Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Days I Want To Cry

It's all my fault when I want to cry. No lie. Yes, all first year teachers go through those emotions, but I burnt out and stopped doing what was keeping me sane -- planning.

I love planning, but teaching is a whole nother level. It's non-stop, everyday. But let me tell you, when I've planned for the day, the day is amazing -- no matter the lessons faultering steps.

The problem is when I'm not feeling planned for the next day. I was just about to cry a couple of hours ago on the phone with my best friend from home. "Boohoo, I miss you, I love you, and I just want to hear your voice and see you."

Ultimately, I wanted to cry because (yes, I missed her) I wasn't feeling adequately planned for the morrow.

Now that I have spent the last 25 minutes really prepping for tomorrow with a better vision of the lesson -- I'm happy. No need for the wine bottle.

I just need to realize that I need to up my game to do what I was doing at the beginning of the year that made me love my job. Prepping for the days adequately and looking at each day as a chance to break ideas down.

I don't really have many behavioral issues anymore. Occasionally, yes. All the time, no. I've controlled them and set those standards -- even my principal has complemented me on staying firm.

Unfortunately, I peaked out on the LPing. I no longer sit for 4 hours to plan 4 LPs with powerpoints and all. I leave the powerpoints and exit tickets to the night before and I start to feel inadequate.

My goal is to change what I can control and to better what can be bettered. If you identify the problem, you're more likely to succeed and I'm aiming to enjoy my job again.

Sincerely, Previously-Disillusioned First-Year

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Eating Healthy - It's a lifestyle

Eating healthy is on everyone's minds. Even if you're at the drive-thru of McDonald's reading this, you're thinking about 'how healthy is this for me?'

Well, the first comment I always hear (and sometimes think), 'eating healthy is expensive, and I just... well, can't afford it.'

Alright, I only sometimes accept that excuse. Food that is organic can be really expensive, but I think some people would be surprised at how many items in the grocery store are organic. Everyone would be just as surprised at how many items contain Genetically Modified ingredients.

The real reason I'm posting... I just watched a film "Genetic Roulette - The Game Of Our Lives". It is about how the genetically modified foods found in almost all our foods, besides those that are organic or GMO free, are causing so many of our illnesses. The reason these items exist is because a business created a product that had attractive attributes (by genetically modifying) and lobbied farmers to buy the product.

As most things, we didn't know the dangers at the time of first implementation. Just as you didn't realize that you were going to fall off that ladder when you first stepped on it.

Unfortunately, we now realize that GMs have a huge impact on digestion and disease. It got me thinking of how when I first moved to Mississippi I was on this path of eating organic/local in an effort to be healthy. When I go on these kicks, the clean-out my body goes through is amazing. For a few days my body just gets rid of the toxins and I feel the transition (in more ways than one).

Once I am through with the transition phase, I seriously feel like a different person. I, since then, have stopped eating so healthy and have relied on eggs, peanut butter and pasta to get me through the day.

I'm going to try this challenge... Eating healthy, GMO free foods, on a budget. We'll see how it goes, but it's a challenge I'm up for.

I also must shout-out the Mississippi Food Corps members in Jackson, MS that have inspired me to find a connection with food and how it's something we can't live without.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Positive Speak - Beneficial for my students or me?

To be honest, I've known the power of speaking in almost 100% positive terms prior to teaching.

It's just natural that people feel better if we hear positive words. For the first part of the semester, I have to be honest, it was hard to think about outwardly giving this positive encouragement. My students knew that I expected a lot from them and that I believed in them, but it was all in their face "YOU CAN DO IT!"

I've now realized that it's super beneficial to my students to hear it out loud. When they're doing some independent work cheering them on saying "You don't need me, you've got this! You got that first one right, now you can do them all!" has become the norm.

Not only have I gotten my students believing in themselves, they're feeling better about getting things right because it was them, not me, that got it right!

But, I've noticed that this positive encouragement isn't only helpful for my students. When I walk back and forth in the room, cheering my students on and casually checking their work -- I FEEL EMPOWERED. I feel like I've gotten them on this train toward success. I feel a little bit better about what we're doing and how we're doing it.

This is the double-edged positive sword that I play with on the daily. Break the material down for my students and build my students attitudes up.

I dare you to use this tool in your work and life. Challenge accepted? Do it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tell Me You Love Me...

Yes, it happened.

On Wednesday, 3/4 of the way through class my students stopped working. They put their pencils down and refused to work. They said, "Mr. Wright, we're not working any more until you tell us you love us."

As much I wanted to keep my love a secret, my students needed to hear it... about time. I calmy stated "I love you all, every single one of you. That's why I expect a lot from you."

Their response... "Yes you do... okay we'll work now" :)

I never thought I'd love these students so much. They are the class that ran me up a wall at first. I had them for homeroom and 1st period every day. They cried in my class, they yelled in my class and they got sent out of my classroom. They've given me so much trouble that I thought some of my students really had no interest in learning.

They've proven me (right) wrong. They really do want to learn. I knew they could learn, but I questioned their intent... and they have blown me out of the water. My student that always put his head down, told me he was leaving to go back to another school and always talked about his nation (gang)... he is my pride now.

Every day, my most difficult student comes in EXCITED to learn... I used to want to yell at him to keep his head up... now I can't get him to shut his mouth (because he's yelling out answers)... Equally as annoying, but I'll settle for the positive.

I willingly told my 2nd period class that I love them because they too deserve to hear it. They've shown me what they're capable of and how willing they are to do the work that I give them and they show pride in their work.

I still have a lot of work to do in my 3rd block, but we're working on it. They have gotten gypped a lot due to shortened classes and it being lunch period. I don't take that as an excuse, but we need to work together before I will be able to openly love them and share in the pride of our work.

I'm proud of my students and what they are doing. We have our days of boredom and excitement. We have our days of tension and relaxation... Ultimately, we're working toward a common goal of success...

I think it's time to show them what they are working for... show them what success can look like. I look forward to decorating my classroom with college banners... And I don't want them from local schools. I want my kids to travel the country and world. My alma mater will be representing on our walls.

Maybe I'll make it an extra-credit project. Choose one person that is your role model, research their life. List their strengths and where they have been challenged. What have they overcome to become successful and how did they work hard to get where they are. What have their rewards been?

I'm out for the night. Teaching is hard, but it gives me

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Raise your glass to a good week.

Sometimes it might be hard to look at the week ahead and be excited.

There are a lot of unknowns that drag us down. If the garbage man doesn't pick up my trash tomorrow my yard will smell; the mailman isn't giving my mail; my computer is acting funny... Who knows what it is that might come up.

The one thing we can do to prevent our anxieties when these things occur is to have a positive outlook. We all have hard days, but there is no need to have a depressed day.

As my Manager of Teacher Learning Development said to me, "When you start looking at what you did as a failure, you lose the ability to look at what happened critically and make the changes needed."

We have to look forward to our days this week and every week and then, when something does go wrong, look at what happened and why. Don't blame it on yourself as a 'failure', but look at it as a learning moment - that didn't work, so try something new.

I'm looking forward to this week. My students have a lot coming at them. There is another test this week that they need to be ready for, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they get there.

This means that there is a lot of learning that has to happen in only 3 days, but we can do it and we will do it. I just have to remind them that we have our eyes set on success.

Tomorrow will be a strong day because the changes we make in the classroom every day as teachers increases the chances for our students to learn.

Super. Excited. Super. Positive.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How are YOU, as a person?

Sounds like a simple question... "How are you, as a person?"

But, I think we often times forget that we are real people. We aren't little robots, going about the same business every day.

Think about it. Your job is not who you are but what you do. You are the person that smiles and laughs at a stupid joke. You are the person that gets enjoyment from the brisk breeze in the morning as you walk to your car. You are a realperson. Who wudda thunk it.

One of my goals since the beginning of Teach For America has been to not lose myself. For some reason I always envisioned those whom join TFA as real people turned soulless teachers that don't feel enjoyment anymore.

Now, that might be a little extreme dramatization of what is true, but that's what I thought... just being honest.

What I have come to realize is that teaching for the first time does turn recent college graduates or worldy and wise elders into emotionless or overly emotional beings. They lose part of themselves.

A month and a half in to my teaching, I don't feel like I've lost myself. Thank God. I can't say that for anyone but myself though -- and that bothers me.

What I want to see are the first years going to school, working their butts off. But once they leave that school they are no longer, Mr/Mrs. Whomever -- instead, they are themselves... a real person.

I may seem like I'm rambling, but if you thought about it, you'd understand what I mean. Leaving your working self at work, at the doors, and turning into who you want to be beyond the workplace.

It's not easy, but you have to try and tell yourself you're two different people.

Ultimately though, it has been a huge piece of sanity in an insane classroom.

I just want more people to ask themselves... "How am I doing as a person?"

I asked that of a fellow corps member today who responded, "I don't know. And... I think that's because I don't feel like myself." She then thanked me for asking because she realized she needs to pay attention to that aspect of her life... the reality of it all.

Take care of yourself and make sure you stay sane beyond the insanity.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Education In Progress

Two weeks in already.

Wow - how have I been standing in front of my students for over two weeks already?

You'd be surprised at how much can happen in two weeks, even just one day.

First, I apologize for the lack of posting. I'll be typing a post and bam, homework appears in front of me to be graded.

The most memorable day I've had so far was this past week where I had 3 fights take place in front of me (2 I broke up).

Right after the fights I spoke with an administrator. Even more upsetting than the fights was this conversation. It started off talking about a student and his schedule. What it turned into was an attempt to teach me about teaching.

I understand that this gentleman has years of experience as a PE teacher. Beyond that, I know he has years experience as an assistant principal. But let me tell you, that does not make you an amazing teacher.

His words were rough to hear -- so harsh that I wanted to either cry or scream at him. (I'm not a violent person, but I honestly thought -- who is this dude and how dare he care so little for these kids?)

Okay, so you're probably wondering what he said to make me so upset. Well, the first part of the conversation had to do with my students keeping their disciplinary forms. Originally my thought was that they should keep my discipline documentation in their math folders so that I could simply grab it from them when they violated the rules. This was recommended to me by one of the veteran teachers at the school. It hasn't worked, so I've made other arrangements to hold onto them myself in my file cabinet.

Now, when I told this to my AP what did he say? "Mr. Wright -- how long have you been in Mississippi?". "3 months," I answered. "And how long have you been around black children?" he asks. My heart stopped because it's clear where that was going.

For the record, my AP is black as well. I told him "Well, sir, 3 months." He looks at me and says "Well, in a black school, especially a black inner-city school, you won't get things back."

My breath was taken away. Did my AP just tell me that since my children are black and from inner-city that they can be expected to bring things back to school?

I'm sorry, but he just gave ever student in my school that is 99.9% black an excuse to not bring things back to school.

Then I spoke to him about my students needing remedial skills. We recently took Academy of Math tests that told us at what grade level students are on for math skills. I have some students on a 1st grade level and only 3, out of my 70, students that are on grade level. Before the tests I was analyzing my students abilities through our lessons and quizzes. It's clear that they all need help with addition and subtraction.

So, I told my AP that I don't allow them to use calculators in my class to build up their skills. He responds, "Stop stop stop -- Teachable Moment -- What I would have done is told them to take out their phones and to open a calculator app. Then they could use technology to learn"

Excuse me? Pull out a calculator to do -4 + 5? How is a calculator going to help them learn a subtraction skill? They can't see the calculator thinking it through, they can't see anything but the answer.

It felt like a punch in the stomach. He had the audacity to hold our students to a low standard of never learning subtraction. Do we want our kids coming out of school and not being able to tell me how much change they get from buying a Snicker's Bar?

I felt ever stronger about my high expectations after hearing these words from one of my APs. He told me that he was excited about my enthusiasm and that he's seen great teaching from the teachers that he's observed. But, all I could think was "You better not visit my classroom, because there won't be a seat for you if you think my kids can't achieve my expectations -- That means you don't meet my expectations for my classroom and you must leave."

Anyway, I've also had some AMAZING support from fellow teachers, other APs and my Principal. I have a lot of pressure to achieve great things because I've set myself up with high expectations and shared them with so many people. When you share your thoughts and feelings, people expect you to keep up with them. This has held me accoutable.

If I could ever tell TFA-ers to do one thing it would be to share your vision and expectations for your students with your Principal, APs and fellow teachers. Make sure that they're excited to see your achievements because you'll be excited about the expectations and every bit of progress and feedback to achieve them.

Everywhere I've gone, I've shared the high expectations I have for my kids, and the kids of those whom I speak with.

Ms. Gilbert from the library is one of my biggest supporters and she's always asking how it goes in school the moment I step into the library.

Share your Visions. Share your High Expectations.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I just completed my first Monday of the school year... I made it.

My first Monday meant waking up at 4:45am to get ready for a 5:00am run with a co-teacher. Getting ready for the day and being at school by 7:45am, but preferably 7:00am. Teaching straight for 5 hours and then finally getting a break for lunch. Heading home around 5:00pm is the goal.

My first day was Friday but I only had about 50% of my students and I was told they would be all my "good" students.

Today was Monday, I had my "real" students. They are great! No, they're not perfect and yes, they like to act out of line. But I'm working on them. My favorite student was sent to the "discipline chair" because he acted out too many times. He's not bad by any means, but talking without raising your hand and writing on my desk, although small, do mean disrespect in my class.

I want to start the year off stronge. I'm lucky enough to be receiving constant support and advice from veteran teachers. My principal is all about new teaching energy and innovation in teaching methods.

I truly feel that the saying "I am the Teacher. It is my classroom" means something for me in my school!

I couldn't have wished for a better situation and to be working in a school where I feel like I can truly reach these students.

It's day 2 and I know there will be days of exhaustion. My goal is to constantly remind myself that they are kids, I am here to promote their learning. There are things I can't change, but I'm in control of my classroom. If I teach them the rules early, we will succeed. If they realize why they're in my classroom, we'll succeed.

Tomorrow I'll post a picture of my 3 classes' "Why 100%" pictures. They're striving for 100% and giving 100% for a variety of reasons and they're now showcasing it in our hallway!

Continuing the positivity into every day. Step by step, my students and I will succeed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Trouble in Paradise?

I have been internet-less and roommate-less over the past week. I'm going stir-crazy, but that means whenever I run into people I get a little zany. All I have been doing is trying to plan for this upcoming year... it's hard to do without internet. So, instead, I've been reading "Coming of Age in Mississippi." It's a truly moving story about Anne Moody's childhood through adult-hood years. For the first time ever I've felt angry about how blacks were treated in the South (and even partially at fault). Being from Massachusetts, I've been so sheltered from the facts. Yes, I know segregation existed and "still" exists, but to me in MA 'still' was a contextual term that didn't apply where I was from. Now that I'm in Mississippi where it has all happened, I can't neglect the realities of what happened. Walking past the old Greyhound Station in downtown Jackson (which isn't much of a downtown compared to Northern cities... sadness) is a memorable moment. Seeing rundown historic areas is even more indicative of the sort of culture around black history in the south. Farish St. - probably the most historic street in Jackson - is completely run down with boarded up houses and closed businesses. I think I saw 2 open buildings for the 30-40 I saw that were falling to pieces. I finished Anne Moody's autobiography today and I can tell you that I refuse to let the gaps in humane treatment to persist. There's no sense in people receiving less care because of any part of their being (be it race, sex, sexual orientation or any of those characteristics we all hear yet never remember) Anyway, no - there is no real trouble in Paradise.. just being without internet service and roommates is making me go crazy. Oh, and not being able to walk as much as I'd like! I'll give you an update on my school travels soon (the next time I happen to pop into the coffee shop!). Brief snapshot: I love my school, I love my teachers, I love my principal and I'm sure I will love my students when they show up on the 10th! Yesssss.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Beliefs to Live and Teach By.

Students learn through exploration, challenge, and dialogue.

So often we forget that students have dreams. Each child has at some point looked up to somebody as who they want to be. Each child has at some point thought about being a certain profession when they grow up. Some children have lost this. Students are trying to have fun when they're messing around and as adults we look at them as needing to grow up. How do we expect children to grow up if they're not given the chance to explore and discover? Challenging students to participate in activities of discovery promotes growth. The dialogue that students have amongst each other and share with family/friends furthers their understanding of the world around them. Students should be given the opportunity to explore, challenge, and converse as they need to create a path for themselves "grow up" and become adults.

My students are able to solve problems, given the opportunity.

Doesn't this go back to exploring and challenging? If I don't give my students the chance to think about a solution, of course they will never reach that conclusion. When I teach material and teach a process, I'm robbing my students of the intellectual growth of an opportunity. As adults, we look for opportunities to solve problems. Lack of household income - find a job. Miss your best friend in England - Skype them. No matter the situation, we are always looking for solutions. Kids must be given the chance to also learn how to problem solve. It is within a free context that the most creative answers are produced. With different ways to solve a problem, the more unique perspectives and better answers.

Math is based on concrete principles made abstract.

One of the most intriguing things that I've heard today is that "Math is abstract. You don't walk around the world seeing 2s like you do chairs." This is wholly true but we are founding our desire for abstract math upon the concrete principles that we are trying to solve. For example, we needed math to build the Hoover Dam. We could have created a unique mathematical principle for the Hoover Dam to prevent cracking at the Dam's particular size and the amount of water it will hold. From that principle, we can then take it out of context and apply those concepts to more abstract situations around the world. This is how discover in the real world. We look for examples and ask questions about that specific circumstance. Why are beehives shaped a certain way? Why do arches hold so much weight? From that point of discovery we then apply the same concepts abstractly. It's beautiful. Stone Arches are some of the longest surviving structures of nature... and now some of the longest existing bridges were built with arches.

Math is a body of knowledge, not a checklist of skills.

This is hotly debated. You needs skills to do math. True, necessary, but definitely not sufficient. If math was strict skill, we would not be able to apply addition and subtraction to every situation we come across. I wouldn't be able to balance a check-book because I was never taught. I can add my money in my pocket, but I can't track how much money is in my bank account. Knowledge is the ability to use skills in different contexts. We look at knowledge as abstract, but it is only abstract because it is applicable widely. Math is useful in everything we do, therefore is must be knowledge. That knowledge is supported by the skill that is required to actually perform the action we need to accomplish (If I know we need to subtract 3 from negative 5, I have to know how to actually perform the action versus just say it is necessary in my situation)

Math is beautiful, useful, and exciting.

I think most people have the biggest issue with this complex. We're raised in a society where we were taught PEMDAS, FOIL, SOHCAHTOA... acronyms by which to remember how to perform operations. We're forced to memorize these, otherwise we will not succeed. The truth is that math is so much more than these mundane, sometimes useful, sayings. Let's anaylze the beauty of math. Take a look at this picture:

Beyond your inclination to say "I don't like cities" or "I love the city. OMG So Pretty"... What is beautiful about it? The sky-high buildings? The lights that showcase the calm streets? Is it the calm, tree-lined streets?

Would it have been possible to build this city without math? The beauty of it all was founded on ideas that required math to develop. Every additional level on a building required engineering to prevent collapse, financing to ensure completion and even architecture to develop beautiful structures.

Math's uses turn into beautiful things. We can envision every swipe of the pen(cil) on the paper as one more movement toward beautiful creations.

The utility is clear. With math we create living spaces, we create movement in the world and even more now-a-days, we see the need to calculate our remaining resources and developing solutions to prolong depleting our nature.

Every advancement is exciting. "New Drug Prevents Death From Over-Caffeination" (I'm hoping they develop this for my sake). Our lives are getting increasingly better and we are living better and better. We see happiness as we raise the levels of those around us. Happiness breeds happiness, which breeds excitement for more happiness. It's a loop, but nonetheless a useful one.

My commitment:

My commitment rests on how I will use all of these beliefs to better those lives of my students in context of math. My commitment is to use beauty in every lesson, to allow students to develop knowledge and to never forget my students are young adults waiting to grow by bounds and bounds. I will give them the chance to explore, create solutions and create more beauty in the world. You can see this in my vision for my students and the discussion-based method of teaching I will use in class. I'll post that vision in a few hours after I complete it more.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Story - In a "now" context

Today we have sessions. It's the start of our Orientation into our content areas. For the next three and a half days, we will be learning how to use our visions of our classroom to be great math teachers.

In our first session, we were asked to figure out our story. A story that has a strong lead character, one that has an inciting moment, and ends with a conflict that frames the story. After thinking out loud throughout the session, we've been commissioned to write a story that reflects who we are, why we are here and the context of our story in the now considering we just ended Institute.

So here it goes:

5 weeks ago, I started on a journey. This journey was new, exciting, yet nerve wrecking. I was going to become a teacher to young adults that I had never met with a group of fellow Corp Members that I had never spoken with.

Days came and went, bonds grew and waned and conversations blossomed and faded. Ultimately, I finished my 5 weeks of training and endured the 4 weeks of teaching during that time.

How did I see the world during this time? A whole load differently. For the first time, I was no longer in a predominately white suburb or city. I am now in areas that are nearly all black.

I faced teaching kids that have grown up with biases that have put them at disadvantages. These same kids were often given excuses for their low performance and passed to the next grade.

I taught day in day out, analyzing my performance in front of my students. Each one deserved my attention and each one had a difference need. I calculated my lesson plans as best as possible at the same time I decided to experiment with my kids' abilities. I taught by lecturing on Day 1, I gave guided notes and moved around the room on Day 2. By week 4 of teaching I had used games, student-led discussion and rigorous questioning to get my students to learn.

My kids led me through hoops of non-participation to over-talking. Each warranting a different reaction, but I was still learning. Facing the challenges I knew that my students would learn from me, but that they would give me so much more in return.

I now question why every student in my classroom says they will go to college. Are they going for themselves or are they going for their parents whom have forced this idea upon them? I question why my students are reacting to my lessons in certain ways and I ponder the effectiveness of the same lessons. Are they rowdy because my game is fun or because they're disinterested? Are they even learning from my notes and activities?

Ultimately, I have come to see that these are issues that everyday, as a teacher, I will question and plan for. No new day will be the same as a previous one. The brutality of reality can be hard for some to bear, but these are moments that we are given to question our own abilities and how we can master our skills.

I must use every ounce of wit, every ounce of charm and every ounce of common sense to out-run, out-smart and out-perform these students. I must use every chance of growth, every chance of acknowledging weaknesses, and every chance of using strengths to get my students to bloom and prosper.

I foresee triumphs of students learning and getting A's. I desire to see that day that my students understand that I am firm and challenging so that they can learn. I will succeed at developing my classroom in many different ways after facing challenges.

My story is that I have seen some of these challenges, I have questioned my perceptions and I have made adjustments in course of teaching. A strong lead character must be charismatic, energetic and relatable. Challenges must have an end and triumphs must live on. Each of these together, over the course of 4 weeks in teaching have taught me a lot and over the course of the year my story will change as I see more challenges that lead my to change my trajectory and work harder for my larger goals in teaching and as part of a movement toward quality education systems.

I look forward to using every resource as a means to better myself, my school, my community and my students.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Testing Day - Testing my skills or the student's learning?

It's been a while since I last posted... I'm hoping to pick up speed... Scratch that... I will pick up speed.

As part of Teach For America, it's no longer about the coulds and shoulds, it's about the I wills and I musts.

I will start blogging more. I will teach my students to the best of my ability.

I'm excited after these past 5 weeks to see what my students have learned. As you could guess from the title of the post, today is testing day. In fact, my first student just finished his test... Yes, I should be correcting it, but I also need to write this blog because I'm slacking.

A lot of people will give me slack for not writing because "I've been so busy teaching." or "I must be exhausted every day." To be honest, I've been having the time of my life.

Don't get me wrong, teaching is not easy. Teaching can be fun though. For me, it was the teaching mixed with the learning that has made Teach For America Institute (training) so much fun.

Everyday, I went into my classroom thinking about how I could better serve my students. There have been days where I just felt that my students weren't getting it and others that my students were making strides. Even though my students were getting 30s, 60s, and the occasional 100s on our end-of-day exit tickets, I knew there was a lot of work to do.

Test day is over... (I got distracted by a student asking a question)... The scores are in. There was a lot of excitement all over the school. "Oh my student made 99% progress toward his growth goal!", "My student made 85% toward her growth goal!"...

I understand that people are excited. I'm proud of my students as well! One student scored 105% of her growth goal, another 97.8% of his. The list goes on of the positive growth that my students have made.

Let me be honest, though. I'm not satisfied. I'm a part of Teach For America to hold my students to the highest degree of rigor possible and I expect the highest scores from my students. It is great that we give them a goal to achieve for our 3 weeks of learning based upon past statistics, but I do not believe in growth goals. My student that scored 105% of her growth goal scored a 58 on her test. How dare I hold her to the expectation of getting a 58 on a test?! She should be scoring a 100 on the test. Regardless of where she started we need to hold true to our motto of holding high expectations. We're here for 3 weeks and I will hold my students to the high standard for those 3 weeks. They learned a lot, but they could have learned so much more if every person was committed not to the 58, but to the 100.

Like I said, I'm so proud of the progress my students have made. My students tried hard on this test. They deserved a 100 on the test for effort, but they didn't have the expectation of getting a 100.

Let's backtrack a little, this was a test of my students knowledge, but more importantly of how well I taught my students. Understandably I've been teaching for a total of 16 days this summer. In 16 days we saw my students grow so much and I am proud. I have learned just as much if not more from my students.

I look forward to moving forward to my full-time position at Lanier High School in Jackson, MS. I'll start August 7 and I will teach Algebra I and Compensatory Math II (Pre-Algebra). I'm going to my students to the highest standard possibly. They are in school to learn for themselves - to unlock the golden doors of their freedom. Their successes will be my successes, their failures will be my failures. Ultimately though, I will be the one to push them as far as they can go. I expect all my students to get 100s in my class. I will document their growth to prove to everyone that they can and they did. I will show the world that if you give students a high expectation and goal, they will meet it.

There is a brilliant child locked in every student. Marva Collins

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week 1 Institute - It's over?; Oh wait, 3 more weeks.

Howdy Y'all.

Yes, y'all is a southern thing but I've been enjoying the word for years. Now that I'm actually in the South I get fewer odd looks and more positive responses. Nice change.

It's been a week of Institute. We got our students, or as many of us (not me) call them, our "babies". I guess that's another southern thing.

On Monday, we were all very nervous because most of us had never taught before. Even those that majored in education, worked with kids in tutoring programs and those whom have student taught were nervous. Yet, it was an exciting day. We were going to put a face to the names we had tried learning for the past few days. "Tazarius" "Damarius""Briana" "Briana".... Is it just me or do all the names sound the same or are the same?

To say the least, it wasn't easy the first day to match up all the names. Those that sounded super similar were the hardest.

We gave a diagnostic test the first day so it eased our transition into the classroom. There was no real teaching, just testing to see where our students were in our content.

For me, the fun part were the activities my teaching team (the 4 of us) decided to do after their first exam in Math. Since I have given them that first test, laid down the law and monitored their efforts to complete the exam, I was also given the first chance to show my lighter side.

We decided to play a name game since no one had known each other previously and it would be a great way to lighten the mood while getting students out of their seats. Our game? -- The Zombie Name Game. Kids in a circle being chased by a zombie who wants whosever name was called. It was fun, especially once the kids started to warm up.

Unlike most teachers in our summer schools in MS, I teach everyday due to my subject and grade level (Entering 9th Grade Math). The next day, after our diagnostic, I had to teach at 8am. No, I wasn't giving another test... I was actually teaching. The true moment to see if I can help my students learn.

The hardest part about Teach For America and getting up in front of the classroom as anew teacher is that you want to be you're best, but you're a teacher in training.

No, my first day wasn't horrible. In fact, I think my kids learned a little about something, although definitely not all that I wanted them to learn -- or rather, they hadn't necessarily mastered the skills I wanted them to.

I was the first teacher that my CMA (Corps Member Advisor) had observed that week. After observation in the classroom, he holds a debrief to go over where I can improve and what I did well. Later that day, the moment came and boy was I nervous.

He shared with me that I have the respect of my students, they listen to me, and that I have a great presence as a teacher (teacher voice and all). Where I needed to improve was my teaching methods. Standing at the board to write out math problems with the kids? Ineffective. Standing at the board, writing notes for them, and not checking to make sure they are writing them down? Ineffective.

Yes, I felt like a failure. I wanted to go in and be a superstar for my students. Not for my own authentication of ability, but for the best learning environment for my students.

Best part, being the first observed and the first debriefed I was able to take everything my CMA said and build it into my lesson for the next day.

After that first day of teaching, which was tough emotionally (not that I was said, I just wanted to be so much better), the week was amazing. Everyday got better and better. My students became more engaged. Everyone (except one).

The feeling to know that your class likes what you're doing, that your class is learning (seen in exit assessments) and to have their respect; honestly an amazing feeling.

No, my classroom is not perfect. It's the furthest thing from perfect still, but it's improve immensely from the first day. Not only am I enjoying myself, but I'd like to think that my students are enjoying themselves and that they are learning.

Next week, I'm excited to get my students up and out of their seats more often. It's not always about lecturing about students... actually, it never is. It's about getting them moving so their brains get exercise and so do their bodies. If they're having fun, if they're competing, and most importantly, if they're smiling... they're learning.

Of course, there are always chances to have fun. For me, I have daily fun, but for a lot of people they aren't. BUT, by fun I mean going out or playing a sport. This past week we boring for me because no one else had the time to play volleyball or the likes because they "had so much to do." To be honest, I get all my work done early every day, with enough time to decompress or do something I'd like -- as well as taking a nap, and I teach everyday (unlike most of these teachers). I'd like to see my corps members grow this summer to the point where we all have an easy time teaching and making lessons so we can all have fun together.

Every Thursday my CMA group (a group of 12 corp members and our CMA) go out. Every Friday we go hard out at the "clubs" and bars. Let's just say my weekend starts Thursday and I have fun all weekend.

I'm going to try to break up these long posts by day, and make smaller posts from now on. It'll be easier to follow my own life and make it more interesting for all y'all to follow my timeline.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Instititute - Day 3: One Day At A Time

Institute started on Monday with classroom site visits and sessions at our schools. As I'm sure everyone would guess, we were all nervous to see what lay ahead!

Our schools ranged in distance from an hour away to 5 minutes away. Depending on your distance you got on the buses between 6:00 and 6:50am. I lucked out and was placed in East Side High School in Cleveland, MS -- the same town that our Institute is held.

During our days so far we have learned some very basic things -- For Example, the achievement gap is consistently stressed but so is the progress that can be made. We're taught not to bring in our outside biases into conflicts in the classroom to ensure that our students excel.

We had Welcoming Ceremonies after the first full day of work and represented our areas through cheer competitions. Out of the 7 regions represented at Institute Training the MS Delta (my region) has the largest representation. We all sat in the back of the auditorium so when we started cheering everyone looked back and saw half of the trainees yelling and screaming and throwing up some Delta hand signs.

Although Institute is rumored to be one of the hardest experiences, it so far has been super enjoyable. I've met so many people from all over Teach For America's regions (Appalachia, Memphis, Southern Louisiana, Louisiana Delta, and more!).

My Corps Member Advisor, who leads us in our development through trainings and observations with feedback, is Harold. He is the man. He looked at us on Day One and said,

"You will not work past 8pm. There is no need for that to happen. My goal is to be in bed by 10pm and that's because you will submitting things for my review at 8pm. But also, some CMs like to take breaks in the middle of the day. We will work from 7:30am until 8pm so that you have the rest of the time free."

This is contrary to some CMAs who aim to put in every last hour into work, when it's really about working smarter not harder.

At this point, it's important for you to note that my Institute experience will be different than somes'. First, I don't do stress -- it's just not my thing. Secondly, I have lucked out extremely. Not only do I summer teach in a school 5 minutes away from Institute, but I also have the best CMA who is teaching us the proper material in a smart way AND I have the best subject (math) which makes it easier to do things systematically.

Ultimately, I want to take my excess energy from my Institute Days and put them back into Institute through providing support to other CMs and making sure that we keep our community healthy. These days will be hard, long and tiring, but these days will be filled with growth, excitement and new experiences.

I have made the personal choice to also try to stay healthy myself. For the last week and a half, my MS Delta CMs have continued to bond over sports. I find myself regularly picking up a volleyball, frisbee, football or putting on my running shoes. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I wake up at 4:30am (far before I need to wake up) and head out for a run with other CMs. At night after Institute, we all just find others to go to the courts or the field. The experience has been amazing because I've never been around so many sport fans, or physically active people. I look forward to eventually getting the beach body (even if I'll never have the time for the beach!).

Every day is a new day with more content to learn, but it's been hugely valuable for me to take it all in and put my hands into the dirty work.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Induction - Day 2: Jackson isn't in the Delta?!

Man, every day so far (it's only been two) has been amazing for many many reasons but ultimately it's because the other Delta corps members (CMs) and their constant excitement and banter with me that has made these few days easy. My roommate and I, both teaching in Jackson, MS are able to hash out all our thoughts and ideas about the Delta and what it might be like in Jackson. We're all normal people and the majority of CMs that I have met don't think we're superheroes and we understand that we'll have shortfalls in this upcoming summer and two years.

Now, I'm not going to keep talking about how amazing everyone is. Y'all understand that TFA hires a specific type of person and conveniently, we all get a long. I'd like to talk about Po' Monkey though...

Po' Monkey?

Why, yes, Po' Monkey.

Po' Monkey (actually Poor Monkey, but we're in the South and nothing sounds like it's spelled) is a local bar with real people from the Delta area. It's small, maybe the size of your kitchen, or maybe the size of your living room (whichever is about 15' x 25'). The dance floor was even smaller, I swear it was the size of your bathroom. Mhm, that's means you don't have room to breath unless you're standing on that toilet.

In all reality, it's a small place (here's a link to a little 3 minute video about Po' Monkey! I've already re-watched several times since I love it)

The reason I bring up Po' Monkey is because I had fun real southerners. Yes, they might have been in their early 30s or perhaps older but to dance with them was truly a great experience. One black lady had never seen a white boy shake it and ultimately I became the first white boy to dance with her. It's a different world people. We've got to make the new community also see our true selves (with some boundaries in a cultural context).

Po' Monkey gave a shout out to the TFA Delta CMs and made us feel welcomed. It was amazing to be new to the area and already be taking in this staple of MS culture. Did I mention the stuffed animal monkey's hanging from every crevice in the ceiling? Yup, I danced with them too, but mostly because I was too tall.

The nitty-gritty of my day in Induction? Sessions have been some real defining moments to start my experience in the Delta. We're were challenged to think about how pop-culture portrays the Delta (Kenny Chesney's - She Thinks My Tractors Sexy, or O Brother Where Art Thou?). We visited a school in several counties, mine which was Quitman County Elementary School. And we were asked to think about ourselves as growth mindsets rather than fixed mindsets.

During my visit to the elementary school, we met some amazing little cheerleaders who were the first Black squad to win the state championship and then went on to become the 8th best squad in the world. This squad was started by a TFA corps member. It was amazing to talk with these youngins' and to start a little competition of "Who has the best Cheerleading Jumps -- Joshua, a tall (getting older) guy from MA, or the girls who placed 8th in the world" I'm happy to announce that the girls won, but it was amazing to be able to connect to some students already and to get not only them but their current coach (who isn't TFA) excited about us all coming into their communities by sharing our similarities and connecting!

The panel that spoke to us shared that we are part of their community, but only as much as we try. We are different, we will get weird looks, we will be asked who we are and why we're in the MS Delta because we clearly aren't locals. They explained that this provides us an opportunity to bring students a new perspective, to open their eyes and expose them to new things and people. But it's not just the students, but we're a challenge for the communities to open up as well since many communities have members that have never left the South and don't know anything different. Although we were told that we can make change in the community, our panel said we can only make this change through becoming something larger than the TFA community and something smaller than our community which is the local one. To be a part of such a large movement, I believe some people forget about the smaller communities that we are moving into and looking to become a part of it. We shouldn't forget that we're moving into their home. We're brining new things to their place of work, play and learning. Being different gives us the ability to strike up conversations in the coffee shops and bring new joy to people in our areas. And we must do just that -- already prevent ourselves from becoming self-contained and look to be a part of something more important, a community.

Along the same lines, growth mindsets are a way of thinking that intelligence can grow if you try hard enough. Fixed mindsets are believing that intelligence is innate and can not grow. We all come into TFA believing that our children are growth beings, but I think a lot of TFA CMs forget that we too must be growth beings (those of growth mindsets) if we are to actually do well and make progress toward our goal. We come in with great experiences, but hardly any of us have experience in the classroom and those of us that do still don't know what is best for their future students. This means that we must think of ourselves as people that will grow through failure and acceptance -- moments of pure bliss and complete strife in the classroom. I'm hoping I see a lot of my fellow CMs start to look at themselves as always learning and still naive so that they can make strides in intelligence just like our kids, but for the betterment of our teaching for those kids.

Lastly, we will face challenges that our communities will sometimes have fixed mindsets. They'll believe that there is no way out of this education inequity because they are so used to it. They've been primed to believe that their intelligence is stuck and so is their future -- to return to the Delta where there is no economic powerhouse that shares in and promotes the growth. Unfortunately, most towns and cities employ more people in their school systems than any other area. There are no factories and if there are one or two, they're in rich suburbs that attracted them due to the already sustaining wealth. I can't way to see my area in Jackson go from fixed to growth and to bring together my community.

Jackson, MS may not be in the Delta technically but they suffer from the same things. It's the perfect time for a new corps of 43 people to go into the schools since Jackson is finally opening up to TFA. But it's still young in the city and there are many people that don't know what we are doing and some that may believe we are hurting their children. We have the chance, in Jackson, to change the perception of education and TFA and to push students up toward success but hopefully bring them back to the Delta to make further change beyond my time. There are a of thoughts about my placement in Jackson that I'll talk about in another blog post because I'm still developing my perceptions of my placement but I'm happy to say that I'm more excited than ever through talking with formed CMs that were the original corps in 08!

Until my next dance off!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Induction - Day 1: Maybe I'm Ready!

So today was the first day of induction. As one of the TFA staff members put it, "the first full day as a Teach For America Corps Member."

Yesterday was a little more overwhelming than I expected. Sometimes it's hard to find connections and relation points with people that are so diverse that you're not sure why you are in the same room. Ultimately, we all in TFA have a similarity which has acted out as a starting point for further connections and that is our commitment to TFA and closing the gap of education inequity.

Today it was more of the same connection forming with more people from even more diverse settings. In the corps we have blacks, whites, asians, indians, and every other race. We have males and females and probably some transgender persons (though I have not met them). These things though are only primary diversity factors. What makes the most sense is to bond with each other over secondary diversity factors that are more personal and not obvious from the first visual analysis of our peers. These characteristics include learning style, humor, ideologies and even things much less important like income. Regardless of my preconceptions, it has been amazing to meet so many unique individuals.

Throughout our sessions today, we focused on Diversity & Inclusiveness and Movements. It was challenging to think about things more closely, to face more realities about the disparities but what the most difficult part about the discussions were the need to face our own personal beliefs and misconceptions that have been guiding our views in (sometimes) the wrong way.

I won't bore y'all (yes, I'm picking up a southern twang and words after one day) so I'd just like to give an example of a couple of exercises and meaningful pieces of discussion today.

What priorities in this fight seem most important for you? How will you hold onto them in the midst of day-to-day pressures?
The biggest priority for me is to believe in the kids, to know that they are excited and ready to learn. We often lost hope, respect and belief in people when we repeatedly see a lack of commitment or respect. But we must know that it is our perseverance in believing in the students and creating stronger community of higher pressures that will ultimately push them further. Ignoring the problem will not solve the problem, it is pursuing a solution and fighting the internalized externalities that will create progress.
In the midst of the time, we will face hard times, but by becoming part of my community, I will be forced to hold myself accountable while so many others look to me to help them.

We ended the day by reading the Legacies of former and current corps members. These aren't legacies that were actually left, but what corps members thought they wanted to leave behind after their first, second or further years. Below is what I believe to be my Legacy Mindset:

"By the end of my first year... I want to see and know there is a an increased commitment to learning from my students. I want to have a classroom structured where students don't need to raise their hands because they are respectful and a classroom where students will help their peers when they understand the material better. A culture breeding respect and kindness combined with commitment will pave the way toward successful academia for my students.

By the end of my second year... I want my students to be excited to come to school and that they are making strides toward college. I want my students to know that they can pursue their dreams by completing their education and to realize that their opportunities will be severely limited if they don't. I'll still leave the decision to them but I want all my students to make the right one to stay in school.

By the time I leave the classroom... I want my students to have a community within the larger community that spreads respect, joy and a love of forward-looking ideas."

Even though it has been a long first day, a lot of the TFA group found enough energy to go out to Pub Trivia to celebrate our new-found friendships that will surely last forever. Now that I'm home, and my team lost the trivia, I have decided it is in the best interests of everyone that I get some rest... I like my (so-far) good reputation with the TFA 2012 Corps.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finally Arrived - Not Sure I'm Ready

Today was the day that I arrived at Delta State University where the next 5 weeks will be filled with a lot of learning and a lot of people.

On my way to Induction/Institute/Orientation, I visited family in MI and TN and met up with a bunch of Delta TFA Corps Members in Memphis. We had a couple nights in the city and enjoyed ourselves before, what will be, 5 weeks of intensity.

Now that I am in the Delta, I'm realizing that my life will be drastically different than what I have known. Although I will be teaching in Jackson Public Schools, a Southern city is nothing like a New England city. There is a lot of land and fewer people. There are no skyscrapers but there are a lot of cotton fields. I'm feeling the magic of the south but it is tiresome to take in so much.

As one of the first to arrive at Delta State at 10am, I have already met dozens of people and have needed two naps. Our dorm rooms have been filled with carloads of stuff that we all assumed we would need. Toothbrushes, shorts, laptops and surely our pre-institute homework.

In one hour our Induction will begin with a Welcome Ceremony and then dinner in the quadrangle of DSU. There's a lot of buzz around the dorms with people getting to know each other and trying to make new friends. Ultimately it's Freshmen year of college all over again, except we're all motivated to make change in our small world. Together, starting tonight we will start to share our stories as to why we want to make change, why we chose to be a part of the TFA movement, and how we see ourselves reaching the kids that we are about to teach.

This summer will be hard, but I'm sure it will be rewarding. All of us will feed off of the energy of others while we struggle to make sense of everything that we will be learning.

I'll try to keep everyone updated over the next few weeks but you'll probably read a lot of babbling from late-night banter.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Teach For America - Just The Beginning

A Boston University Graduate

A Future Law Student

A Future Senator


Somehow along the path to my dreams of being a lawyer and Senator, I've come across the great opportunity to teach students in disadvantaged areas with Teach For America.

I've never realized how well respected and known Teach For America is until I traveled beyond Boston University's campus. Of course current BU students and recent graduates know what TFA is -- they heavily recruit on campus and send thousands of unwanted e-mails every year to students like me. The difference I have realized though is that no matter whom I talk with outside of the BU college environment, they still know what TFA is and the competitiveness of the program. Every person seems impressed and congratulates me and shares in my excitement. Each encounter makes me more honored to be a part of the program.

On June 5th, 2012 I will be moving into a dormitory at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS to start an intensive 5-week intensive summer training program. I'll learn how to manage a classroom, control outbursts of student behavior and ultimately, how to teach. All of us training will wake up at 4am or 5am, travel to schools across the state to teach, observe and learn about classrooms. We return to Delta State to build our skills through lessons taught by TFA staff members. After prepping for class the next day, we hit the sac to get (hopefully) a few hours of sleep.

I'm beyond excited to get down to the Mississippi Delta. (different than the Mississippi River Delta) There are just so many similar motivated people in the Teach For America program that I can't wait to grow from their excitement and passion to end education inequalities in the country. Together we will make a difference and I look forward to the journey. It will be two years of intense growth, sacrifice and relentless commitment before my time comes to an end with Teach For America, but I plan on making it as fun as possible!

I hope that you follow me on this journey as I'm going to reach into so many different adventures -- not just teaching, but hopefully owning a house, becoming a landlord and developing an understanding of Southern culture. As usual, I promise to try my hardest to update often. If you see me slacking, reach out to me and kick me in the butt!