Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I know my parents are reading this at least...

We discovered on our now weekly Saturday night trek to DC that the new Miley Cyrus song has an uncanny similarity to our recent experiences. By “we” I mean Jaren and Hil, the only two people I feel comfortable sharing the doucheyness of Miley Cyrus with. So, here’s our rendition (please see upcoming blogs for a YouTube link for our soon-to-be-produced video accompaniment):

I hopped off the plane at (BWI)
with a dream and my cardigan (a teacher staple)
welcome to the land of fame excess,
am I gonna fit in?

Jumped in the cab,
Here I am for the first time
Look to the right and I see the (Baltimore) sign (seriously, there’s one on a giant smokestack)
This is all so crazy
Everybody seems so (Unit 1 Ready)

My tummy’s turnin and I'm feelin kinda homesick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous,
That's when the taxi man (Sean) turned on the radio
and a Jay Z song was on
and the Jay Z song was on
and the Jay Z song was on

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
(Tracking my data) like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It's a party in the T-F-A

I also brought up the point that summer institute was the closest thing to study abroad that I’ve experienced. Throw a couple hundred kids into a dorm for 5 weeks, turn their schedules and their life’s purpose upside, and add a crazy bar scene.

Things have definitely calmed down since then, which has actually given me more time to stop and think about what ACTUALLY happened to my life in the last several months. Still, I don’t know. Honestly. I can’t even think of the moment that I actually decided to leave all my family, friends, and the career path and weather patterns I had been bred on for the last decade of my life. I know I discussed TFA with my parents for several days. But there was never that, “Ok. Let’s do it moment.” In fact, I think that moment came a few months before I even got accepted to TFA, and it was completely subconscious. Spring break and visiting Jaren in DC somehow changed EVERYTHING. Arizona no longer fit. Everything about being there felt not right. Jaren and I tried to dissect this the other day as well. The best we could come up with was that it took that last little nudge to get me to realize where I needed to be.

I say last little nudge because I was already walking the cliff for years. Ever since I spent two summers in New York, I had an itch for the east. The thing is, I never REALLY thought I would leave. I walked the cliff, looked down, but didn’t want to jump. I mean, I still can’t believe it. I was the one that stayed when Jaren left. I was the one that was supposed to always stay. To spend every effort making sure we all still got together for a cranium night now and then and to beg/plead/annoy John, Eric and Michael into a continued friendship. When I talked to Celeste and Eric about up and leaving, it was mostly just a really far off dream. But apparently other people saw it more than I did. I remember telling Julie, who I’ve only talked to a few times a year in the last several years, and she was just so “oh. Figures” about the whole thing.

The most I ever thought about leaving was when I used to listen to Augustana’s first CD religiously and Boston would come on. “I think I’ll start a new life. I think I’ll start it over. Where no one knows my name…” I listened to that song again the other day and it all clicked. I did that. I can’t believe I did that. Furthermore, I always thought that when I did leave, it would be because I was mad/running away. It would be the day that Derek finally fully broke my heart, the day it was all just too much, the day the bad stuff in Arizona was worse than the thought of being completely alone in a new place. It’s weird to leave in a non-running manner. There’s less fire in my heart, especially when I think of my friends.

This is getting especially sentimental because I recently had one of the most emo nights of my Baltimore experience thus far. I saw one of my more recent favorite bands, Dear and the Headlights. Besides the fact that the band members themselves are really cool, the whole thing took me back. Back to being editor of SPM, back to driving down Mill Ave in the fall and wondering if Eric would ever speak to me again, back to pear ciders at Casey’s and this odd sense of comfort, back to small bars with tiny stages and a life I don’t know anymore. It’s like when Jaren and I walked into Urban Outfitters the other day and realized we can’t wear any of those clothes any more. I feel old and a little unlike myself (my old self). But also, the most “me” that I’ve felt in years, probably because I’m finally just making decisions based on me. The best analogy of my current state of mind is one Hil made: “I spend all week thinking about other people (our students, our TFA advisors, our JHU advisors, our student’s parent, our school administrations, our students, our students, our students) that when the weekend rolls around, I’m just completely selfish.”

That’s it. Two weeks worth of emo. Oh, and the kids are starting to get more out of control and I need to revisit the Big Goal because they have no idea what’s going on. But we had our first science experiment and our first small group differentiation. Say that again. DIFFERENTIATION. So sexy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time to Center Myself

I’m writing this in the parking lot of the education building at Johns Hopkins as I wait for Jaren to finish up his class. I’m in the midst of taking classes at Hopkins (a school I never thought I would attend) for early childhood education (a profession I never thought I’d call my own). I’m still just taking the minimum classes needed for certification, but I’ve been thinking more and more about just getting the masters. If you spoke to me on the phone over the summer, chances are we had at least one conversation about the pros and cons of just going ahead and getting my masters in 2 years. I eventually decided not to, since having a masters in early childhood education just didn’t seem like something I would continue to use. But, it’s been like a little itch in the back of my head that becomes more prominent as the school year progresses. And, way out of left field, a few nights ago my mom asked me if I should perhaps reconsider. This was completely shocking because my parents were definitely in the “no ECE masters” camp when this was all being decided. I mean, if my mom is starting to think it’s something I should do, then I should definitely consider.

The problem with the ECE masters is that it brings up all kinds of difficult questions about the future. Will I keep teaching after my 2 years in the corps? If so, will I stay in early childhood? If not, will I go back to journalism? Where will I live? (curveball there, but something that might change depending on what job I get). Seeing as how I’m currently in a place I never expected to be in, it makes trying to plan more than 1 year in advance seem almost foolish.

So, my classroom:

The GREAT: They are retaining information! Most of them will tell you that an AUTHOR “writes the book.” And the other day one of the little boys’ mom came in early to just chat. She said her son comes home and shares all about what he learned. At that moment, her son (my student) decided to uncharacteristically pipe up (he’s usually quite shy and quiet) and say, “I’m special!” Normally, this would not be a sentence that garnered more than a smile at his cuteness, but I nearly trampled him as I ran over for a big hug. “I’m Special” is the name of our current unit in school. Last week we finished up books of drawings the students made and the title of the book was “I Am Special.” It’s moments like those you realize that a standardized test cannot accurately capture everything the kids learn, but that they are learning just the same.

The bad: centers is a mess. For those of you not up in the Early Childhood lingo, “centers” or “choice time” is a period during the day where students pick an area to “play” in. I put play in quotes because to the un-trained eye, it looks lik the kids are just sitting in a corner playing with blocks, or pretending to make a cake in the kitchen area, or talking to themselves in the library area. However, as I have learned along my TFA/teaching journey (baptism by fire is possibly more appropriate), centers is actually very significant to the development and education of children from Pre-K and even up into a few of the older early elementary grades. Of course, in 1st or 2nd grade you no longer have the play kitchen or the puppets, but it’s nonetheless a time for students to make important choices on where they want to spend about 45 minutes of the day. At this age, they are learning so much through play; in the kitchen area, for example, they practice daily routines and I can introduce specific items (like a newspaper or umbrella) for them to understand using new tools. The teacher has the opportunity to walk around and expand on their learning by asking questions (I see you reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Joe. I see you moving your fingers under the words to help you read. What direction do we read in? You’re right! Left to right!)

So back to me. And my centers. They have been crazy. First, the students don’t understand fully that when one center is full, they have to choose another. We have a system where students hang their name next to the name of where they want to play, and there are only a certain number of open slots for each area. Second, it’s barely independent at this time. This is supposed to be a time where they are leading their own learning, but I feel like I’m still doing a lot of monitoring and getting them to stay in the same center and actually do what the center is for (reading in the library, not scooting around on the rug or using the reading pointers as magic wands). Also, before my formal observations start, I need to get a science center together. This seems frightening and possibly traumatically messy. Also, I need ideas of what science 4 year olds can do. This weekend is unfortunately going to be another one full of work. Minus TFA Adventure Day on Sunday. Running, jumping, climbing. There’s a zip line! Pray for me. (You know how I do with physical activity, especially when it involves coordination).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How I Spent A Romantic Night With Thurgood Marshall

The students are definitely starting to warm up to me. Which is good in some ways: I get random hugs, and then there's one little girl who will tap my shoulder during circle time and say "I love you, Ms. F!" My little heart melts. And I remember how much I loved my teachers: Mrs. Alexander, Ms. Zanger, Mrs. Erickson, Ms. Burgess, Mrs. Stafford, and a handful of others. I hope some student looks back and makes a list like that and includes me in it.

The bad part of the comfort level: they are MORE THAN comfortable breaking rules now. And, they share allllll kinds of information. On Friday I learned that one of my students parents had a fight because the father no longer wants to be around. I know all about who is "locked up" in one of the other kid's family. Its surprising and sad what little eyes and ears pick up.

And I have a new favorite moment in class. There is one little boy that is just crazy about one of the little girls in class. The two of them usually get their clips moved from green to yellow for giggling to each other in the back of the circle instead of listening to the read aloud. And they hold hands or link arms all the time. They've even told their parents about each other, their parents say. My instructional aide and I usually try to hide the laughter. Then, on Friday, the little boy was at the painting station. He ran over to me after a few minutes and said, wide-eyed, that he had painted the little girl. I walk over, and sure enough he's done a pretty amazing job: a circle for her head with two lines coming down (for the braids she wears most days) and two other lines under the circle for legs. Simple. Modern. Adorable. I called the little girl over, and a couple other students followed. She just grinned and the rest of the students were all in an uproar about how great this work of art was. It was a 4-year-old artist reception at a gallery opening. And, the best part, another little boy (who is like a wise old man in a preschooler's body, has the most detailed stories that spill out in a stutter, and wants to become an "animal doctor" even though he's allergic to dogs and cats) marches over, appraises the work and says, "That, that, that's great! I am proud. I am proud of you!" I just smiled through the whole event.

I forgot to mention we had our first visitors last week. John and Michael came out and Jaren and I used it as an excuse to actually see parts of the amazing city we are living in. The star-spangled banner was written down the block from where I live. And I've picked out at least a half dozen neighborhoods I eventually want to move into. One for my mid-20s, one for when I marry my stylish husband and we walk the dog at federal hill and go to the farmer's market on Saturday mornings, one for when I settle down and have a half-dozen babies (Aristotle, Sophocles, Ulysses, Zander, Avalon, Elizabeth). Oh yeah, and we'll be visiting Annapolis on a regular basis. That's where one of my favorite moments of the weekend went down: we were standing in the square in front of the state house at the Thurgood Marshall memorial. Jaren and Michael were hanging on the coattails of Marshall (how apropos), while Sascha held up his iPhone crooning Etta James' "At Last" and John and I slow danced. Sascha also danced/bopped next to us. I was sort of (really) cranky that night, but I loved it. I miss those boys. All that's left now are three dozen roses on my windowsill that I definitely don't deserve after the tantrum/circus I pulled Saturday night. I miss my boys.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Before the Nyquil knocks me out on the living room floor

I'm halfway through week 2. I smell like I just came out of a crayola factory, I tend to wear more finger paint than make-up, and animal crackers sound like a completely reasonable lunch. But at least I'm not thinking about quitting.

It seems like the idea of quitting is sometimes this big cloud that hangs above us all. The greatest blasphemy. At every TFA meeting, and at the one I had with my own program director, they make sure to let us know that part of the aim of the program is retention. And, on the flipside, it seems like we are constantly hearing stories of older corps members that did quit. Or at least seriously thought about it. Jaren and I had a check-in the other day while doing our morning dance in the kitchen (you iron something, you pour some coffee, you grab the rice pudding for our lunch boxes, you grab the keys... no, you grab the keys... do you have the keys? Ef, we forgot the keys). Simply, we each asked the other if we had had any thoughts about quitting (no). And we reminded each other that we're never letting the other one quit.

The whole quitting thing seems silly, because you would never normally enter a new job and sincerely think about if or when you would have THOSE quitting thoughts. You'd just go for it. But here, quitting seems like the plague. Like some virus that could suddenly attack you. I cannot even fathom quitting, but on the other hand, there is sooooo much about the next few years that seems unknown. When am I going to feel it? When will I get hit by those unending blues that every corps member talks about? The ones that make you cry every day and only get better when you come back from winter break? It seems inevitable, but also completely not me.

It seems so not me because things are so good right now. I have a surprisingly well behaved class. And I see them, every day, getting it. Getting what I taught. When two words sound the same, they rhyme. The author of a story writes the words in the book. The best thing by far: my little attitude+allergies princess often says "I can't" when we start an assignment, like draw what you look like, try drawing your name, etc. Today, everyone traced their names and then had a small blank area to try freehand. I was just passing by her table when I hear a surprised intake of breath and she says, "Hey!" She looks up to see I'm watching her and then points to her paper where she has just drawn her first "s." It may be backwards, and it may be in the middle of her name, but she did it. And she was just as surprised as I was. I can't believe I actually got to see that a-ha moment.

The only downside is I'm sick (again). I foresee this year being one unending cold. And the nyquil is making me drowsy so this is going to be a quick entry.

The good: I've been introducing lessons slowly and still spending large chunks of the day on beginning procedures (why do we have rules, what are the rules, let's stand in a line, let's practice freezing) and it's helping. They respond well to the reinforcement and review, especially during the morning circle time when they are sharing. They are also starting to recognize more what their names look like. Many of them are understanding the title, front cover and back cover of a book. We worked through the Color Parade song today and it went from a total catastrophe to a manageable situation (I had to turn off the cd player, sing the song slowly myself, remind a few students what color they were holding, and we repeated like there was nothing more important than colors. In a parade.)

The bad: the kids seem to be fairly well-behaved, but I'm afraid that as they become more comfortable with the classroom and school, it will slip. I'm not sure if I'm enforcing as much as I should be. I also need to be doing the positive reinforcement more. I always forget to reward the most well-behaved ones with a move up to the "blue" on our 5-color behavior chart. Things seem much less organized than I planned: the centers time is a mess, with how they pick a center and how I track their learning during centers time. I am not as far as I need to be with doing diagnostic testing. I need to develop a better morning routine for coming into the class, pulling out their folder and putting their backpack away. Also, we are wasting time during snack time. Math often gets cut short and we haven't moved into small groups yet (partly because of diagnostics).

The best: Field trip on Friday to Fort McHenry! I'm possibly more excited than the kids. And not just because my lesson plans for Friday were cut in half, but because this is actually historically significant and cool. This is why I love Maryland. All of these things and places that matter and have a history. We all know I love history.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I'm a teacher!

Celeste, the title of this blog is for you. I hope you can imagine the voice I would use to say that. I would follow it up with, "I'm spilling my guts here, MOM!"

Day three of week 1. That seems really small and insignificant when I know that there's at least 170 more school days to go this year. But three days also seems like far more than I thought I would be able to do at 1 a.m. last Sunday night.

I have never, ever, ever felt that scared, unprepared and yet locked in. It was like the moment when you're already in the air. You've already leapt off the diving board, you can't scramble back now, and below the water is looking really, really cold. I've also never felt more alone. After I dropped Jaren off at his school on Monday morning, I was so completely aware of how alone I was. I couldn't even call the people I normally would to make me feel better, because they are either still sleeping, or no longer really talking to me. Sigh.

This is a completely different feeling from Saturday night. Although I spent most of the day going between crying and frustrated screaming at Jaren, with the time before the big First Day dwindling, I nonetheless decided to go to Kait's surprise party. Thank God. It becomes more clear to me every week that I am so lucky to have my fellow corps members. It's comforting when we spend the first few minutes of seeing each other checking in ("Are YOU Unit 1 ready? How's your long-term plan? Is it aligned to the standards? Do you know what the hell is going on here?") and realize that everyone is just as lost but also just as ready to get going. Then there's the traditional dancing (I've danced more this summer than I have in my whole life, and I've loved every second of it). And finally, as everyone starts to leave between midnight and 1 a.m., there iss the best part - "Have a good Monday!" 'We are going to be awesome, we totally have this," "Let me know how Monday goes, but don't worry, it will be great!" There's so much comfort when you know that all of these people are diving into that really cold pool along with you Monday, and, more than everyone you've tried to explain this to over the last 3 months, they know EXACTLY what's happening. They know how crazy, how daring, how important, how scary, how time-consuming, and how fulfilling this mission is.

Jaren and I had our doubts again Monday morning. Here's a picture. Me in my red cardigan, white crochet-neck tank top and seersucker skirt (the perfect first day outfit) nervously slamming dishes into the dishwasher at 6:30 a.m. and scoffing toward Jaren (who is in his button up shirt and tiny bright blue boxer briefs, ironing his pants) "You know?! Only WE would pick this. I couldn't just stay in Arizona and sit behind a desk writing for a newspaper and hating life." Jaren responds, "Of course, we couldn't do it the easy way."

It definitely hasn't been easy these 3 days. I'm exhausted. I'm hoping it gets better and this is just the first week crazies. It's good to hear other people are getting 5 hours of sleep while cutting out endless supplies of nametags and copying unending parent surveys as well. The only good thing: the kids. My 18 amazing 4 year olds who have already surprised me. My favorite little girl (all attitude and allergies) who cracks me up every day. The three boys who took SUCH good care of the baby dolls in the dramatic play center on Tuesday. The little angel who is silent nearly all day except when we ask her to say her name for the class, at which point she says the WHOLE thing, first, middle, last, in a sing-song voice. At the end of the day, I at least get to smile. No matter how badly the whole lesson plan goes.

So, as part of my own assignment, here it is. The good: the kids loved reading No David and started to read along. Good predictive text. They respond better to a lesson when a book is involved that they can connect to, such as No David and our lesson on rules. They understood freezing at an activity when they hear the bell.

The bad: not enough activities planned for the first 2 days. I started to just feel like a drill sergeant. I need to explain things in shorter bits - I include too many directions or unclear monologues. They have no idea what a line is. They can line UP. But it all falls apart as soon as the kids start moving. I need to practice going through the school and find a way for them to stay in the formation. Maybe an assigned place in line?