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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 31 2012

Belated Resolutions…

My (New Year’s) Resolution for this year is to regain some semblance of myself as person. While I have not thrown myself into my work and have yet to let it completely overwhelm me, I have not been at my best. So – this semester and hereafter I shall give more as teacher by not allowing my job to be the sole determinant of my life. At least one dance class a week, the occasional evenings knitting while I watch absurd films, keeping up with family and friends, maintaining the blog I was so determined to start. On that note… Here are some entries that never made it here -

 

Apple + TFA = iPads for teachers (9 September 2011)

There’s something oddly comforting about typing on an iPad… If the computer is the Technology-Age equivalent of a pencil and paper – wherein you can go back, add in extras and erase without much, if any, difficulty – the iPad is the equivalent of the typewriter. You sit and type and it’s remarkable inconvenient to go back and edit or erase, it’s an incredibly awkward and fabulously finger-specific. The idea of turning the perfectly-odd-sized tablet sideways makes for an impressively-sized keypad that probably pretty accurately resembles the convenient astonishment that was, if I were to guess, felt back during the innovation of the typewriter.

Of course, this is all entirely speculation on my part. The distancing, even when it’s so artificial as to be absurd, is more than slightly necessary for me. Aside from the fact that being around the same people (especially as they’re small, rowdy children) is possibly the largest stressor of my life… Oh, and then there’s the perpetual being-forced-to-interact-with-people, as I’d be beyond impressed at anyone who manages to teach without interacting. Then, as though my life isn’t enough, there are the inherent difficulties of eating anywhere: juggling lesson plans and grading and professional development and classroom management and supplies and preparedness and no WONDER I have no life any more…

Yes. I type this on the new iPad that Apple has donated to Teach for America teachers while I sit with Stephanie oscillating between Criminal Minds and a Rick Steves special on Iran. Stephanie and I have established something of a routine, one that I adore and have absolutely no desire to change. It involves us loitering in our living room, watching Criminal Minds and taking care of stuff for the next day. (By planning lessons for the next day, grading papers, calling parents, etc…) It’s a ridiculous routine, and we giggle about it constantly. And then we readily come to our consensus that it’s because we’ve settled into watching one of the greatest shows ever. Why it’s become so great is well beyond me, but there you have it. Kudos to high-stress jobs and the drastic measures necessary to distance oneself from it.

It’s such a far cry from chasing after 7-year-olds (or 9, 10 & 11 year olds, in Stephanie’s case) that I can’t help but feel oddly reassured by it. I miss the adult world quite a lot sometimes. I miss the time and dedication I could once give to my studies. I miss being bogged down by research. I miss the overwhelming feeling of having so much to read, so much to learn. I miss the desperation of wondering where to start. I miss locking myself in the confines of a library, or turning my bedroom into a makeshift office. I miss the anxiety of having too many ideas and not knowing how to pick just one, instead of the paranoia of not even knowing where to start to find that first idea. I miss my complaints being shallow and periodic at best, rather than profound, irredeemable, and at the very least a twice-daily occurrence. I miss the stimuli of intelligent conversation and absurdly deep discussions, instead of inane child-babble and the building-blocks of foundational knowledge. I miss waking up and feeling excited and revived about what I get to encounter that day, instead of bone-deep exhaustion at this, yet another day of brace yourself. I miss dealing with my moods, instead of juggling the full moon and weather change hormones of over a dozen children, instead of forgetting who and what I am every day by 1:30.

There are a lot of things I miss. A lot of them are things I’ve missed since well before Teach for America. A lot of them are new nostalgias. All of them are identifiable to me because of Teach for America. The self-awareness one obtains, and so quickly, in such situations as these is astounding. It’s simultaneously like being in a war and undergoing a massive religious transformation – which the added benefit of small children and the fabulousness of dysfunctional public education systems. However, for all I complain about my job, my demon darlings (as I so fondly call them), and the general stressors of my chosen occupation of the next two years, there is nowhere I would rather be. There is nowhere that I would be able to see what I am seeing, to be able to hold the hands of some of the country’s most disadvantaged kids and teach them. Or try to, at the very least. There is something viscerally rewarding about this work, beyond gut-feelings, that seeps into my bones and ossifies such that I can feel my marrow compressing in on itself. Perhaps BECAUSE, and not despite, that feeling, this job is not sustainable. Not as it is now.

Some people here, with Teach for America in Kansas City, are treating this as College, Pt. 2. For others, this is Gateway into a rest-of-life Teaching Career 101. For still others, this is ‘let me survive these next two years and then I. Am. Out.’ Obviously there are outliers and no-one is exclusively any one type of ‘TFA-er’, but still… I would place myself in a third category. After a few years, maybe two or maybe longer, I will be out. Whether that is out of Kansas City, the public school system, primary education, or education in general, I can’t say just yet, but I’ll be out in some fashion. The same realisation is exhausting for some – I myself feel the strain reasonably often – but I find it motivating and invigorating. Even if I stay in education, I will never have an opportunity like the one I have right now. I will never have these 13 demon darlings looking to me to be their strong-adult-figure, not ever again. And, perhaps because I know that as it is this is unsustainable, I’m more than willing to put forth my all into doing this as well as I can now.

This doesn’t mean that I necessarily think I’ve even got a hope of being a good teacher. It just means that I have the motivation to try. And that, thanks to this job, I think I have started a monumental transition past ‘talking the talk’ and into ‘walking the walk’. For now, I’m trying. I still have no idea what that means about me; it’s too chalk-full of implications for me to even begin detangling just yet. But I’ll get there. Preferably within the next two years. And preferably not late at night with my Digital-Era typewriter hindering my already precious few hours of sleep. That being said, good night. And (if only for myself), as I often find myself saying nowadays, Bon Courage.

 

Surrogate Motherhood (12 October 2011)

Tyrease got suspended today.

My kids have started taking notes on each other’s behavior during bathroom breaks.

I got asked for ‘Mommy hugs’ by two kids today.

‘Can I have a Mommy hug?’
‘Kellen, je ne suis pas ta mère.’
‘I know, Mommy. Can I have a Mommy hug?’
(definitely already hugging me at this point…) ‘Kellen, I’m not your mother.’
‘I know Mommy.’
‘Oooh, me too Mommy.’
- COPYCAT. – ‘Addao, je ne suis pas ta mère.’
‘Okay, Mommy. Mommy hug?’
‘Addao, you know full well that I’m not your mother.’
(definitely joins Kellen, also without waiting for permission)
‘Je ne sais pas pourqoui j’essai de faire rein.’
‘Because you love us, Mademoiselle.’
‘Keep telling yourself that, Sharon. La’Rya, ceci n’est pas amusant. Pas du tout.’
‘Really? Okay, Mommy!’
- Obviously Ja’Byron does not yet comprehend sarcasm, even when it’s in English. Butt-face. -

Seriously, behavior lists. As in a left-side smiley-face column and a right-side sad-face column. I’m now getting the raised hands (apparently there’s something utterly incomprehensible about NO TALKING in the corridors) with desperately urgent questions of ‘How do you spell Taliyah?’ ‘Is is how you spell Ja’Byron?’ ‘Mademoiselle, look, I spelt your name!’
I look over at Addao, who has everyone but Taliyah in the smiley-face column and stop to ask him why that is. He looks up at me like I’m an absolute cretin and states, as though it’s quite literally THE most obvious thing in the world, ‘I’m doing people sitting properly, and Taliyah’s not sitting right.’
Valid point. Taliyah WAS the only one not sitting ‘right’ (as apparently Indian-style – or crisscross-applesauce, or whatever you call it – now is the correct way to sit). Taliyah promptly looks up, eeps – seriously, she ‘eep’ed at me – and proceeds to sit properly. Taliyah NEVER sits properly. I nearly died of laughter.
La’Rya started the lists. That girl is a godsend, I quite unashamedly adore that child. Until she and Addao start talking. They’re my power-pair (or trio, once Naomi gets thrown into the mix) and, especially considering how far La’Rya has come academically already this year, it’s absolutely phenomenal.

 

Administrative Magic, Convocations, and R-U-N ? (28 October 2011)

Today’s Convocation for the district. The Interim Superintendant, Dr. Stephen Green, is speaking. ‘Talk, talk, talk… Someting about IT being in you… Talk, talk, talk…’ then, OUT OF NOWHERE, appears a Gatorade bottle. First thought: don’t speakers usually get WATER bottles? Second thought: when did Gatorade change it’s design? Third thought: WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?!?!?!

5 minutes later. He’s STILL playing with that godforsaken Gatorade bottle. I’m laughing because I still have no idea where it came from or what he’s trying to accomplish by playing pass-the-Gatorade-bottle with Airick Leonard West, the president of the KC school board. I’m laughing because this whole thing is bizarre to the point of surreal. Then Dr. Green hijacks his Gatorade bottle back from Airick, who looks just as baffled as I feel, and suddenly it’s open and I’m wondering HOW DOES DR. GREEN DO MAGIC AND WHY DON’T I GET MAGIC TOO? And then he drinks and I feel slightly silly for not coming to that conclusion on my own. Then he announces, ‘Now, it IS in me.’ and continues to the effect of, ‘AND YOU CAN’T GET IT OUT, NA NA NA BOO BOO.’ (childish taunting implied, not explicitly stated, naturally) Then I get it. Oooooooh, extended metaphors. Exciting. I’m so thrilled. The extended gatorade metaphor is all I needed to rejuvenate my motivation to be a good teacher. I am magically re-inspired to spend my days, nights, and free time being a good teacher for underpriviliged students. Oh. Wait. I’m already doing that. That’s the WHOLE REASON I joined Teach for America. Wait, hold on. I’m not sure I can handle this. Teachers are supposed to WANT their kids to do WELL? Baffling. Shocking. I don’t think I can handle that kind of lifestyle. Not at all a teacher-appropriate mentality. (Wait, does this mean that they might have something against copius amounts of sarcasm??)

Then, the clincher. The great reveal: Kansas City Missouri School District is no longer going to be KCMSD. We have made the great, revolutionary transformation. Nothing will ever be same. We are NOW… Brace yourselves. Kansas City Public Schools. Nothing will ever be the same. To quote Thea, except our (lack of) accreditation.

 

Our lack of accreditation didn’t change. KCMSD (or KCPS, I guess?) is being taken over by the state of Missouri. I still have no idea what that means – I guess I’ll be finding it out as it happens. No worries, I actually will be keeping you updated this time around.

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    From ESL expectations to the realities of an Elementary French Immersion classroom

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