Monday, May 31, 2010

Policies, Policies, Policies

Two things have happened in the last few weeks that have been pretty funny regarding policies.

1. We were told that the students would be given their exam scores from the previous year and if they scored proficient then they would be exempt from their final exams this year (spring). Well, first of all I am not sure if that's a great incentive program, but that is besides the point.

The major problem with the whole thing was this: First, all of the teachers (myself included) REALLY wanted that list....who was going to be exempt? Who wasn't coming back to school? Ahh, what a mistake!! We pressured the guidance counselor to get the list, and she gave it to us....and the school fell apart! Students, once they knew, stopped coming to school, stopped doing assignments, and really just wandered around. As a result of all of these things, all the teachers essentially became incapable of teaching, and thus pretty much gave up.

In the end, last week was pretty much wasted. We played a lot of vocabulary games, lots of bananagrams, some surveys about the year, and a bunch of other time fillers. I feel kind of bad about it, but I don't exaclty know what else I should have done?

2. Our second policies experience of the week: Being handed a packet, 8 pages long, of crap to do. Half of it seems like a lot of red tape nothing. I talked to a few teachers and they said that inventory is pretty ridiculous. That stuff doesn't matter, because in C they haven't taken inventory in 10 years (that's how long that teacher has been there). In fact, said teacher actually quoted "By the time they decide to take inventory I'll either be dead, or long gone from here." So, I might just sign off on that one.

The other stuff is regular check out stuff. There's a lot of it. Again, I think it probably should have more strategically been handed out a little later, because as soon as it came out teachers started going crazy. Instead of teaching new material, people started cleaning their rooms and filling out the sheets. Again, I was guilty!!! These are some of the controllable things though, that I believe could really lead towards student investment and achievement. If we force them and engage them all the way to the end, we can make those smaller gains each day. Aye! The balance between wanting it to be over and wanting to continue to achieve is a tough one.

Winding Down

Last week on Wednesday through Friday the students had complete control of our schools productivity. Apparently, they had decided that the school year was over. In my largest class I had 80% of students absent, and had at least 60% absent in every other class. I could not believe it!

The rampant absenteeism completely dibilitated my attempt to teach a quick unit (7 days in length) on vocabulary (something that we had already a slight review). I now have (maybe) some students coming for an exam next week and they haven't even been at school to get the unit calendar, the study guide, the notes, etc. And to top it off, most of the students who missed are students who needed to be there because this final exam grade is worth 20% of their semester grade!

I am anticipating a lot of either two things: 1. a lot of whining because they didn't "get a fair chance" to study for the exam OR 2. just a lot of people not showing up! At this point I'm not sure which one is worse for the students. I guess if they show up, they'll at least have a few points?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Some Success

As mentioned earlier this week, today was my big End of Year conversation. Although this year has really been a struggle emotionally and has been a big challenge of endurance, commitment, and continually increasing effectiveness, there have also been some highs. Talking with my Program Director I have realized that those highs are what I need to focus on for my students and I's sanity and success. These successes when highlighted have meant a lot to a lot of individual students.

In that spirit, I think I need to practice more positive reinforcement with my students and myself. And I am going to do that right now. So please, ignore my self-indulgence for a few lines!

1. We met "significant gains" this year and exceeded our goal with an average of 199 on the ACTAAP test (our goal was 197)
2. We had no special education students recieve a Below Basic level on the ACTAAP
3. Only one student was below basic, an improvement from 7 last year
4. 12% increase from students at basic moving up to proficient (a passing score)
5. The highest number of proficient students in 6 years!!
6. 79.5% mastery of objectives throughout the 4 quarters (according to my tracker...something to be improved on)

Personal Success:
1. Hired as an ICEG leader for a group of new Corps members next year
2. Hired as a Fall Course Leader for High School English teachers!
3. Development Fellows (WOOT U of M Foundation paying off) for TFA next year
4. Passed my bus driving tests!! Proud CDL owner... (well, maybe not proud enough to drive anything)
5. Successfully coached a winning season for Sr. High, and struggled immensely with Jr. High (still think there is a special place in heaven for all 5-8 teachers everywhere)
6. Saved some money ....finances not my strong point
7. Made some new friends and explored a pretty beautiful part of America!
8. Got a couch, rug, and table donated through the organization

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bus Test

I've got my driving test tomorrow! I will be doing a walk around of the bus (I have to name at least 42 out of 52 things that must be shown). Should be an interesting experience.It is my final test in the series, and if I complete it I can begin driving routes (for about $15 dollars a trip) and will be able to bring my basketball team to camp. Thus far, however, I have only done two practice walk-arounds and driven the bus by myself twice. EEEeeeekkksss!!

End of Year Conversation

Tomorrow is my end of year conversation with my program director for Teach for America. I am not sure how it is going to go. Sometimes I feel like I had a great year with a lot of personal accomplishments. I am not sure if the same is true for my students.

I did make significant gains on my EOC ACTAAP, and the students did reach 80% mastery of objectives over the course of the year (79.5% actually....but we'll round up!). These are great things. Sometimes the day to day can just wear you down I guess. Today we were working on vocabulary and I was surprised at some of the words they had trouble recalling, as we spent weeks upon weeks of spiraling lesson plans to make sure they understood them! That is okay though, something to learn from I guess.

I hope it goes well!

ACT Academy

I'm not sure if I wrote about it, but I had another huge success today!

SIX of my students were accepted into the ACT Academy at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, this summer!! This Academy offers the students an opportunity to go to the University for a week long instructional period. They are given free housing, food, and even travel! The students then participate in brain teasers and ACT prep for some period of time during the day, then are able to explore and participate in different activities around campus the rest of the time.

Another English teacher and I passed these out to the 11th graders and I made almost all of them fill it out. Because we are a high need area with usually only one or neither parent going to college, we had a much higher chance of getting kids accepted. But, I absolutely did not expect to get 6 kids into the program. I am happy happy happy for them!!! THIS could be that thing that interests them enough in going to college.

Great things are happening for these students, and I am happy to be a part of it!
(Oh, and summer is too close! :) )

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I've got some friends coming this weekend! Three of my closest friends from high school and college, Laura, Michelle, and Jacqueline. It's going to be a great, relaxing, fun weekend. It has given me some crazy pains of wanting to be back in the cities permanently though.

College was great, damn.

More to follow as their trip unfolds!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Text Message

A really uplifting text message I got from a great student last night:

"Thank you for everything you have done for me and our team. They may not see the beauty and heart you have like I do but they will. You keep me laughing and are the reason why I have managed to keep my head up through all of this. You are a great woman and push us to be our very best. I can't wait to finish out this year, camp, and next year with you as a coach. You have been a huge influence on my attitude and my self as a person. You will forever stay in my heart for who you have built me to be. I love ya coach!"

What a motivator right?!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The facts show success!

I know I wrote about the EOC test results back already...but there is more to tell. As you know, pretty much the reason I am here is to get these kids to do well on their test scores. Well, when I originally got the scores back you could find me in the library hiding in the back corner crying because I thought we had done horribly.

BUT I was in fact wrong! I know, now after reflecting for awhile, that you can change something in one year. We are making steps towards a bigger change that will take much longer. Here is the good news:

1. We met safe harbor (which means we had ENOUGH proficient students that the state will not intercept)
2. 18 students were proficient (which is GREAT for those kids :) )
3. Every special education student made at least basic (which isn't proficiency, but a huge improvement from below basic)
4. There was only 1 student that was below basic in the entire testing class (last year there was 6 or 7)
5. By Teach for America standards my classroom did make "significant gains" by reaching an average of 197 for the entire class (200 is proficiency - we are SO close!!!). The goal was to make a 195 (a 12% increase from last year).

Good thoughts, good thoughts! Now, to get through these next three weeks!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One year ago, this week (in photos!)

One year ago, this week

DANG I am uber jealous of my college buddies right now. It's graduation week in Minnesota! The events, the people, the celebrations - ahhhhh too jealous right now.

This week last year my family (including my brother-awesome!) came up to visit me for my ceremony. We went out to dinner with some close friends which was tons of fun and totally relaxing. Then after the ceremony and formalities we got to have a great night out and my favorite college bars in Dinkytown with my closest friends around. My brother was great and my friends loved him too!

Family time, friend time, celebration time - doesn't get much better. AND it certainly beats coming to work for these crazy high school students (the alternative that I am facing this year). Yuck!

Book Fair!

I am so impressed. When I was in high school I think I checked out ONE book for personal reading the entire time I was there. ONE book...mostly because the librarian could have EATEN me, she was not my biggest fan. (Which I of course took in stride and mocked her in our senior skit. Maturity.)

At C, we are making huge strides though, I feel everyday. Kids compete to check books out of our library. We had over 50 students take online reading tests to reach over 1,000,000 words each. To give you an idea: the second book of the Twilight series is worth around 100,000 words (and that's a thick book). Our librarian has done an excellent job of getting a library full of different genres, lengths, and levels of difficulty. This has really led to some great things for the school and for the classroom.

I am happy to say I had 14 out of 35 students reach their goals this year regarding words. Now that might not seem like a lot, but from the beginning I can say it is a great thing. On top of that, out of the 40 students I have had this year - 39 out of 40 students have taken a test and passed on at least one book....a GREAT accomplishment in my opinion. That means that every single student (the 1 out of 40 that didn't pass did try) has picked up a book or some type of reading outside of class and attempted to achieve.

What a great feeling! Pats on the back to all literacy teachers and the librarian! :)

the last few moments

It is the seniors last week of school! I am trying to reflect on that experience, and I can't really place the excitement and anticipation that these seniors have. For me, their experience is so different. I feel sad for many that are not moving onto something else. Whether that be a job or schooling of some sort, many of these students are not moving onto anything. So, why are they so excited to get out? To go home and not do anything?

This is something I can NOT compare to my experience. First, I was beyond sad to leave my friends, staff, and memories associated with DSHA. Then from there my excitement was huge to have a summer job and relax in the warm weather. Finally, beyond those few months of relaxation I had something else to look forward to: COLLEGE! How exciting were all of these things to come in the future - a new place to live, new friends, new life experiences, new learning.

For me, these students that are graduating and not taking these steps have been failed. They are not failing, but someone along the way did not give them that interest or invest them in that ultimate experience. College, especially at the ages of 18-24 are HUGE! FUN, hard, whatever it's college. And that is something not everyone necessarily needs to have...but then they need to move onto a great JOB or a great STARTER SCHOOL. SOMETHING. There needs to be that feeling of accomplishment or working towards something that will inspire these students for their years in high school.

Maybe my first and second year of high school were not as college focused...but I did know there was something at the end of this long road ahead of me. SOMETHING unattainable was there. Then my third and fourth year I knew what that something was. If we can build that anticipation in these students then I know that there could be a major difference in their production henceforth.

Now the question will I do this? Suggestions? hahaah BIG GOALS

Monday, May 10, 2010


What do you think? Is it a keeper?

The season is over!

I know it's been a LONG time since I posted. I apologize, let's move on.

I coached softball this year (assistant) and the season (and players) were drastically different then what basketball season was like. It made me truly think about how I am going to manage basketball next year and some changes I will have to make almost immediately.

The racial difference between basketball and softball is drastic. Basketball, predominantly black, has a few white students that play each year. Softball (and baseball) on the other hand is completely white, or was at least until this year. I told my baskeball players that they had to participate in an off season sport (so either track or softball). We were joined with 3 black students on the softball team a week later.

This played no significant impact on the season, but was just an observation I had about the Delta thus far. Most softball teams that we played were either completely white or had one or two black students on them. Even in the case of schools that were 75+ percent black, the students that were white were the only people playing softball. I found this to be true at almost all baseball games I attended as well. An interesting thing to observe in my opinion.

Anyway, softball is over (it was a short season) and it was a great experience. I had a lot of fun with the girls, coach, and learning about the sport (since it is definitely not one of my top sports!). Lots of interesting things and strategies that I never knew even after playing it for a good five or so years.