Put a Ding in the Universe!

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 02 2012

Week 3, going into week 4…

This one was saved as a draft and had to be neglected because of all the demands of the last week of Institute.  This documents my musings from the first two weeks of JulyI’m just now getting around to posting it.

I’m still plowing through Institute like everyone else.  We had one of our co-lab members quit this week.  That kind of threw a wrench in the works.  She was a nice lady and we’ll miss her.  Of course, that means that we have had to take up the slack.

The day our co-lab partner bailed on us, I had to go in and teach her half-hour writing block cold, with no preparation, not even a lesson plan.  Wouldn’t you know, one of the managing teacher leadership development folks from my city was there to observe.  I’m not sure how I did it, but everything went OK for that block of instruction.

My normal block to teach has been in the late morning so far.  So when it came time to transition to my block, after teaching the now-AWOL co-lab member, the kids are pretty much over it for the day.  I try the various management techniques to no avail and I’m starting to founder.  I end up having to threaten the entire class with “silent lunch” as a consequence if they didn’t get it under control.  They didn’t and I followed through with the consequence.

The school’s arrangement is to have the students eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom, so they were stuck with me and I with them during silent lunch.  As they gloomily ate their lunches I felt pretty bad about things.  I felt like the meanest guy in the world.  After they left, our Faculty Advisor, an experienced teacher with many years of experience comes back in after escorting the kids to their buses and said, “That was excellent!”

I was completely flummoxed.  “What was excellent?” I asked.  “They all hate me now!”  She very kindly explained it from a perspective of years of experience.  For these kids, school is what is stable about their lives.  Several of them have parents that are incarcerated.  Several of them come from really dysfunctional homes.  School is the only place in their lives where they truly feel secure–and when a teacher leaves, quits, etc., it sends a shock wave through the ranks of the students.  My advisor said that when I clamped down on them, she could see several of them visibly relax.  They were “pinging” from the stress of our co-lab partner leaving and when I restored order, it was actually reassuring to them.  Their security had been restored.  The next day, they were fine.  I would have never seen it in that light had it not been or our advisor.  It’s great having that depth of experience and perspective available to us.

Our kids are energetic, but they’re enjoyable.  We’ve got one that bails on us every day and runs out the door, but our principal says that she does that during regular school with “real” teachers as well, so we shouldn’t feel bad.  We have another who is a junior conspiracy theorist, who told us the first day that the government is hiding stuff from the people.  Then there’s the one who wants to do his writing assignment on the topic of “guns.”  He says it’s an area in which he has a lot of knowledge.  I suggested that he consider something less controversial, like “hunting” as his topic.

This week, my remaining co-lab partner and I are trading places.  She gets the afternoon block and I get the reading block in the morning.  I think the kids will be a little less fidgety at that hour.  They still have a long way to go with their reading and writing.  One of our kids was interviewed by the staff and they asked him what our vision for the class was and he said he “thought it was something to do with reading.”  They asked him if he liked to read and he replied, “No.”  So much for “investment” of our students in the vision and objectives!

Meanwhile, we got the nicest letter from one of our students’ grandparents.  Evidently the student spent her first weeks of life in a coma and had several serious birth defects. Today, you’d never know, except for some memory problems that still persist.  It just makes our hearts go out to our students and our families all the more.  They deserve our very best.



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YOTFAO BACTAG = You only teach for America once, but always challenge the achievement gap.

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