* Thanks to the fellows who have posted various pics.
* Special thanks to Gabrielle who mentions she’s a reader.
* Another special shout out to my friend Carolyn. We both were Americorps VISTAs for YouthBuild USA in Boston. Now we’re both teachers. I’m in NYC, and she’s half-way across the globe in Armenia. If you’re interested in Peace Corps you should definitely check her blog out – http://cnrwampeter.blogspot.com
Here it is the Sunday before we go back to school and I have a ton of things to do tonight just to be barely prepared to face the full day tomorrow. I feel like this right now:
And this is what I have to do before I goto sleep to feel ok tomorrow:
1 page essay about racial equality (grad school)
Update my blog (personal)
Create discussion questions about instructional differentiation for an activity (grad school)
Create my Just Words powerpoint/lesson (school)
YouthBuild collaboration email (school)
Student A IEP Follow up (from me to staff)
Student B IEP Follow up (from me to staff)
Student C IEP Information Request (from me to staff)
Student D IEP Information Request (from another Sped teacher to me)
This is the frustrating part of this fellowship. I haven’t be able to not work for quite some time. Exhaustion doesn’t really describe what I feel right now. I feel tired. I feel drained. I feel like I can’t give anymore of myself. Since June 5th, or whenever we started the fellowship I’ve experienced increasing responsibility and expectations from my graduate program, my high school, myself, my peers, myself, myself , and myself.
There’s a million things I always need to be doing to ensure a borderline passable education for my students every second of the day. It’s a really tough responsibility. But I decided to take on this challenge and am here, strong almost 9 months into the experience. With every success comes multiple setbacks in and around the classroom. But I don’t think I could trust my students development in anyone else’s hands. Already we’ve had two teachers leave our school mid trimester. The effect has been devastating to the teachers and administration. I personally have had to pick up two additional classes that I am responsible for overseeing. If ever there was a time when I was barely wading the water it would be right now.
I’m not complaining. I’m merely sharing the reality of my situation which may or may not be similar to yours… but I can only imagine that it will be in some way(s). I’m naturally equipped to do this work. It bothers me when I have negative interactions with my students. It bothers me when I think about teachers who have left this program or teaching prematurely. We’ve had quite a few people leave the fellowship all together. This shit is hard as fuck. I mean right now, I’m taking a break to blog. But I once I’m done I anticipate that I’ll be working at least until 1am to get everything done that I need to. And that’s with me already feeling like death. Right now I’m drinking a beer Modelo Especial to be exact. Just to take my mind off sheer vastness of my to do list(s) on a daily basis. Right now I’m eating Flipz and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because spending time making real meals just isn’t really the best use of my time. And hasn’t been since I applied to this fellowship.
I’ve said this a million times. I want t be GREAT at this. I want to be a great Educator. I want to be someone who can inspire hundreds/thousands/ and millions of people. It seems undoable. But its really not if you persevere. I mean the number of people I reach is truly unimportant. But pushing myself to show people that they are great has been and will forever be my goal. Today I watched Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech. What does it take to empower people to take their destinies into their own hands? What does it take to show people that they come from greatness and must continue to require greatness from themselves and those around them?
…. I have to get back to work now. But the reason I need to be a teacher is because I want my students to see that I am pushing myself to my own greatness. I don’t know how, but I want that drive for something better and greater in myself to rub off on them. That is what my teaching is really all about. Yes there’s the academics that they must learn and understand. But there’s a greater journey out there that they need to connect with as well… Hopefully I can highlight that path for them sooner rather than later.
One thing I want to focus on with my teaching is continuing to develop new methods to connect and engage my students. Right now I think I have really begun internalizing how to make academic content more appealing to the eye. My powerpoints have been my own form of art so to speak. But I don’t want to rely on just that. I can’t rely on my seemingly laidback and open lines of communication with my students. My goal for the remainder of the school year is to differentiate my own teaching. Switch it up, try new(er) things. Blah… everytime I speak about this I feel like I’m running in circles. I don’t know where the weekend went. But, its time to start the cycle all over again.
Its 3am and I already know I shouldn’t try to go back to sleep right now. Lets document what goes on today –
Thursday, February 21, 2013
I woke up at 10pm last night. I had a pretty rough Wednesday. I felt anxious/anxiety all day. Today was our first day back after a 4-day weekend. What was supposed to be our Winter Break, cut short because of the days re-instated after Hurricane Sandy shut schools down for a week this fall. I sat in bed until about 3am. Thinking and not thinking. I finally formulated the idea that I wasn’t satisfied. I can’t pinpoint exactly what. But I think its varying combinations of not being happy with where my students are academically, not being sure what impact I’m having with my students, not feeling in control of life right now, and just being a little overwhelmed and under enthused about life right now.
Luckily, I stumbled upon a clip of Tyler Perry on Facebook. I had seen the clip many times before, but scrolled passed the clip thinking it wasn’t worth my time. I was in need of a little pick me up so I watched the video and luckily got the inspiration I needed.
Belief id important, because belief is what has to carry me (us) through to end and plus… At the end of the day everyone who has every been successful at something has been one thing – human. With this back into the forefront of my mind I actually got out of bed and decided to go to the gym. There I was from 4:30 – 600am. Getting one of the best chest workouts I’ve had in a very long time. Being in the gym is the only time I feel l can give my mind a rest and invigorate my soul for the many different challenges I’m bound to face each day.
After my workout I headed down to school earlier than I had ever gone before. I got to school around 7am, and after downing my Bacon/egg/cheese and Starbucks frappucino I knocked out a ton of things on my to-do list with enough time to get off track and jam out to music for a second.
Recently, and really historically with me, I have been gotten frustrated when I haven’t been able to do something well. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a perfectionist. But, if there is room for improvement, then I want to always be improving. I don’t necessarily need 100%, but I wont be happy until I feel I’ve controllably arrived at 99.9%.
1st period: Each morning I start my day with my English Language Arts class. Today, there were 6 young black boys in my classroom. When I think about this picture in my head I always think what could I be doing more to reach them. In this class I have good chemistry with my co-teacher that has actually been noted by my grad school coach. Another observation that I have as a teacher is that people can observe and describe two different things while engaging in the same scenario. Everyday listening to teacher describe situations we’ve both experiences has me hyper aware of differences of description right now. It makes me wonder how I can be better at getting a more 360 degree view of my classrooms.
2/3 period: Today during 2nd period I spend time prepping for a reading assessment we’re planning to use to for our Rewards reading intervention classes. ITs still a bit difficult for me to notice, evaluate, and describe students strengths and weaknesses with reading. Normally I think people think of fluency (to what degree a student can orally read the words in a passage) to rate students reading abilities. However, reading is more of a comprehension (to what degree a student can create meaning from the words in a passage) skill. During Rewards I put on Ferris Bueller’s Day off, then set up a reading station outside the door of the class to give myself and the readers some privacy. After class I jotted down a little note about the reading assessments:
11:27 – Just finished doing reading assessments with Rewards class. Have a slightly better understanding of the students reading strengths and weaknesses. Although it’s still a bit out of my grasp. Half of the class defied me and played the Warriors TWICE today. I came in and didn’t make a huge deal about it. But I was kind of shocked that after I put Ferris Bueller back on the second time that I came back in to the Warriors AGAIN. During various points of the class I checked in with individual students about their poor attendance, their attitudes in class, and of course I spoke with the young man responsible for changing the movie both times. I also had a students in the hallway aimlessly walking around. I tried my best to corral her back into the class, but I didn’t have any luck. I didn’t/couldn’t try harder at this specific point. It seemed as though with a bit of pushing (following her around for a bit she would have returned). But one lesson I have to learn is that I have to make the students who are in class the priority, not the ones who haven’t held up their end of the partnership.
4th period: Met with my mentor. I spoke with her for the full 40 minute period about my Wednesday. I had a difficult conversation with a parent during Parent/Teacher conferences. I was agitated from working everyday over the previous 4 day weekend. The exhaustion of rarely having a break was starting to catch up with me. I literally got home at 6 pm and passed out on my bed until about 10pm. I’m not a perfectionist. But I see room for improvement. I feel I need to push to make some improvements more for my students sake than mine. Being a better teacher will have greater impacts for them than I. We also started talking about a student data tracking project. I will identify two to three students to periodically compile work from all of their classes in effort to see their progress over time.
5th period: English Department Meeting topic of discussion – What do we do with students who have passed zero english credits to date? Do we remediate, do we push through, do we give 3rd chances at old curriculum?
6th period: I RAN and grabbed some quick food, I shot the shit with my co-teaher. And did some final preparations for my 7th period class.
7th period: 6 students out of 15 were in class today. Attendance for this class has been chronically bad. With 3 weeks left before the end of the trimester students are either hurt by their regular truancy, or various health ailments that their parents take them out of school for, so they say. I gave the students there a rundown of the final 2 projects that we will be working on this trimester, and also let them know that I would be here after school on Mondays, Tuesday, and Thursdays if they wanted additional classtime to work on their projects.
After school: Special Education Team meets to discuss some of the upcoming work for the team, changes to scheduling procedures, IEP progress report torture (for us), and reminders to complete our IEP’s on time.
I had a phone conversation with some YouthBuild colleagues to see if we can connect their student leadership groups with our students when they come into town this April.
I also had a meeting with some friends a fundraiser we’re planning for May 2. (More details to come)
Being in the fellowship is incredibly hard. Each day is almost like its own Mission Impossible. Which i tell myself is fun and exciting, I actually think I believe myself most of the time too. Its always been difficult explaining to other people why the fellowship is so taxing and time consuming. Teaching as a profession is incredibly demanding. Each night when I go home I go home knowing that the very next day a class full of students will be depending on me to run a lesson, answer questions, guide through practice problems, demand high academic and behavioral expectations. I’m not a parent, but I imagine this constant feeling of being responsible is what parents feel especially when their kids are young and unable to look after themselves.
The students aren’t the only ones who demand a high level of attention, there is literally always something going on in the school that needs my (your) attention as well. As a special education teacher, we’re required to review and update student’s IEPs, gather info from gen ed teachers about students’ strengths and weaknesses, we also facilitate the IEP meetings with the IEP team, student and parent. Then there’s always the need to give students school-wide assessments, school development/staff meetings, department meetings, covering for absent teachers, as well as managing general student traffic and behavior in and around the school building. This isn’t an exhaustive list, its just what I can think about right now at Starbucks. There’s a million needs constantly rolling around in my mind. The process of juggling and prioritizing these things is a gargantuan task that I wasn’t ready for before the fellowship. Its because of this that I never really feel like I’m getting ahead at my job. If anything I feel good when I feel like I’m only 1 step behind versus the normal 4 steps.
Here are some of the things I’ve struggled with over the past 6 months:
Staying in communication with people outside of my job. Work is an overwhelming priority that takes up about 90% of my brain capacity at all given times. I have to try to divide the other 10% between grad school, personal health and wellness, rest and relaxation, eating, and fiscal responsibility. Communication is always last on my list of things to focus on, my family has been pretty open about their disdain for my perceived low-level of contact and visits.
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding profession. I feel like I’m able to stretch myself and try new things in my classrooms and with my students. However, its demotivating feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. I basically feel like I don’t know what I know, and don’t know what I don’t know. This makes it difficult to replicate my positive teaching traits and change my unproductive teaching habits.
My daily schedule is so chaotic that I often miss my meetings with my mentor teacher. We both teach during all of the same periods so it is difficult to observe her and learn from her teaching style. There are also 2 new teachers in the building, and we all have the same mentor teacher. It’s frustrating hearing that the other mentees get to enjoy more regular meetings with our mentor, and seem to truly benefit from the weekly checkins. I don’t know if I can say I’m experiencing the same luck with my checkins. I always go into the meeting feeling like a my thoughts are too jumbled up in my head to communicate anything clearly and effectively with her.
I always feel like I’m on different page than most other people in the school. Translation – I be lost as fuck in most meetings and classes. This always irks me. Example: On election day we had a staff-wide PD. Part of the ice-breaker was to build a contraption that would prevent an egg from breaking when it hit the ground. Every group made some contraption that packed/padded the egg once it impacted the ground. I suggested and pushed my group to make a parachute with a piece of newspaper to support the padding we had done. At first there was silence, then there was murmors of support, finally I convinced them the parachute would work. When we presented our creation we got a bunch of laughs from the rest of the staff. But low and behold our egg was one of 3 that didnt break. This is a amusing example of me thinking completely differently than everyone else. Most of the time it just leaves me feeling awkwardly different in a room full of people with more similar ideas.
I really care for all of the students in my school. But they drive me BONKERS when they launch a million questions at me (you) without giving me the chance to explain the activity/theory/lesson we’re going through. They also complain all the time. Sometimes I just have to look at them with my You’ve gotta be kidding me -face.
Anytime I think of a challenge or a struggle I have with this work, I get upset with myself because it feels like I’m making excuses rather than finding solutions.
These are just a few things that I have on my mind right now. I say these not to complain, but to give you a better sense of some of the things I have to think about on top of creating meaningful and engaging lessons for my students. I’m optimistic that I’ll find ways to get around these struggles.
Rambles – I mean updates – No, really just rambles…
I have quite a few blogs I’ve started, but never posted for various reasons. I figured I’ld dig up the past every once and a while and give an update on how I feel.
In a lot of ways I’m still in the same place as a teacher. Yes, each day is hard. Yes, each day is Mission Impossible. Even more so now than ever before. However, I try not to view the everyday challenges with as much anxiety anymore. Translation – I trust myself and go with the flow a lot more now than I did back in November. Over the past month I’ve picked up two fulltime classes on my schedule. We’ve been thrown back into grad school. And I’ve been doing a lot more work behind the scenes trying to promote the blog, and some of my other projects as well. And of course I’m still trying to be best best damn teacher I can be every second of every day of the week. The stress gets overwhelming at times. Luckily we had a mini vacation this week. The schools would have been closed all week in observation of Presidents Day and Winter Break. But, thanks to days lost during Hurricane Sandy we have Monday and Tuesday off and return Wednesday – Friday.
Imagine for a second being so exhausted, irritated, drained, tired that you don’t think you can make it one more minute to see the weekend. Yea, that was me Wednesday night. Recently I’ve found that I’ve adapted well-ish to the constant changes in schedules, needs, priorities, attention. Every decision I make is rooted in what is giving my students the best opportunity and future. Yes, I’m wrong sometimes when confronting a student in class about behavior, questioning a student’s motives to leave the classroom, and one-on-one gut checks in the hallway.But, the love is there, and I think they see that, so its easy to move past my classroom mistakes with a simple and sincere apology.
One thing that has continued to affect me is my irritation with unappreciative and/or rude students. This last week I actually had two pretty intense run ins with students who I felt were crossing the lines of my patience and brining consistent irritation throughout my classroom communities. I’ve tried 3 times now to sum up what happened but its really too much to add on to this particular post. Out of all my students these 2 are my biggest headaches right now.
I’m still feeling like I don’t know what I do well and what I can work on. I haven’t really gotten much actionable constructive criticism which means I’m figuring my way around teaching fairly well. The athlete in me doesn’t accept that as good enough though. I”m rambling now though, which is exactly why I didn’t post this the first time…
(This is how I felt when I woke up with 2:50 seconds left in the first half of the Superbowl Game.)
I was up until 4 am yesterday being crazy productive. I event went to the gym and got it in from 1 to 3. LoL. I knocked out around 4. Woke up around…. 12 for about an hour maybe, knocked out again. Woke up with 2 minutes left in the first half of the Superbowl… Watched enough via the CBS live stream to see the Ravens score another 14 points before I saw what was going on there. Then finally sat down to do meaningful work… And notice I’m starting with this. Life is crazy right now! Traditional sleep patterns aren’t really necessary here. So I get it when I can and work around when I can’t. At this point its almost as though I have to do work today or else today really will be a complete waste.
On Wednesday I attended a reading comprehension workshop at my grad school. Luckily I had my iPad with me. I went along and ferociously typed notes as the presenter enlightened the crowd of tutors about the ins and outs of why so many students have difficulties with their reading. I figured it was an important time for me to start learning more about what my students challenges were. It was a really amazing 90 minutes. i walked away feeling as though I learned so much. I actually ran into the guy who runs a few educational programs for the university which was cool. We exchanged info and I also found out he was greek too. A Sigma to be exact. He was a former History teacher turned College Career Counselor. I gave him my card. Told him about my efforts to help other young men of color understand some of the ins and outs of teaching in this type of environment, and grabbed his card in return. I’ve sent him an email thanking him again for welcoming me to the workshop, restated my goals I talked about the night before, and let him know that I have a college tour scheduled next week. And that it would be cool to introduce him to my students when they were on campus if he had time.
I also want to add that something I plan to do with my students is simplify the Casual factors for weakness in reading comprehension, and ask my students which area(s) they feel strong in, and which areas they feel are growth areas. It would help immensely if I knew what they thought their strengths and weaknesses were. It would help me go in with a more catered game plan as well a higher rate of buy in form my students. If I rememberI’ll share whatever I come up with.
(courtesy ofwww.moo.com – They have some really cool designs for free, just pay $5 for shipping.)
Interestingly enough I think today was one of my better lessons. It was very free. Extremely free even. I knew what we were going to do – I would opened with some quick videos of Usain Bolt!
Wednesday I showed the kids this –
And they had the nerve to not understand why lil homie in the back was so excited for that moment in his life right there. Imagine if Usain Bolt gave you dap before he won the 200m Olympic Gold medal in London. That’s a once in a lifetime experience right there. They needed to be schooled!
So, For today’s lesson I opened with a few video clips I found during 1st period’s English class on Vimeo. I had of course forgotten to find clips on youtube these movie links:
I also reviewed this picture and compared Usain’s speed to the animals shown here.
Interesting Media clip of the day: After watching the videos the kids were in awe of Usain and seeing him in action against some of the world’s best athletes. I walked us through the previous 5 world record holders and through all of the animals. By this time I had honestly forgotten that I was supposed to tie this into the first slide. Luckily, when I shifted back to the powerpoint we returned to the slide with the gif file. Then, the kids were able to see why the young man was so excited to share that moment. Usain Bolt gave him dap before one of his big races infront of thousands of people. That’s really freaking dope!! LoL.
Launch: Finally after realizing and admitting I had wasted far more time than I thought I moved on to our launch:
What goals do you want to accomplish before you graduate high school? What do you think will be the first step you need to take to make this happen?
After what was scheduled for 5 minutes drifted into 6/7 minutes of writing or so I asked them to share out. 2 of the 6 students volunteered which was cool. I never forced them to share if they didn’t want to. But I always created the space for those who did want to share for the day.
Project: At this point I directed the students back into their Invention Projects. They complain constantly about not wanting to do the boring work in the class. So, I decided to let them create an invention that they could use to do their classwork for them. The invention could be anything they wanted as long as they tied its features to the tips and strategies we’ve learned in the class. For example: closed syllables, open syllables, tapping, marking, ect… In reflection, I was wayyyy to lax on pushing them on linking their invention to an actual skill we’ve learned. And next time I plan to use an example to show them the kind of features/evidence I expect them to create. But overall they were really engaged and I was able to individually check in with each of them to set them on a path to decent projects.
The students were responsible for creating an (a)illustration of their invention along with a description of the inventions features(b) a narrative/commercial explaining and introducing their invention to an audience and justifying why we should purchase it. (c) a student on self/teacher on student grading rubric for the project (d) a marking/syllable worksheet that they would use to show their invention worked. Which was really just a ways of me saying….Yup. I’m still making you do worksheets, too. LoL
This entire assignment is inspired by a project from last semester’s TAL 855 class that I currently have an incomplete in… Yes I’m that far behind, and no I’m not really sure why that’s my current crisis I’m trying to figure the fuck out right now. I got chewed out by one of my professors on Monday. It was deserved… but it still felt like crap. She letting me turn in my reflection assignment that I had no idea I was so late on until 2 weeks ago go figure. As I’ve stated many times grad school is a wreck right now. And I’m still probably under-exaggerating how bad it really is.
Halfway through my lesson my principal comes in with two guests. I can’t remember if they walk in and walk out. Or if they walk in and sit down unexpectedly. But at some point I realize they had probably listened to me ramble for 90 seconds and had actually sat down to stay for a bit… and had no idea what the hell I was talking about. So instinctively I grab a set of worksheets for the two visitors and my mentor to explain what the lesson was about. I didn’t realize it until later on, but I literally jumped in and treated these people like students in my classroom. I gave them the quick 30 second explanation and directions, asked them if they understood, got an affirmative and even gave them both 2 starbursts each, like I had given all of my students without missing a single beat.
(Quick Sidenote – I actually normally only give my students healthy snacks. Earlier in the year a student laughed that I was giving them starbursts/candy in class because I was essentially treating them like babies and fattening them up on candy every single day for giving simple answers and participation. From that point on, lets call it October/November, I’ve been only giving fruits, almonds, and granola bars to students every few now and then when I decide to bring them snacks. I’ve even brought cups for them to go get water before. This was the frist time I decided to go with candy, and it was because the students really had been participating a lot recently and truly deserved a treat for once. Students love dry almonds from Trader Joes in the individual packs and Spanish crackers from the bodega across the street. Food can really calm a brooding classroom of children.)
Anyways I dont know what message that sent… But here I am a young black guy. Teaching this class in an aloofly-organized way. So caught up in the act of teaching my brown and black students and mentor in my classroom that I automatically engaged other visitors into the learning that’s trying to take place. We acknowledged these two white professional visitors as guests, we wanted them to be a part of our experience as well. They eventually left after probably 3 minutes max. One of the students alerted me that they didn’t even take their starbursts. I looked over, first noticing their absence, then realizing that they hadn’t taken the handouts I had given them either. I halfway hated seeing that… I mean you stepped into my classroom to see something… you should really take the worksheet I give you with you so you can continue to process even after you’ve left. Especially if I take my time to pull you into what we’re doing also! Anyways… the students swiftly asked to get the starbursts they left behind and I obliged… LoL
Somewhere within the last 20 minutes I did a few marking examples on the board for the students who needed a little practice while doing their projects. Interestingly enough my two female students who almost went to serious blows 2 weeks ago in class were the only two interested in my mini lesson. It was so crazy how well they communicated about the work with each other in a friendly way just weeks after I literally had to pick one of the girls up and carry her down the stairs in order to diffuse what was almost a sure fire nasty fight in the 2nd floor stairwell. I ended up carrying one of the girls away from the fight to diffuse the situation. And now these girls are best buddies in class… That’s the craziness teacher deal with every minute of everyday.
I got them to come up to the board and construct their own marked up examples from memory and with no pushback. One of the girls even gave detailed explanation about vowel marking as the other young lady openly listened and processed.
I supplied the class with colored pencils, markers, gel ink pens, construction paper, glue, scissors, and story cubes to help them express their creativity in whatever way they could. At the end of the day I went to my mentor’s room to debrief. She expressed that she enjoyed the class, and almost felt sad to leave. She especially liked how I had one of the girls so involved in the lesson. She noted that the same young girl was very insecure about her English abilities during the first marking period. She plans to spruce up her notes and send them my way within the next few days. perhaps I’ll post them for you guys too.