It has been a total whirlwind for the past few weeks. Here are the key points (…Oh no! They’ve got me speaking TFA-jargon even when I’m not doing schoolwork!)
The last week of Institute flew by. I started packing up late Thursday night, after the big closing ceremony. At two o’clock in the morning, I was hauling my suitcases and all the other stuff I brought to the car, which was parked a half-mile away from the dormitory. After about two hours of sleep, I went to school Friday morning to finish up with the kids and have a little celebration with the parents.
I had the joyous job of sitting down with each of our fourth graders and telling them how much they had improved. Out of 17 students, all of them made progress in their reading scores. Six of them had more than 150 percent increase in their progress goals. One kid had an astonishing 233 percent increase! Another one increased his reading scores by one full grade level in four weeks!
We had lunch with the kids, with some added goodies of some fun snacks. We gave out certificates and medals (we had an Olympics theme for the class). Several parents came to the luncheon. We were amazed at what some of them told us. One parent told us that their kid always hated school, but he loved summer school. She said that he came home excited every day about what we had done and that, when he was almost late that morning, he was really upset. Other parents had similar comments. We felt very good about our work from the feedback we received.
That afternoon, I bid my co-lab partner good-bye and grabbed a quick supper. Then I began a marathon that was to last for several days. I left Tulsa and headed for Oklahoma City. I arrived at the airport after getting lost–I forgot to charge up my GPS and the cigarette lighter in my car doesn’t work, so I couldn’t plug it in. Immediately after parking in the long-term lot, I promptly locked my keys in the car for the second time since this whole TFA adventure began in Oklahoma. I haven’t locked my keys in the car for nearly 30 years–seriously! While in Oklahoma, I did it twice. The first day of Induction and the last day of Institute.
It was after midnight by the time the Security/Courtesy patrol helped me get the door unlocked so I could get my stuff. I had to repack a suitcase in the dark before going into the terminal. I dozed restlessly in the corridor of the airport until the entire U.S. Army showed up to get a flight. A bunch of new recruits who had just graduated basic training were there with all their duffle bags and gear. So much for a quiet night in the airport!
My flight left at 6:00 a.m. and I made it to Virginia in about six hours. My wife and son picked me up and, on the way home, dropped me off to pick up a U-Haul truck. On the way home, a big storm came up and dumped rain by the buckets and turned the yard into a big swamp. It turned out that this same storm generated a tornado about two miles from the house. The day I left for Oklahoma, there was a tornado in Newport News, Virgina. The day I came back, there was another. Weird.
Some of my son’s friends helped us load up the truck. We worked all day and into the evening in the near-tropical heat and periodic rain. The next morning, my son and I headed out in the truck. We had two days to get to Oklahoma for the school district’s orientation. It was a long two days.
Along the way, my son yammered at me about conspiracy theories he found on YouTube about predictions that terrorists are going to nuke the Olympics in London. We had a blowout in Arkansas. We ate Pop-Tarts for almost every meal but dinner for two days. And we didn’t stop driving until we got to Oklahoma City at 1:00 a.m. I had to be at Orientation that afternoon at 1:30. I spent the morning in a cab going to the airport to get my Jeep and finding my way back to the hotel.
We spent four days in a hotel next to I-35 in Oklahoma City. Finally we got to move into our apar.tment on Friday. It was only about a thousand degrees Fahrenheit that day. For several days, we had to made plans to get the U-Haul to the house and the car there, then get the U-Haul back to the drop point. The one thing we didn’t think of was how to get back from the drop point. It ended up being about two miles from home, so we just hoofed it in the thousand-degree heat.
Orientation was another wrhirlwind. We were bombarded with all kinds of things, like folks pressuring us to join the union, or to join some other professional organization. We were issued laptops that we couldn’t log into because we didn’t have employee numbers yet. We went to TFA sponsored extensions of Institute and had to do more “snappy practices.” Meanwhile, all this driving and moving, and other things added pressure to simply having no money. Having had no income for a family of three in three months has finally busted the bank. For anyone who is already a working professional that is considering Teach For America, be advised: whatever relocation assistance they give you is not going to be enough. There are unexpected expenses, delays, changes in schedules, etc. that will sock it to your wallet. For example, they moved up the day of our Orientation on us and that disrupted lots of plans for lots of people. That disruption cost some of us additional money that we were hard pressed to afford after being Americorps volunteers for two months. Since I didn’t come from an Ivy-League background, I’m thankful I know how to make use of a pawn shop. ‘Nuff said on that.
Finally we go to school and see the achievement gap first hand–but that’s for the next blog post, which I hope to get to in a few days.