Miss Bennett in the Bay

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 14 2007

First Week of Teaching….

And 40% done with Institute. I have to keep reminding myself of these kinds of arbitrary milestones, otherwise I will never make it.

Many people have already not made it. It’s discouraging to see some of my friends from the Bay packing up their bags.

We’re exhausted, overworked, stressed, delirious, and yet, somehow, we do it. Last night I really didn’t know how I was still standing up and talking. Six of us from the Bay went to dinner and drank two bottles of wine. It was necessary. Then we had this amazing frozen yogurt that was like actual yogurt, not fake ice cream. Apparently it’s a California thing. But we came home at 10 and I slept for 11 hours. That is almost as much sleep as I’ve gotten all week.

Yesterday my lesson plan didn’t go very well. At least, I don’t think it went very well. My FA (faculty advisor) kept interrupting me to tell me to change things on the fly. Not very helpful considering I spent too many hours to count on that lesson plan. Afterwards, my FA did give me some helpful feedback. She told me that I need to be explicit in my instructions. I guess she didn’t realize that we had had a whole session on that on Thursday and that I thought I was being explicit in my instructions. She told me some other stuff that conflicts with what TFA tells me. Her definition of “guided practice” and TFA’s definition of “guided practice” are completely different. I don’t know how to resolve that one.

Yesterday we had Literacy hour. From our assessments, I was under the impression that the four kids in my group were reading on a second to third grade level. I picked a book for them that was at the highest rating for second grade. It was way too easy. So much for valid assessments of reading level. Or, so much for valid assessments of book level. Not sure which one is incorrect.

My kids from Math hour on Thursday loved the worksheet I brought for them. J said, “I thought we were going to get a hundred problems?” (I made no such promise. I’m not going to make up a hundred problems when I have to do a hundred lesson plans. The worksheet that I copied from a book had like 40 problems.) I told him if he got done and wanted to do more he could make up his own problems and try to stump the rest of us. That satisfied him.

Yesterday when I was teaching about synonyms and antonyms D was complaining that his head hurt. I told him to put his head down and keep paying attention. During the guided practice he was trying to tell me something but he was completely incomprehensible. I thought he was just complaining more about his head hurting. (The head hurting thing is a daily occurrence. I am not sure if it’s a ploy to get out of class or if he’s got some kind of illness or what.) I told him the lesson would be over in a few minutes and he could go get a drink of water after that. Then, he put his head back down. Next thing I know, his table mate raises his hand and says, “Miss Bennett, he’s crying.” I look over at D and see tear marks on his paper.

Me: D, what’s wrong, does your head still hurt?
D: No, Miss Bennett, I can’t see what is written on the board. My mom told me it is because I opened my eyes under the water in the pool and now I can’t see.
Me (suddenly realizing the cause of so many headaches): I understand why you are frustrated. In the future, if you can’t see, you can just bring your paper and pencil up onto the carpet during the lesson. You don’t have to raise your hand to ask. You can just move, ok?
D: Ok! Thanks, Miss Bennett.

Lord. Kids who can’t see because they opened their eyes under the water in the pool? Maybe his mom doesn’t know to take him to the eye doctor. Maybe she can’t afford to take him to the eye doctor. But if that kid doesn’t get glasses, he’ll probably continue to be left behind. I’m only teaching him for three more weeks. He’s really smart. He just can’t see the board.

I think some of the kids got my lesson on synonyms and antonyms. (They can’t, however, pronounce the word “synonym.”) We just ran out of time because my FA kept interrupting me. I don’t understand why she does that. I’m never going to learn how to be a good teacher if she keeps undermining my authority in front of my kids. Ugh.

The last thing of note from yesterday was not a teaching moment. It was a session moment. (Short tangent: it is very difficult to go from teacher role to student role and back again in the same day.) Every Friday we have these DCA (diversity, community, and achievement) sessions. At DCA, we sit around and talk about diversity issues and how they might play out in our classrooms. I generally hate these kinds of discussions. It’s not because I’m opposed to having them, or racist, or anti-diversity, or any sort of thing like that. It’s mostly because the way they are set up is ineffective. You can’t put 40 people who barely know each other in a room together and expect them to have an honest discussion about these issues.

I also don’t like them because I always feel like my viewpoint is never valued in these discussions. Not just at TFA, but whenever I’ve been a part of these groups, somebody always says something in response to my comments that is nasty, or sarcastic, or passive-aggressive to the point that I get that they just think that I’m stupid. I would rather not talk than be faced with that kind of situation. I get that I grew up with “privilege”. That doesn’t mean that I’ve never had trials in my life or I didn’t have to work very hard to get here. I’m not discounting other points of view. I’m not telling other people what they should or should not think. I’m merely trying to get other people to understand that they don’t necessarily know where I came from. And it really, really pisses me off that I am getting the distinct message that I could never understand hardship. Don’t even go there.

As a result of yesterday’s session, I’ve made a conscious decision to never speak in DCA again. The point yesterday was to talk about “feeling safe and valued” in the classroom. I feel neither safe nor valued. But nobody bothered to ask how I feel.

Back to lesson planning. My Big Goal for the weekend is to get as many lesson plans for next week done as possible so that during the week I can get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

3 Responses

  1. Jerry

    That sounds like a good plan.

    I had a speech professor once that kept interrupting my speeches. Finally I picked up my notes and left the podium. He asked why I was quitting and I responded that he obviously didn’t want to hear what I had to say. He responded that it was obvious that I didn’t care what I had to say. I said that I didn’t. We discussed the issue after class and things worked out nicely after that. With this person, you may want to ask why she is doing this to you and then discuss it. Not in the classroom, though. You’ve worked too hard to let something like this interfere with your training. I know you care very much about this. Does TFA realize that the medical profession is moving away from the Marine bootcamp approach to training? Maybe TFA takes pride in washing out their recruits.

    Three more weeks. Hang in there.


  2. Your story about D is sooo sad! I knew so many kids like that growing up. I wish we knew more about his circumstances.

    Do they “symonym”? I wonder if there’s a predictable pattern to mispronunciation.

    You’re already doing the hardest thing, which is just sticking with it. You’ll make it, and then nothing can stop you! I’m proud of you and everything you’re doing. You’re a credit to our university and our fraternity; your parents and me. Keep it up.

  3. chrisb

    It is sad, isn’t it? Whenever the kids talk about their circumstances, though, they aren’t sad. They are proud of their community and I am proud of them. I’m hoping I can talk to my FA, or that she will stop interrupting me as my teaching improves.

    Yeah, it sounds like cinnamon when they try to say it. I enunciated very clearly for them and they still didn’t get it. Oh, well, the pronunciation was not my objective. They understand the meaning and that’s enough.

    Thanks for all the support! I love you guys!

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