that so many of my friends are doing such COOL things, like living in Spain or moving to Boulder for graduate school instead of sticking around Seattle. I haven't been able to really think highly of myself lately, and it's been worrying me because I HAVE TO GET IN FRONT OF SIX CLASSES OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS ON WEDNESDAY. Needless to say, some confidence would really help.

As I sit here typing essays about why I'm going to be a qualified teacher, how I'm going to change the world, and why I'm worth thousands of scholarship dollars, I'm beginning to remember exactly why I decided to pursue this profession. It's funny, but I think the best advice I've ever gotten might be from Zoi, my multicultural education professor. She told me, "You know, it might sound silly, but you absolutely have to revisit WHY you want to teach at least every few weeks. You have to remind yourself why the pain and the difficulties are worth it. Otherwise, you won't know why they are, and you won't be able to DO it." So, I guess I'm reminding myself of all the COOL things I've done in the past that led me to this place. It's easy to forget them when they're just words on paper, but when I have to think through them and remind myself of their significance, I remember.

I remember people like Chariti, a girl I worked with on applying to colleges, who eventually started college in a small town in South Carolina 2 hours from my summer internship. I got to move her into her first college dorm, and it was such an incredible honor! I remember schools like T.T. Minor Elementary, which is closed now due to budget issues, that were filled with people (kids and adults) who were completely different from me. I learned more at that school about public education than anywhere else. I remember a time this summer, when I had an incredibly difficult time working with a small group. I felt I could barely held my tears in through a series of disciplinary actions, but managed to retain composure until the students had left. I cried because I was frustrated, because I felt inadequate, and because I knew these students were lashing out at me for much deeper reasons than boredom. That was one of those times that I had to remind myself why I was doing this "teaching thing".

As I sit here and reflect on why I'm here, applying for scholarships to finish a program that can be tedious and painful at times, I feel empowered to drive through the hard times that I'm sure are ahead. The next six months will be excruciating, but they will also be rewarding beyond my wildest dreams, and that is what I will remember when I think back on them. So, thanks for your support, ahead of time, because I'm sure I'll need it......and, back to writing essays!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

LID and DID, and more acronyms...

Yesterday, I started the big "PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT" week (called DID and LID, acronyms) at school. It was insane. We started out in small schools, but then eventually got to a educational service area meeting, with all of my high school's feeder schools. Basically, all the elementary and middle schools in the area. It was a bit overwhelming, since we weren't provided places to sit, nametags, or dignity, like the "real" teachers. Oh, well.

I left yesterday feeling overwhelmed and discouraged about the school I was at, but I'm not going to dwell on that because today was SO MUCH BETTER!

Today we met as a small school, and spent the morning discussing logistics of the school year. We also analyzed data from last year as a group. This included WASL scores and MAP test scores. This school has had some incredible boosts in WASL scores in areas like science, reading, and math, likely due to the SIP (School Improvement Plan) they implemented last year surrounding increasing literacy....incredible! These are the "trouble" areas, so it was really exciting to watch people discover that the work they are doing is having awesome effects!

THEN, on top of that, I got a DESK today! Of my very own! It's an old wooden desk with three drawers, and is set up in the front of the room, just like a real teacher's desk. HA! I could barely contain my excitement in front of all the master teachers at my school today. I thought, "Don't let them see how excited you are! They'll think it's SO newbie of you!" Luckily I managed to not pee my pants in excitement....

Another exciting thing is that I am beginning to build a great relationship with my cooperating teacher (CT), and I have a really great feeling about being matched with her. She has been so supportive already (you should see the DESK she got me!), and I'm getting really little-kid-on-Christmas-Eve-excited for this entire roller coaster to leave the platform.

And I can't believe how many acronyms exist in the world of public education......OMG. :)