Sunday, February 28, 2010

I never knew, sorry!

I was reflecting this past week on how I feel lighter emotionally and mentally. I was thinking about the things that have stressed me out for the past few months and realized that basketball really put a load on me. I didn't really realize that I was as stressed out as I was. It's interesting to think about how in the moment you don't realize how this stress can effect really everything else you're working on.

For instance, I am sure my social and professional interactions were different because I always felt like I was busy or should be busy doing something else. My sleeping patterns have been remarkably better since the season is over, no more waking up in the night. Instead I enjoy an 8 hour pass out each night, which has reinvigorated me for the daytime. This has allowed me to be less stressed during the school day and I have relaxed a lot around my students and around my work. This I think directly influences my students reactions too, as they are having fun in my class too (sometimes!).

All of my stress is not gone obviously, but it helps me to understand myself a little better and to understand the people around me a little bit. Teach for America does a great job hiring people for this job, but I can also see that sometimes the quirks and crazy actions TFAers' take sometimes might be because of the enormous amount of stress we are under or put ourselves under. TFA does a great job of hiring people who are self-starters but also people who do not like to fail and take great pride in their student's achievement. As a result, I think some of the people (myself included) probably develop personality traits or expose ones that are perhaps not some of their prouder details.

This is great though, to have that experience and learn these things about yourself. I feel like it's better to have those experiences and work through them -- preparing for the next go around. There are many things that I will be changing next year to get a better classroom, a better basketball team, a better lifestyle, but this is all because I worked through it this year.

Weather and Mood Correlations

Have you ever noticed when it's raining, or it has been a too long winter, that everyone is in a more sour mood? It's a predictable trend and works the opposite directions as well. Today is a beautiful day, reaching about 65 degrees and I am in an inherently happier mood as a result.

We started softball practice this week which is nice for a few reasons. First, because of this weather trend I just mentioned. I get to spend much time outside getting some fresh air. And for me, it's a little like an addiction, because the more time I spend outside the more I want to spend the whole time outside. A nice advantage to moving down from the North! Second, I am enjoying softball greatly because I am not the head coach! Hanging out with the girls, coaching on skills and tactics, and then walking away without the pressure on your shoulders is a nice little change I think. Boom!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lenten Promises

1. Write positive comments on each class, each day - pointing out small moments where students excel
2. Do not swear
3. More positivity

We'll see! I can do it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010



Today we got the results back from the Target II test (a test that prepares us for the End of Course Exam). The results were promising, promising, promising.

Now, to put this in context. Each year the state increases the number of students they expect to be proficient or advanced proficient on the exam. A lot of funding and state takeover depends on literacy a result English classrooms (two total, me-first year, chad-literacy coach/AP) is pretty consistently under the microscope. Now, I am a huge proponent for I love feedback and I love to have a lot of collaboration. With this has come some great gains in the classroom.

To have the school digress from year 5 of takeover 67.75 students are to score proficient on the exam. This basically breaks down to 32 out of 46 students must reach this goal. For instance if only 26 students reach the goal we are "okay" and considered to be in "safe harbor," because we have improved so greatly from the previous year.

Here's the math:

1. Last year 13 students scored proficient (28%)
2. That percentage of a score was an IMPROVEMENT (big enough) that we were able to stay in safe harbor for this year (so not move from year 5 to year 6)
3. THIS YEAR, to go backwards to year 4...we need to reach 67.75%.
4. based on the past Target II test we are at 59% (28 out of 46 students)
5. FOUR students were within 5% of scoring proficient
6. With those four students, and the 28 that already reach goal, we would be at 69.5%!!!!!!!


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Test Prep Begins

MY END OF COURSE EXAM IS IN 3 WEEKS. OH NO!!!! I AM SO NERVOUS!!!! I hope these kids have learned something. Tomorrow we start straight test prep until the exam the second week of March.

We are going to be consistently doing reading comprehension strategies three times a week, essay practice once a week, and grammar another day. Each week we will go over the released item in class, then give them time to work on it, then review the answers. It is going to be intense and so repetitive for the kids. And....I am not sure if it is going to be effective. But, hopefully yes!

I have been integrating a lot of the strategies throughout the year so hopefully some of it will come naturally for the students at this point. It’s an interesting process, this teaching thing! Sometimes I can see results immediately, sometimes I never see results. It’s a constant learn and relearn methodical process for myself and for students. I always wondered why we learn world history every year for seven years throughout 1st-12th grade. I get it now though.

It’s the same reason why I am teaching Lord of the Flies in 11th grade while the 7th grade teacher is teaching it as well. It’s because there are different levels of learning that come with learn and matriculation.

Wish me luck! This is the first EOC of the year (kind of ridiculous since so much of school’s succes relies on Literacy scores...). It’ll be a wait afterwards to see if we can successfully move backwards in the State takeover process. I think we can do it.

I really love my kids and I think they work hard - so hopefully this will pay off!

Lord of the Flies: 2nd Novel in Class - CHECK!

I just finished teaching my second novel, Lord of the Flies! I enjoyed the book (I did not really remember much of it from high school - I think it was one of those that I “read.”). I am not sure how much the kids enjoyed the book, I really thought they were going to like it a lot more. I am not sure if it was my enthusiasm or just that they did not actually pay attention/read?

We had to read almost the entire novel in class because I did not have enough copies to hand out to all of the students. This was a frustrating aspect because of the amount of time it took to teach the novel, but a really good thing on the other hand. For instance, I now that many students comprehended more and actually did well on assignments because they were forced to read the book right in front of me. That lead to positive steps up on Bloom’s. I think we reached Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, and Analysis at least.

Another great thing about Lord of the Flies is the assignments that go along with it. For instance, because the boys are stranded on a deserted island I had the kids make a Missing Poster for them with a bunch of requirements. It really lead to some great creativity and retention from them. I got to hang them up all over the classroom, which was fun as well! For another assignment I created a list of 11 characters with different backgrounds, professions, families, etc. Then I told the kids that they could only take seven off of the sinking ship to save. This lead to some great discussions and debates ...and argument in one class! (Some of the choices were a mentally disabled student, a single mother, an old doctor and his wife, a small baby, an athlete that had anti-black views). It was fun to create and fun to see what ticked some kids off and what others really valued.

The End of My First Season

I just finished my first season of basketball this past weekend. It has been a busy busy time. Some successes, some failures, some definite improvements for next year. My junior high team had it’s ups and downs, mostly downs. We worked on some skills at the beginning of the year, but unfortunately there are some major gaps in talent on the team.

Something I did not anticipate when beginning coaching, I did not realize how much your bottom fourth can really effect the rest of the team. This is something I have seen on the basketball team and in my classroom. If you have some learners that are just too far behind it really can slow down and cause disruptions in the rest of your flow. For instance, most students who are in that bottom fourth are the students who end up being behavioral problems. This, for me at least, directly relates to them not getting it. For instance, they do not do their homework or reading so then they are behind in class and behind on quizzes. Then, as a result they are bored in class or do not care enough to pay attention because they feel they are too backed up to make it up.

This same thing happens in basketball. Some are eager to learn but they struggle so much that they get easily frustrated or just make a joke of themselves. Because no one else cares to help them, then they get made fun of, laughed at, and just pushed to the side. This is really what happened on my junior high team. For me, I think some people just aren’t meant to play a sport. But, that’s not what happens here at CHS. So, that’ll be something I need to be prepared for in the future.

My senior high is a different story. I had some great athletes on there and a team that liked each other. This fluid attitude and support system built the team up and we ended up tripling our wins from the previous year. Last year the team won three games, and this year we won nine total. Next year will be an interesting year. We are losing our three biggest point leaders, and unfortunately some of our biggest leaders as well. But, the team has a great attitude and is committed to each other - so I think we’ll be allright. I am excited for next season, but also ready for a break. I felt so tired after Saturday with practicing every day and games two or three times a week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teach for America Training

My training thus far has been excellent. I mean really, who thought I'd be teaching a group of 11th graders this time last year? Who thought I could command basketball teams filled with pre-pubescent and pubescent (I'm not sure who's worse) girls? Who thought I'd be able to create effective lesson plans (is that the correct use of effect/affect ;))? All of these things are a result of much training from TFA, and well I guess experiences of preparation.

These experiences this year have been really eye opening. Really though, I think I am invincible! Travel alone to a foreign country? Yes! Interview for jobs clearly above my skill set? Yes! Approach professionals that would otherwise be intimidating? Yes! Ask for money from strangers to help my children achieve? Yes! These things are cake compared to standing in front of the kiddies (monsters) each day without knowing what is EVER coming. Really though, they are pretty unpredictable.

Okay, so I know I am not really invincible but I do think I am capable of much more than I previously thought. I've always had to work hard for jobs, etc. blah blah blah...but this is slightly different. Moving into a new community, not know anyone, teaching when I never knew how to do that, attempting to reverse a pattern that has been going on for years, and walking away at the end of the day to a remote/country area without many outlets. These are the burdens that the Mississippi Delta Corps members endure, but endure well. In fact, I would say that the verb endure is incorrect. I would go as far to say that thus far we have embraced this experience. Said, "Yes! I'll live in this double wide trailer," "Yes, I'll stay after school to coach/tutor/mentor/baby sit," "Yes! I will travel hours to see my friends and legitimate cities."

This is something that is inspiring and something that I need to keep a constant perspective on. I can not forget that I am surrounded by people that do that every day, and that is worth each hard day at work.

p.s. maybe I'm just saying this because we've had a four day weekend with two snow days in a row.... tomorrow I might not feel as inspired! :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Some Pictures of Touring

End of Course Exam

Pressure cooker! It's that time of year. My end of course exam is the first of many in Arkansas, and apparently we are going to kick it off with a bang. All 11th graders take the two day exam in a proctored exam room under close survelliance.

There are three parts to the Literacy exam; essay, open response, and multiple choice questions. Reading comprehension and writing are the most highly focused areas of my classroom and this exam, so hopefully success in my classroom translates to success on this exam.

The students will be scored on a rubric for each section and their score totals with equal either below basic, basic, proficient, or advanced proficient. We want and need proficient and advanced proficient to digress on the "state watch ladder" and to bred feelings of success in our school.

My nervousness is beginning to show throughout my lessons. Every time students don't know what to do I get aggrevated and tense that I have not been explicit enough nor committed enough to their success. It's a headache of a process. The pressure has been taken off slightly as of last week though. I will be having a co-facilitator in my room each day for the last two and a 1/2 weeks before the exam. We will be doing straight test prep and practicing released test items. There will also be someone there from the educational co-op we work with once a week to teach the kids about new strategies and engaging them in investment.

Eeeeeks I really hope all of this works. It's funny because I know Teach for America is SO data driven, that really I should know if it is going to work based on my tracker. Well, my tracker says they are doing pretty well - but it still comes down to two days. Two days of focus and commitment. Two days of wanting to do well.


Snow Day, Snow Day

It's been a lovely Monday! Calming, cleaning, reorganizing, planning, reading.... all of the above AT HOME. Again, we had a snow day! It's our third of the year, surprisingly. This one was actually legitimate, as there is about 4 inches of snow outside. Down here, they don't have plows or really even shovels, so it looks like we might have tomorrow off too if it continues to get colder today.

It was nice to have the day off. My parents came down to visit on Friday, and we spend the rest of the weekend in Memphis. When the arrived in C on Friday they were able to attend two of my basketball games, and walk around the school. It was fun to show them where I work and the people I work with.

Sometimes I think it is difficult to imagine what this place is like without some first hand experience! After a busy busy Friday (we didn't get to Memphis until 1130) we spend Saturday touring the Civil Rights Museum and visiting Graceland. Both were great exhibits, and I would highly recommend them for anyone who is traveling to this area soon. I rather enjoyed the Civil Rights Museum, as there were a lot of things that I didn't know about the movement. I think it was especially great because a lot of my friends in the Corps actually live in the towns that were mentioned frequently.

Sunday we spent bumming around the city, then both parties headed home for the week to begin. I had a lovely surprise this morning, when at 530AM I was called to say we had a snow day! So, I am going to spend some of that time writing to you, world. Sorry I have been so horrible. Hopefully this will offer some insight into my last few weeks.