Miss Bennett in the Bay

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 28 2007

Bay Area Bowling Bonanza

I’m 80% done with Institute. Only one more week of sleeping in a dorm bed, eating dorm food, waking up before the sun comes up, writing bad lesson plans, making bad posters, and carrying said posters to school on a tiny yellow school bus. One more week.

I realize that I have not posted as much this week. I think that is because, for many reasons, this week has been the toughest yet for me. I’ve heard a lot of other people saying that Week 4 was easier for them. I am jealous of them. I don’t know what they are doing that I am not doing, but I wish they would share their secrets with me.

I’ll start with the most important thing- my teaching. Ms. Lewis has stopped interrupting my lessons. Her feedback is still almost completely negative, and now she’s writing little passive-aggressive notes to me, but at least she’s not yelling at me in front of the kids. That’s all I wanted.

My lesson went really, really well on Monday. My CMA was observing me, the kids were on task, and I felt like they might have actually learned something. At least, they learned what the definition of “pioneer” is. And they enjoyed talking about people traveling in covered wagons. I walked out of the classroom feeling like I had hit a home run. And during my debrief, I felt validated by my CMA. He told me that he saw me doing a lot of stuff that I hadn’t previously been doing, and he was impressed at how much I had grown from the previous week. I left that debrief thinking, Beginning proficiency, here I come! (BP is the rubric score that we are all supposed to attain on the different rows on the Teaching as Leadership Rubric. Basically, if you’re beginning proficient in 80% or more of the rows, they consider you to be at least a mildly competent teacher.)

Things went downhill from there.

On Wednesday the kids were fighting with each other all day long, both verbally and then physically at recess, during my lead teaching time. TFA has taught us that when this kind of thing happens, we have to do something about it. I tend to agree, and since it was a whole class issue, after recess I brought the kids onto the carpet and we had a discussion about how our classroom culture was and how it needed to be. Basically, I said, “I don’t like how we are all fighting with each other…. We can’t learn like this, and people don’t feel safe…. If one person doesn’t feel safe, then nobody feels safe.” I don’t even really know what I said because I made it up on the spot. Then we shared out ideas for making things better, and S (a new student) came up with the idea of writing I’m sorry letters to each other. So that’s what we did. During the chat, a lot of the students were just snickering the entire time. And the I’m sorry letters either didn’t get written at all, because the kids thought they hadn’t done anything wrong, or, they asserted that they hadn’t done anything wrong.

So much for creating a safe and welcoming classroom.

On Wednesday night I hit the wall. I just couldn’t write the last two lesson plans of Institute. (We only have two instructional days next week.) I sat in front of my computer for hours, just staring at the screen. I’m teaching math next week, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I have no resources for coming up with engaging ways of teaching division with arrays to second graders. I’m not even sure I know what an array is. I was so tired on Wednesday night that I could barely even stand up. Those two lesson plans were the worst ones that I’ve written at Institute, even worse than the first two I ever wrote. Seriously. I ended up staying up much later than necessary because I had to finish them.

On Thursday I was almost late for the bus. It was a scary feeling. And I was so tired that my teaching suffered. It was bad. That’s all I’m going to say about Thursday.

And then, Friday. You’d think that after such a hard week, I’d be really excited for Friday. But actually, Fridays are my worst days. It’s the end of the week and I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve lived through about three years of my life, and yet, there’s still one more week to go. (Actually, Institute probably did take about three years off of my life, so that’s not entirely inaccurate.) At the beginning of the day, I have difficulty comprehending the fact that I do still have one more week. And then, the bus breaks. For whatever reason, the door of the bus won’t close. Of course, we can’t drive on LA freeways with the door open, so we just hang out. The transportation people were amazing and got the Pre-K vans to come pick us up. Now, there are more people teaching at Grape Street than ride in the Pre-K vans at once, so we had to cram ourselves in there. I was sitting in the front seat with three other people. It’s only meant for two. Obviously, I survived, so don’t worry yourself.

That was actually the most fun ride to Grape that I’ve had. Mr. Coleman, our bus driver, normally listens to some pretty intense elevator music that puts us all to sleep. On the Pre-K van, Justin, our escort for the morning, cranked up the rap dance music and we had a dance party on the 405. We were almost late for school, but it was a great bonding experience.

In spite of the fun morning, the day still wasn’t all that great. My teaching was only mediocre at best, and I couldn’t even get feedback on it because no one else was in the room while I was teaching. Not even Ms. Lewis. Her disappearance is the newest thing that she’s doing. I’m not sure if she does it to anyone else in my collab, and why she leaves the room for large chunks of the day. Technically, it’s illegal for me to teach without her in the room. I haven’t figured out the best way to deal with this situation yet. I suppose I should talk to my CMA about it, but honestly I’m tired of being the girl who complains about her FA. (I’m also tired of being the girl whose FA picks on her, but that’s a different story.)

After my mediocre lesson, we have DCA (Diversity, Community, and Achievement). I know I’ve talked about DCA on here before. Last I spoke about this, I’d made the very conscious decision to never talk in DCA again, because I don’t feel safe doing so. That hasn’t changed, and now other people are starting to make that decision as well. Yesterday we did the privilege walk, which basically just shows you how your class or race affected your ability to get ahead (or not) in life. I still haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. I was already very aware of where I would end up in the grand scheme of things, so I wasn’t uncomfortable with that. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t like it.

Then, we got our rubric scores. Remember from Monday that I thought I was going to be all (or almost all) BP. This was not the case. Some of my scores did indeed go up, but I’m not anywhere close to where I need or want to be. At the end of Week 3, I was at 15% BP. Now, at the end of Week 4, I’m 38% BP. The goal is 80%. Like I said, it did go up, but it’s still a failing percentage. I have a really difficult time believing that I will gain more than 40% in one week. Really, in one day, because the only true instructional day is Monday, and that day is probably what I will be assessed on. It’s discouraging.

And then, there’s the data from my kids. Last week we gave them the formative assessment. It is intended to show us how much the students have grown in the summer so far. Well, the results were not so good. I think about 3 of them had growth. The rest had 0% growth. Some of them even had negative growth, which means that they are losing knowledge as a result of having me as a teacher. I already talked to my CMA about it. I’m trying not to take the data personally.

The week wasn’t all bad. Last night, the Bay Area staff came to town and we had our regional meeting and social. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I saw them again. The Bay Area staff is truly amazing. It’s obvious that they do care about us as individuals and not just as achievement-gap-closing robots. I found out that Julia is going to be my Program Director in the fall, which I am really excited about because we had already become friends at Induction and she is so amazing that I pretty much want to be her when I grow up. Then, the staff took us extreme (which we in Colorado call cosmic) bowling. It was really, really fun. I missed the Bay Area CMs so much. We danced to crazy music at the bowling alley and bowled the night away (until 10:30 that is.) I bowled a 130 my first game, which I was pretty proud of. Seeing the Bay Area staff and being with my colleagues really re-energized me about TFA and teaching in general. I am so looking forward to getting back to the Bay, putting the insanity of Institute behind me, and doing what I need to do to be a better teacher. It’s obvious that I’ve got a lot of work to do and I won’t accomplish what I want to accomplish for the summer. But I think, but a lot of work and support, I can accomplish what I want for my students in the Bay.

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    "All that is gold does not glitter, not all who wander are lost." -J. R. R. Tolkien

    Bay Area
    Elementary School
    Elementary Education

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