Down to the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 13 2011

Well at least I learned something in summer school…

Today marks the last day of real teaching at institute. My spirits are lifted, and most everyone else’s spirits seem lifted. Tomorrow we give our final assessment, and on Friday we will spend most of the day talking with our kids about their future plans and what they have learned this summer etc.

I have spent a lot of time over the last few days worrying about how much my kids really learned about algebra 1 this summer. Despite all the data we have collected, I have no idea how differently my kids will perform on the end of summer assessment than they did on the assessment at the beginning of the summer. It seems like every single day is so different, and I feel like they could show up for their assessment tomorrow and remember everything we have done or nothing we have done. I guess only time will tell.

Thinking about them and what they have learned has gotten me thinking about myself and how much I have learned in the last 4 or 5 weeks. It has been a long, emotional, fun, and painful at times process. Here are the top ten things I am taking away from this summer:

1. I am going to have to be a lot stricter than I ever thought I would be. Before we started teaching, everyone here said that we needed to be very serious about class rules and giving consequences. Did I listen? No. Does it show in my class? Yes. Last week I got frustrated enough with all the side chatter and calling out during class that I started to put my foot down. However, the kids have been allowed to do it all summer so now they are getting in trouble and don’t really understand why. I am trying to be as clear as possible with them, but I changed my expectations during the middle of the summer. Which isn’t really fair. I don’t want to be a teacher with a lot of rules, but I now know I have to be. There needs to be a specific way of doing EVERYTHING, from leaving the room to getting a pencil. I never thought I would need this, but now I know I do. The first few days in my classes in El Dorado are going to look extremely difficult from the way my first few days here looked. And ultimately, I think this will build an environment that is better for the kids. I have done a disservice to my kids this summer by allowing them to talk during class when I am teaching and call out answers. I will not let this happen again.

2. High schoolers are younger than you think. Yesterday two of my kids threw chocolate milk on each other during lunch. Enough said.

3. Organization is your best friend. I have never had to deal with so many millions of papers and files on my computer in my life as here. I can’t imagine what it is going to be like when I have 150 students instead of 5. I am not by nature a terribly organized person. Organized chaos was more of my style before I got here, but I have quickly come to the realization that when you are responsible for more people than just yourself, it isn’t enough. Hello binders and folders for everything!

4. Math students need structure. I have always understood and emphasized the importance of showing your work in math. The student and the teacher both need to see how the student arrived at the answer and where the mistakes occurred. But this is even more critical for kids who are missing a lot of the fundamental math understandings. Since I am not a very organized person when I am doing math and I don’t like math procedures enough, I have failed to give my students all these things. And they need them. They need to know EXACTLY how their work should look every time. It needs to be second nature to them to write their work a certain way and do one step at a time because if it is not, they will skip parts of the problem. Or do something crazy like randomly add or leave out a variable. In the Fall, every student will know exactly how their work should look for every problem they do. I will work through all my examples in an extremely structured and consistent way, and I will expect them to do the same. Once they have demonstrated mastery, I will probably allow them to “do their own thing” a little bit more, but there is no question that at the beginning of the year I will require my students not only to show their work but also to work through all their problems in a specific way. It will make TFA happy to know that I stumbled upon this realization by looking at exit ticket data. The kids following structures from one class to the next did better in the end, even if they didn’t get the concept as quickly as the other students.

5. Students have memories like goldfish. I have found myself repeating the statement “we JUST did this. You JUST showed me you know it” too many times.

6. Teaching is hard. Teaching students who are significantly behind is even harder. Figuring out how to work on their basic skills while teaching new concepts is the hardest.

7. Every day is a new chance. I have had some awful days here where I leave school thinking I failed my students and my students hate me. They always come back the next day ready to go, and I get a chance to redeem myself.

8. The pressure of being responsible for others weighs on you. And it is heavy. If I have a bad day, my students don’t learn the objective for the day. If they don’t learn the objective, it becomes that much harder for them to be successful in the class. Ultimately, I need to get them ready to graduate high school and do whatever it is they want to do after that. Man. That is heavy. I can’t imagine what it is like to be a parent.

9. A support system is critical. Have I cried a lot while I have been here? Yes. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who knows me. But the best thing is knowing that I have someone to talk to. Everyone has their days or their weeks, and knowing that when you have yours there will be someone there for you makes it so much less bad. I honestly don’t think you could make it here without close friends and without being able to reach out for help. It sounds dumb and corny, but it is true.

10. You don’t know as much as you think you do. Have an open mind. Try new things. I probably don’t know best, and I might never know best. I am 21 years old, and I have no idea what I am doing. I imagine it will be a long while before I do know what I am doing, and I am ok with that.

On that note, here are a couple pictures.

El Dorado High School. My future school. I will put up pictures of the inside later. It is the most beautiful school that I have ever seen. I am so lucky.

A sunflower field outside of Lyon Elementary, my summer school site. These are EVERYWHERE in Coahoma County. I have never seen anything like it.,

My house in El Dorado. Can’t wait to move in!

3 Responses

  1. “5. Students have memories like goldfish. I have found myself repeating the statement “we JUST did this. You JUST showed me you know it” too many times.” I think after my two years had gone by, I had a true realization about this statement and learning. It isn’t that students have memories like goldfish–it is the shear difficulty of making connections from one problem to the next, learning that yes, you can apply the same methods every time and get the right answer. One of the big opportunities we have as educators is to help our students translate skills from one problem to the next–this is bigger than school achievement, this is life achievement. You are on the path to doing that and your students are going to do great things.

  2. Frau Trice

    Hey, Sweetie!
    I’m excited for you and will be praying for you for strength, wisdom, patience, and insight. Hang in there and know that what you are doing matters! Sending big hugs!

    ruth =)

  3. As a math teacher and alum, I love #4. It normally takes new teachers SO LONG to figure that out. When you give them structure, it just makes the world of difference. You will see so much growth from the beginning to the end of the year! Good luck. Your students need you and are lucky to have you.

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