Tuesday, December 18

Teacher Christmas List

Inspired by a few other teachers posting Christmas lists and one of the most frustrating days of my life, here are some things I would like for Christmas:

Schedules for my students and rosters for my classes next semester that make sense
Just a little bit of appreciation and positive feedback
A stronger professional community (TFA and beyond) and much more help with what I'm doing
Graded papers and an updated tracking system
Some organization in my life and my classroom
Enough make-up work returned to me to pass a few key students
A long term plan for next semester
Increased productivity during prep time and after school
A list of books to read next semester, plus many copies of the books themselves
A qualified special ed and literacy teacher
An endless supply of white board markers
A silent pencil sharpener (or self sharpening pencils)
"Because" "would" "should" "just" "kind of" "probably"-- all spelled correctly all of the time
Students who love to read
Students who are safe and loved in and out of school
A much bigger house
A Starbucks/coffee house with wireless internet that I can walk to

That all said, in the spirit of not focusing on all negative things, here's a few things I'm thankful for.
I'm thankful that I don't feel anxious every morning and that some days I actually have fun with my students.
I'm thankful that I have pretty much absolute power to make curriculum decisions in my classroom.
I'm thankful for my classroom library
I'm thankful for students who come to school and want to learn and make me laugh
I'm thankful for other teachers who blog
I'm thankful for new friends who feel like old friends
I'm thankful for old friends on G-chat and in person
I'm thankful that I'm here and have the opportunity to be a part of this movement
I'm thankful that I am able to share my experience with you (and I promise to keep it up and increase frequency and quality in the future)

Wednesday, December 12

test bias

How's this for a classic example of tests written to favor middle class suburban students:

"The city council is considering an ordinance banning cycling on all sidewalks. Consider the effects such an ordinance would have, and decide whether you support or oppose the measure. Then, write an essay in which you express and support your opinion on the issue."

What??? Some of my students have probably never SEEN a sidewalk! And kids around here to not have/ride bikes. This is strait out of our brand new language arts text books. You'd think they'd be getting better about this by now. Something else that kills me about these books is that is comes with a separate soft cover book called a "Multicultural Reader". As in, "we think literature from other cultures is so important that instead of putting it in the text book we put it in a flimsy little separate workbook." jeez. What worries me is that the text books are written by the same company that writes the test.

Monday, December 10

Looking for a little Gemütlichkeit in South Dakota

I miss this...So, to satisfy the craving for Glühwein that I've been having since the end of November, I'm having a little Weihnachtsfest in my trailer on Wednesday. I even made Lebkuchen, or attempted to-- it's pretty close if not exactly the real thing, I think it will adequately compliment the wine at least.

It's winter here. How did that happen so soon? There are inches of snow on the ground. My nose is always running, my lips are always chapped, and last week I fishtailed my car into a ditch. It doesn't get much more winter than that.

My students are either more subdued because of the weather or more out of control, depending on the student and the day. Classes are going fine. Kids seem to be disappearing into thin air, however. I'm not sure where they go, but they aren't in school. My classes are tiny, sometimes 3 or 4 students in a period. The average the last week or so has been a total of 24 kids spread across four class periods, that's out of about 46 originally enrolled. That's little. Too little. I feel crazy saying that I want bigger class sizes, but I do! It's just not fun with four kids, there's no energy, there's no discussion, there's no group work. It's basically tutoring. Plus I'm bored teaching the same lesson four times to five kids when I could just teach it once to 20 kids and be done with it. I've requested fewer sections of my classes next semester. We'll see if I live to regret my whining here ;)

Other stuff at school....

Basketball season has started and it is a HUGE deal. I'm not sure that I can convey to you what a huge deal basketball is out here, but let's just say- it's huge. Tons of my students are on the team and I'm hoping that that's going to motivate them to get their work done and keep their grades up for the season. Meanwhile, I'm going to be attending a whole lot of b-ball games in the near future.

Also, Christmas is apparently a pretty huge deal too. I wasn't quite expecting this since, I don't know, it's a federally run school! Not to mention that it's an Indian school. How the over the top cheesy Christmas decorations mesh with that I'm not sure, but everyday when I walk into school there is some new garland or tree or lights or inflatable snowman in the commons, it's weird. I guess being PC doesn't apply out here.... Anyway, there will be no Christmas in my classroom. We're working on a unit on writing assessments, so all they're getting from me for Christmas is a test! ha!

Today they put up a real pine tree and I couldn't help but smile at the thought of a European pagan tradition being Christianized, brought over here, and making it's way into another native culture, it makes a nice circle in a way!

Only six school days until Christmas break! And boy am I ready. I like teaching and all, and it's not like I'm generally THAT stressed out, but I do feel very very ready for a break about now. It's going to be so nice to spend two weeks at home to see friends and family and get some planning done for next semester. I'm ready to rock my literature classes- or I will be by the end of break!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 14

Tuesday, November 13

This article makes me miss my old job a little bit....


That and at least at that job I didn't get ten people telling me they wish I would just not show up so they could have a good day.

I'm not a fan of 14 year olds today.

Thursday, November 8

Week 10

Can I really have been teaching for 10 weeks now? Was I ever not a teacher? I feel like I can't remember a time when I didn't go by Ms.

This week has been pretty good. And pretty bad. Kinda like all of my weeks. I'd say mostly good on this one though. Kids have been making me laugh a lot lately and I've been having fun joking around with them. I'm starting to feel that some of them at least genuinely like me. At least I'm assuming that the girls who come hang out in my room after school even when they don't have work must like me a little bit. Persuasive writing is turning out to be more fun than expected. What made it for me anyway was a student, trying to incite me, saying that he was going to write his essay about how only native teachers should be aloud to teach at our school and I said, "Yes! That's a great topic. I totally agree." The look of disappointment and shock on his face was priceless. Then we had a short discussion about why there aren't enough native teachers, but I don't think I managed to convince any of them that they should become teachers. Not yet anyway.

On Monday a TFA program director came and observed my classroom. I mentioned in my last post not really feeling like I was being supported by TFA, I should probably explain. It isn't their fault, the person who should be my program director was in a roll over car accident toward the beginning of school and has been back and forth to her home in St. Louis getting treatment for back injuries. South Dakota is a very tiny TFA corps, and only has two program directors, so now we're down to one. Meeting with him on Monday was a very good thing. I needed a big push in the right direction in my teaching. A lot of it was stuff I knew I should be doing, but wasn't. I needed someone to be there to hold me to high expectations as a teacher because my school definitely does not.

So I'm trying. I'm tracking data and unveiling big goals the way a TFA corps member should be. We'll see how much it helps my students. For now the TFA teaching model is the only one I know, so I may as well try to do it as best as I can.

Last weekend we had a TFA professional development meeting in Pierre and there were a couple recruiters there from the national office to give a presentation on working for them after the corps experience. For a non-profit, TFA is absurdly corporate. Basically their plan is to take over the country and then the world. And that is hardly a hyperbole. Don't believe me? Check out their growth plan. And their plan to take over the world. It's a pretty incredible organization whether you think it's a good organization or not, you have to be blown away by the strategy and efficiency. I have vague ambitions of working for TFA Minneapolis, or better yet, TFA Berlin sometime in the future.

As for life outside of teaching.... hahahahahaha, as if.

Just kidding, there's a little more than that. There was a pretty rockin' TFA Halloween party a few weeks back. And I went on a very spontaneous weeknight try to Rapid City to see a production of Evita with some other teachers last week. This weekend I'm going to Omaha and Lincoln and I cannot tell you how excited I am to see the inside (or outside) of a shopping mall!

I hope you're all doing well and that this post at least somewhat satisfies your burning desire to know what life is like out here on the rez, feel free to comment if you have questions or there is something you want to hear about!

Monday, October 22

So about that teaching thing...

Have you reached the disillusionment phase yet? asked a friend who recently completed her 2 years as a corps member in NYC. Yeah, I'd say I may be just about there. I'm not sure. I am sure that I need some kind of boost in my classroom really soon. The end of this week will be the end of the quarter and finally the end of my memoir unit that really should have ended a couple weeks ago. I'm hoping that the accomplishment of completing a final draft of a piece of writing will motivate my students and me. I'm also hoping that they actually complete a final draft this week....

For whatever reason I am required by my school to teach one semester of composition followed by one semester of literature. This seemed like a fine enough idea when i was planning and struggling to break down state standards, but in practice i am struggling with the separation. It's hard to be excited about writing when you aren't reading any good writing. The two just go hand in hand. And these kids have so little exposure to any kind of writing, much less good writing that they have no context for what their own writing should look like. The first time i asked them what they needed the most help with to become a better writer the vast majority of them said "writing neater" or "spelling". Which, if you know me at all you could probably guess are the two things i am absolutely least concerned about in writing. I'm not sure that i've managed to teach them very much about writing so far, but i consider it a step in the right direction that when i asked the same question last week i got responses like, "Thinking of good topics", "Knowing where to begin and end my sentences" and "organizing ideas in my writing". So maybe at least they have a better idea of what we're shooting for. I think that a lot of things are going to change when I reteach this course next semester. Next year I may even ignore the course title and teach an integrated language arts reading/writing class all year. No one is actually keeping track of what I do in my room anyway. Most days I feel like I could be teaching underwater basket weaving in my room and no one would know or care- that's about the level of support I feel like I have from my school or TFA right now.

Some days I feel like my class is a huge waste of my time and my students, or even worse, that I'm doing more harm than good and just confusing them or making them feel worse about their writing or something equally awful. I'm sometimes not sure that I have the patience, energy, and passion necessary for this job. I've discovered that my level of excitement and engagement with the material needs be be at minimum 100% to get even 10% engagement from my students, and a lot of days I'm just not there, especially when I'm scrambling to come up with the material day to day without always having a bigger vision of where this fits or why it's important. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have felt like I'm not doing the best job, but it's never been as deeply upsetting as it is here. What's more upsetting is that a lot of the time I just don't know what else I could do to improve. I should be working harder I guess, reaching out and seeking more resources.

The bigger difficulty is maintaining the drive to want to work any harder. Lately I'm feeling more content to settle with how i'm doing now and the amount of work that I'm doing now. I'm just not sure that a whole lot more work on my part would make much more than a little difference for my students. It's very emotionally draining to care deeply about them and feel like I'm constantly failing them. It's much easier to step back, get by with minimal planning, and say- well at least I'm doing more than the awful teacher they had last year, and leave it at that. I think that there must be some balance in there somewhere where I am able to care about them and work hard, but still get 8 hours of sleep and not have nightmares about students and lesson plans. I've sort of swung from one end the other, and am not sure where I will land. I want to be a good teacher and a stellar corps member. I also would like to preserve some part of myself out here and not be too burnt out to even consider teaching as a profession beyond these 2 years.

I think that I am somewhat confident that I will be able to do this. At least that I can continue to oscillate without getting stuck in either extreme. I'm writing a blog at least, so that's a step in the right direction! I hope that I will find inspiration and get excited about my curriculum again. I'm worried that it won't happen until next semester when I get to teach literature, but we'll see. Persuasive writing can be exciting too, I just haven't put enough thought into that next unit yet, I need to start reading more essays and editorials.

Part of the difficulty with the whole life balance thing out here is that it feels much of the time like there isn't any life other than school... It's either school, the inside of my tiny trailer, or staring at cows and hills.... Ok, that may be a little extreme. There are the other corps members out here who are pretty fantastic, I just wish that we saw each other more often and that everyone was less stressed and exhausted.

There is also the Lakota culture and the modern culture of life on the Rez which is continually fascinating/frustrating to me. I think this post is to long to write all my thoughts on that right now. Part of the reason I haven't been blogging is the overwhelming amount of stuff I am thinking about and encountering every day that I feel very strongly about. I hardly ever know where to begin.

But I'm teaching writing now, so I should be writing more, not less. I will endeavor to write much more and be more specific and less abstract than this has been.

In the Badlands

Freshmen Warriors Homecoming Float

Originally uploaded by annieswims05

Sunday, September 16

Week 1: 9th Grade Counts!!

I'm kind of in love with my classroom....

Which is a good thing because I spend just about every waking hour in it right now. Teaching is fun! and hard! and scary! and I might be messing up everything and failing them completely, but I love them and right now I kind of want to spend every minute of every day trying to figure out how to teach them. Except that I also want to sleep, and catch up with friends, and do my laundry.... Thankfully God made weekends. Sadly however this one is just about over and I have so many stories to tell, but no energy to tell in here just yet.

I'm about to start a new week- week two of their Freshman year of high school, what is that cooky new English teacher going to make us do this week? Stay tuned...

Sunday, September 9

1st Day Eve

Almost there... Tomorrow there will be students in the new high school building for the very first time!!! woo!!! There will be orientation activities and dedication ceremonies going on all day, so I don't have to actually teach, just go over the handbook with a small group. BUT there will be kids. This past week has been a mad dash to get the building ready. It's still kind of far from it, but oh well I guess. We were finally able to start moving in on Tuesday and spent every day hauling stuff from storage to the new high school. Teaching is a lot more manual labor than I expected.

I managed to stay late in the evenings and get my own room put together as well. It's wonderful :) Having a classroom is the best feeling. In service had been getting me kind of down, but my mood has improved dramatically since getting into a room. I'll take some pictures this week so you can all share in the magic. I have a classroom library! I scrounged up some really cool shelves out of storage and spray painted them. I was completely bright orange for a day, but it's totally worth it. It looks awesome. I still don't exactly know what I'm doing... I have a lot of things to work out systems for. There is going to be bit of controlled chaos happening for a while, but I think I can figure it out as I go. I don't really need to sleep EVERY night anyway.

This is going to be fun...

Thursday, August 30

horses in mist

Originally uploaded by mistubako
Once again, not my picture. But there are five horses that have been hanging out around school campus lately that look like these horses except there is one extra white one usually leading the pack. The other morning as we were walking to in-service they came galloping out of the mist toward us and veered off across the football field. It was strangely dreamlike.

One of these days I'm going to make friends with someone around here who will let me ride their horses. For those of you who don't know me well, I was mildly (ok, very) obsessed with horses around 5th-8th grade. I haven't actually ridden since then, but my pipe dream out here is to become an amateur barrel racer- I'll let you know how that goes ;)

Monday, August 27

Rosebud Fair

This picture is not actually from Rosebud Fair, but I can assure that the children there were equally adorable. The Tiny Tots portion of the pow wow involved tiny little guys like these in full regalia running and jumping and dancing their little hearts out, it was too precious for words. I am sooooo jealous of the little girls in Jingle dresses. It's like the dream I never knew I had as a small child to wear a fancy dress that jingled when I danced. The older dancers are pretty awesome too, and the drumming and singing is amazing. I still can't quite believe that I'm here.

The whole fair was really fun, I kinda wish it were every weekend. People were there from far and wide. I was a little sad that I don't know any of my students yet, because I'm sure most of them were there. It was kinda like county fairs back home, only not at all. There is a carnival with rides and games, rodeos, and an arena for pow wows surrounded by stalls selling delicious food like Indian Tacos and fry bread. Mmmmm.

We had Friday and today off of inservices for the fair- I'm not exactly sure why we needed today off since the fair ended yesterday, but I'm not asking questions. I would like to say that I was especially productive this weekend and did lots of planning... but clearly that is not the case. We did have our first "Professional Learning Community" meeting on Saturday and it was actually good to go to a TFA type session again. I never thought I would miss CS sessions at institute, but oh I do. Everyone else now has a week of teaching under their belts.... I want to teach! I'm going to be super good about getting my act together and planning the first few weeks of school so I can not be quite so stressed out once I start. I hope.

Wednesday, August 22

Blue Eyes

Today in in-service we watched the video Blue Eyes about Jane Elliott, a teacher who divided her class by eye color back in the 60s to teach them about discrimination and now does workshops for adults around the same idea. I'm sure lots of you have seen it before. Anyway, this was followed by a round robin sharing of everyones reactions and personal experience with prejudice. I've watched/read similar things and had similar discussions before, but this was the first time I had that discussion in a room where I was actually in the ethnic minority. Still not by much, the room was probably 1/3 white, 2/3 native. It was interesting and I have lots to say about it, but I'm sleepy and all talked out, for now I just wanted to share this story that one man told us and I thought was great-

A native man was traveling around the country and came to a city where he went to a diner that had a sign on it saying "No colored people allowed". He went in, sat down and ordered coffee. The manager said to him, "We don't serve colored people here." The man looked around and saw that he was the only brown skinned person in the room and continued to sit there and order his food. The manager said again, "No colored people allowed in here." Finally the native man went up to the manager and said, "When I was born, I was brown. When I am angry, I am brown. When I'm cold, I am brown. When I'm sick, I am brown. And when I'm dead, I'll be brown. When you were born you were pink. When you are angry you are red. When you are cold you are blue. When you are sick you are green. When you are dead you'll be purple. And you think that I am the colored person??"

Hehe. clever.

Monday, August 20

Settling in

The teacher in-services continue this week and are increasingly dull and frustrating because we can't get into our classrooms still. The positive side is that we have so long to get to know other teachers and the school community before we have to start teaching. It definitely takes some time for people here to warm up to newcomers, they seem to be feeling us out and watching us carefully, but we're all getting more comfortable with each other bit by bit. I can certainly see now that it's going to take the first several weeks for my students to get used to me and even begin to respect and trust me.

Most of the other schools on Rosebud had their first day today. ah! They only had a week and a half or so of training stuff so they haven't been out here that long. It's nice that we have time to settle in and get to know our surroundings a bit more. Our trailer is beginning to look downright homey. Katie and I took a little three hour trip to the nearest Target (where am I????) on Saturday and bought one of just about everything there. Book cases, curtains, frames, a fantastic red couch cover. Here's a
little collage of our trailer:

There's still plenty to be done, mostly painting, but I like it so far. It's good to have a place to come home to that feels normal and livable and less like the crazy alien planet I otherwise feel like I'm living on.

Friday night we went out in Valentine, Nebraska- about 50 miles away, but also the nearest bars. There had been a rodeo earlier that night and the bar was packed full of cowboys. No kidding honest to goodness cowboys wearing white hats, wrangler jeans, boots, and wild colored shirts. I kept saying I felt like I was at a bar in DC that was having a cowboy theme party-- except that it was real! So crazy that I'm living here, and yet so great. The male/female ratio out here is probably something like 5/1 which makes for lots of uncomfortable situations with the opposite sex (of all ages) who seem to have been waiting for a fresh batch of young teachers to come to town so they could have their pick. yikes. It's going to be an interesting year...

Saturday night was a TFA party at a house in Mission which felt considerably more normal and similar to most parties I have attended. Once again, teachers are great people :) I'm looking forward to meeting more second, third, and fourth year TFAers and of course more time hanging out with the greatest '07 corps.

This coming weekend is Rosebud fair, a huge Pow Wow/ Rodeo/ Carnival. We have off Friday and Monday for the festivities. Which means I only have to make it through three more days of training before the weekend! woo!

Tuesday, August 14

Teacher In-Services

Ever wonder what your teachers did in the last few weeks and days before school started? Well now I know. They sit through endless all day in-service meetings about test data and school policies and state standards. I have so very much to do, it's kind of frustrating to have to sit through so many meetings. But I'm going to stop being negative. There is some good information. Certainly knowing about testing and where the kids and they school is at is very important, and this school as got some serious work to do. And it's exciting to meet all the teachers and administrators and start getting to know the people I'll be working with every day. It seems to be a good bunch. It's very mixed between native and non-native. One thing people around here are good at is laughing a lot. Humor is a huge part of the culture, so at least long boring power points are occasionally interrupted with jokes poking fun of people and laughing all around.

Everything is a little bit chaotic right now. There's no class schedule. They're still missing some teachers (if you have any interest in teaching P.E. or Industrial Arts in South Dakota let me know). Oh, and we can't get into the new high school building yet because it didn't pass the final inspection and they're doing more work on it. So all of the desks, tables, books, computers, and materials that belong in the high school are currently still in the gym of the elementary school. yikes! And there's still no word on when we will be able to get into our classrooms to set up. But I'm going with the flow.

Meanwhile I'm supposed to be planning my classes... setting goals, making long term plans and assessments, writing the first Unit plan and lessons for the first weeks. Ah! I'm not quite freaking out yet because there is still nearly four weeks. But I see a little bit of flipping out in the near future.

I'm also beginning to realize now the things that I took for granted at institute. Don't get me wrong, institute was a mildly painful process, but there were hundreds of people there with a common mission to constantly remind each other what we're working for and why we're doing this. Being here is much more isolating and while all the teachers at the school clearly want what's best for the students, they come from a variety of education backgrounds and have drastically different mindsets. It's very easy to be overwhelmed with sudden attacks of "What the heck I'm I doing here???? I have no idea what I'm doing!!!" Although, in many ways it's nice to not be constantly labeled as TFA. Here we're just first year teachers who need lots and lots of help.

So that's my teaching rant, now to back up a little to life in general- The trailer is nice. I'm not feeling faint or nauseated or anything like that. We're pretty squished with three of us and zero storage space, but we're managing. We have central air!

Last weekend a large group of us went camping at Lake Angastora. It was fun. We went and saw the Wind Caves and went swimming in the lake and were ridiculously silly I love it. I love teachers.
On the whole I'm very happy to be here. I've been going running with my roommate Katie in the evenings and it is so beautiful and peaceful and... open here. I love the space. I will try to take some pictures soon. We're going to make a trip to Rapid City this weekend to buy some shelving and paint and fabric to cover the somewhat hideous sofa we inherited. I'll post pictures once it's all put together and cozy.

I'm ready to push through the next few weeks of meetings and preparations so I can make it to the good part- teaching the kids! It's going to be great.

Wednesday, August 8

One day!!

One of these was supposed to be my trailer....

Guess not. For now we'll be squishing three into one trailer. It'll all work out.

Ah... the night before departure. The Focus is filled to the gills yet again. I would like to complain about how much I hate packing, but I realized while going through and trying to tag my old posts that I already have numerous posts about how much I hate packing, so you can just look back on those if you've forgotten. Man oh man. Moving again. Am I crazy? Yep, pretty sure that I am.

So, what have I been doing the last couple weeks at home? About the same thing I usually do when I'm home. Sleeping late, bumming around with friends and family. I've also been collecting massive amounts of books books and more books. My bumper is going to be scraping the asphalt there are so many books in my trunk right now. Most of them are for my future classroom library. Some of them are teacher books for me that I've been browsing through trying to figure out how to teach English, or rather how I want to teach English. I've got lots of ideas that will hopefully solidify over the next few weeks.

Oh, also a bridge collapsed which you probably all heard about. It's pretty crazy. I wasn't anywhere near it nor did I know anyone on it. I did see it last week when we went downtown to see a play. It's totally unreal.

Samantha Brown is on TV right now showing me around Madrid and I remember two years ago when I was sitting here watching her holding a beer in Munich just a few days before I moved there. So exciting! I miss Europe a little bit.

But- I couldn't be more ready for South Dakota! Ok, that's a little bit of a lie. I could be a lot more ready, but I think I'm ready enough. I don't think I could be totally ready. And really that would be pretty dull anyway, right? I'm excited and confident that I can do this and that it's going to be a great two years. Extremely challenging, but all the greater for every challenge to overcome.

Timing goes something like this- driving to St. Francis tomorrow to hopefully unload stuff into our trailer. Saturday morning- leave with 2o something other SoDak TFAers for a fun filled camping trip somewhere in the Black Hills I think. Monday starts four long weeks of teacher in-services at my school. Thankfully that will give me some time to settle in and to do lots and lots more planning for my classes.

Nervous? anxious? stressing out a little bit? Ummm, yeah.

This is scattered and has been written in chunks over the course of the day- forgive me. It's time to go to bed, not that I can ever sleep the night be for traveling, but I'll give it a shot. Call me tomorrow if you're bored because I sure will be (if you've ever driven though southern MN you'll understand)!

Friday, July 20


I finally saw them :) tons more pics on Flickr.

P.S. I'm home in MN! And about to go to sleep for a long time- Do Not Disturb!

Tuesday, July 17

Home Sweet Home South Dakota

Sunset behind the Rosbud Casino and Quality Inn. 25 exhausted but happy TFA corps members arrived back in South Dakota Sunday night after two looooooong days of driving from Houston. I don't think you could find another TFA corps more thrilled to be home. This place is beautiful/amazing/magical/otherworldly.

Yesterday I went to St. Francis where we found out that our trailers are not actually here yet, nor have they actually secured them yet. They are supposed to be getting unused or unneeded FEMA trailers leftover from Katrina, but apparently lots of other people want them as well, so we'll see. What they do have at St. Francis is a BRAND NEW high school building which we got to go inside and it was so exciting! I actually had goosebumps looking in at a classrooom that could be mine in the fall and seeing myself in front of that white board delivering excellent lessons. There is so much potential in that building, so much learning and growing that can happen in there. It's going to be a great two years. Today we started our sessions which we'll continue tomorrow and Thursday. The orientation sessions here really focus on creating a vision for our class and setting goals and planning the first few weeks. Reading the South Dakota 9th grade English standards makes me a little bit giddy. I kind of love English :) I have so many ideas and thoughts on what we could do in that classroom with those standards--projects and books and essays and presentations oh my! so much fun and yet so terrifying and overwhelming because now I have to actually decide what we're going to do and how and what my students are going to come out of my class with at the end of the year. Wow. Me. I have to do that. My students' learning in my classroom is all up to me now. I can't even express how happy I am to be here doing this right now or how enormous this challenge is or how happy/scared I am to be taking it on.

More goal setting and unit planning to come...

AND- Three days to Minnesota!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, July 13

Last Day of School

Great Teachers = Great Kids

We just had our last summer school class! Today is the last day of institute!! Unbelievable. Our kids are so amazing and smart and great, I wish I could take them with me.

On Wednesday after their final we asked them to write letters to our future students (Mine in South Dakota and my partner's here in Houston). Here are some of my favorites:

"Dear Ms. S's future students,
I don't really know how weather is in South Dakota, but I don't think that that will affect your ability to learn. Ms. S is a very good teacher she might have some bad days that she forgets how to spell some word, but shoot me if I'm lying, nobody is perfect in this big world... I know I only had her for four weeks, but damn I have learned a lot since she started teaching. I have less problems reading stories when before I even fell asleep when I was reading."

"As you will have seen, Ms. S is energetic and spunky, so if you get as excited as she does you might increase your intake. She's open to your ideas so speak up when you think of something. She's a great teacher."

"Here is some advice for you, pay attentions, participate in class, and follow the rules. She really doesn't have many rule so it will be easy. Work with her, she will give you something in return. She is a really nice person so appreciate her and have fun. Enjoy!"

"For the short time I had her Ms. S was an OK teacher, and in case you wanted to know, I hate practically all of the teachers at school, so being an OK teacher is a big compliment from me. I have to admit, Ms. S is not a perfect speller, no one is, but when she would misspell something class would be so boring that I would get a kick out of seeing how long it takes the teacher or another student to notice. I'm sure Ms. S will be a great teacher to Ya'll, she was to our class."

So sweet... granted they knew I'd be reading these and had yet to give them a final grade, but I'll the same, I'm going to give myself a pat on the back. They were fantastic and we had at least a little bit of fun in summer school. Hopefully they'll never have to be in summer school again! It really is all about the kids... I can't wait to get to SoDak and meet all my kids there that I get to keep for a whole year! I love them already.

Saturday, July 7

Institute Week Four

I think I've finally hit my institute stride. Five step lesson plans seem to flow forth from my fingers effortlessly, I feel perky after six hours of sleep, and Houston is definitely growing on me. Too bad there's only one week left :-P

Here are some highlights of this week:
On the 4th (after a morning of sessions and an afternoon of lesson planning) some of us went downtown to watch the firework show. It was a great show and even greater to get out of Moody towers and see real people in the city. And I'm glad I got to see some fireworks on the fourth, sometimes I forget that it's actually summertime here.

Your teachers were never this cool. My CMA group threw a mini dance party at school Friday afternoon to break it down with a little Cupid Shuffle. (It was also college shirt day- we don't usually get to dress like this!)Friday night Kereoke bar extravaganza. Need I say more?

And finally, today the SoDak corps took a trip to the beach in Galvestan. It was possibly one of the ugliest beaches I've ever seen, but still a beach and a totally fun day.

Also today I bought a really truly authentic pair of Texas Cowgirl boots and I'm about to go break 'em in with some two steppin'. Texas does have it's strong points :)

Sunday, July 1

Institute: Week Three- Plus Bonus MN Mini-break!

Week three over and we're already halfway through summer school! Ah!! Two more weeks! We gave our class a mid-term on Wednesday which went fairly well. We're on our way to significant gains! (never mind that the data is marginally worthless.... the whole testing and data collection they do here is pretty silly and has little to do with actual student achievement). Anyway, so after the testing we started a play with them on Friday which I'm pretty excited about. We're reading the Glass Menagerie and it's going to be cool. Short stories are not really my favorite literary genre, they can be good, but I couldn't take only reading short stories all summer. This way they get involved in reading in class. I started Friday by having them do 10 second auditions to decide who would read in class. It was awesome, they're totally hooked. Or as hooked as unbelievably apathetic teenagers can be...

Speaking of apathetic teenagers... how cute are my brothers and I? Yes, Scott is as tall as I am and he's about to be a ninth grader!! I can call him for some lesson planning tips next year :) In case you're confused, I went to MN this weekend for my Uncle George's wedding which was so fun, I'm really glad I made it. I'm getting sick of missing important family events because I'm far away, I'm ready to be closer to home. The wedding was great and they are so happy and cute, I can't wait to have more baby cousins!!

I heart Minnesota so very much. This morning I was cruising around the lake on our pontoon boat with my two bestest friends... now I'm back in hideous moody towers working on lesson plans. Sigh. Two more weeks!! Then one more week in SD and THEN finally a three week vacation at home. I. Can't. Wait. I need a vacation like whoa. It's time for life to slow down for a minute....

But not quite yet! Gotta get ready for week 4 and some classroom drama (in a theatrical sense only I hope).

Thursday, June 28

Frugal Traver visits SD

Three people have sent me this article now... so I figured I should post it!

Scraping By With a South Dakota Tribe

Saturday, June 23

Week 2: Good Morning Miss S

This is what teachers look like in their spare time.

I'm a teacher!! This was our first full week of being in the classroom. It's crazy, fun, and incredibly hard. I've never experienced anything close to the intense and challenging environment here. We're all running on just a few hours of sleep a night trying to absorb huge amounts of information and immediately apply it in out classrooms. Most days go something like this:
5:30am- wake up
6:45- bus to school leaves
7:20-8 - morning duty in the hallway
8:55-9:50- teach the second half of ninth grade English class
10-4pm- go to various session on classroom management, diversity, lesson planning, literacy, etc.
4- bus leaves school
4:30-6ish- dinner/destress
6ish- get together with collaborative teaching partner to plan lessons, make copies, find resources, grade papers, write tests, etc. Sometimes interspersed with more sessions.
Sometime between 11pm and 2am- finally get to sleep

Let me tell you, it is exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally. Some days it feels like everyone is so tense and on edge they could explode at any moment and sometimes do. The TFA "sense of urgency" is usually bordering on panic. They pretend to be ultra organized and tell us how we should be managing our time, but really everything is kind of a mess and none of the staff are getting any more sleep than we are. I know that this will somehow all be worth it in the end. There are a lot of things I absolutely hate about having every 5 minutes of my time structured for me and there have been more than a couple times I've wanted to scream/cry/punch someone, but I can't really imagine how else they could prepare us to be teachers in only 5 weeks.

The part of it that is really fun, however, is actually teaching. That 50 min in the classroom with my kids is always my high of the day, that and reading what they wrote later on. I have a long long way to go in being a better teacher and writing more effective lessons, but I feel like it's going ok and at the very least they may have absorbed something and we aren't wasting our days. This week we practiced main idea and supporting details in paragraphs and they wrote paragraphs for a job application. Then we talked about conflict in literature and read a story called "Lather and Nothing Else" which they got pretty into. Going through and analyzing the text with them is absolutely my thing, I feel so myself and exhilarated. It feels so natural to gradually draw the right answers out of them by asking the right questions and see the look in their faces when they get it and start thinking about it and realize how much meaning there is in every line of the story.
It's all about the kids! They're so smart, it makes me sad that they have to be in summer school because they had too many absences or tardies or they didn't do their work or whatever last year. These kids should not be failing and I hope that I'll be able to pass them all. The grading is actually entirely up to us- I am responsible for 20 kids passing 9th grade English this summer. eek! Next week we're going to try to talk to each student individually, I really really hope we can get them all invested in working hard in our class so they can pass because they are absolutely too smart and talented not too. After we grade their journals tonight I'll post some of the more touching/funny things they've written!

I cannot wait to get to South Dakota and have my own class. I wish I could just leave now! I really do miss South Dakota. The weather here is abysmal and I'm not to crazy about the city, but I will spare any Houstonians out there reading this and avoid elaborating. Granted I've seen very little of the city outside moody towers and my school. And the giant armadillo (you'll have to check out my flickr pics to see it!) I know I was only in SD for a week, but I'm already a little homesick for it! It's going to be a pretty amazing two years.

Saturday, June 16

Institute: Week One

But first a flashback to pre-institute: At my interview last Thursday I found out that I will be teaching 9th grade English. Woo! Pretty pumped. The administrators and teacher I met were very nice and seemed happy to have us coming in, they have extremely high turnover, there's been three 9th grade English teachers in the last two years. But they seemed pretty positive and are working on a lot of programs to improve student achievement. Oh, and, I will in fact be living on a trailer on school property. Awesome.

Friday we packed up a few cars and started down the long road to Houston. Stop 1 was Witchita where some people had to take the Praxis test. Stop 2 was Denton, TX where were did some serious birthday partying as seen here.

Sunday we finally made it to lovely Moody Towers at the University of Houston (the two grey towers at the forefront of the picture) which we now call home along with the other 750 corps members here.

The registration process was pretty indicative of what was to come, we were whipped around several stations picking up and signing things while staff actually timed us and kept track of their registration room efficiency. Efficiency is the name of the game around here. Monday my bus to get to the school I'll be working at this summer left at 6:35 a.m. as it does every day. The first week has been very tough adjusting to TFA culture. We're kept on a super tight schedule with lots of rules and limits as they try to instill us with a sense of urgency to learn as much as possible while we're here so we can be effective in the classroom. It's pretty insane. The super structuredness definitely rubs me the wrong way, but I'm beginning to see the necessity of it. Week One is all sessions on things like lesson planning and classroom management. Week Two we start actually teaching kids in summer school. Ah! I'm teaching 9th grade English which works out well. I'll be splitting the 105min block into two periods with my collaborative partner. Our first lesson is on main ideas and supporting details. I still have a lot a lot of work to do preparing it. Teaching real stuff is way harder than the random fun lessons about cowboys that I got to teach in Germany. But I'm excited about the challenge and looking forward to really diving in and pushing myself. It's excited to be with 750 other people doing the same thing because they feel so passionately about reforming education and closing the gap. Pretty inspiring.

Last night I got eight hours of sleep for the first time in a long time and now I'm going to finish my laundry, iron some stuff that has been wrinkly since leaving DC and then get to work on some main ideas and supporting details.

Wednesday, June 6

Over the Rainbow (almost)

We went to Pine Ridge reservation today, but our line up of activities didn't quite pan out due to inclement weather as seen above. Tornado! We actually stood outside the badlands visitor center and watched this funnel cloud form and touch down a few miles away. Crazy. So I'll have to go back out there soon to see the heard of the badlands and visit Wounded Knee. [More pictures in flickr --->]

Tuesday, June 5

Made it!

I'm not quite together enough to get any pictures us right now, but I will say it's beautiful out here! Like no other landscape I could ever imagine. Hills and plateaus and grassland with sage growing all over and cows and horses and the endless sky! You just have to see it, it's amazing, like breathing for the first time.

I'm currently at the Rosebud Casino Quality Inn 20 miles south of Mission, SD and 10 miles north of Valentine, NE, literally a matter of yards from the state line. There are 26 of us new TFA people here and we have had a very warm welcome. This week is "induction" and we have a very structured schedule filled with lectures and visits from various tribal leaders, professors and school administrators all of whom have been very warm and very inspiring. Their culture is so rich and deep, I feel honored to be here and learn about it and be a part of it for a while. We are also occasionally driven around in two large vans to see some of the cultural sights. Tonight we ate Indian Tacos and had a performance from a drum and dancing group and even did a bit of dancing ourselves, part of which involved potatoes. Tomorrow we're off the the Pine Ridge reservation and I can't wait to see the Badlands!! We'll also be visiting a resort ranch which should be cool. It's almost like I'm finally fulfilling my childhood dreams of becoming a cowgirl. Last night we went out to a bar in Valentine. There was pool and darts and a game called shuffleboard (not the old people kind) and lots of country music. It was fantastic! I will not at all miss the trendy/preppy DC bars. This is real life, I'm going to need a new pair of cowgirl boots :)

On Thursday I'll be interviewing for an English High School teacher position at St. Francis High School on the Rosebud reservation, so that's most likely where I'll end up. Woo hoo! I'm super excited and pumped about this whole adventure and my next two years here and all of the challenges I'll face and the good things that I will see and do.

I am also incredibly exhausted and can hardly believe that I'm still as chipper as I am right now, but I'm pishing through. I feel like I've done this whole orientations meeting new people thing so many times I'm kind of an expert ;) The other corps members are some pretty great people and I'm looking forward to getting past these first few awkward days and weeks of 'getting to know you' questions and building real friendships.

Saturday, June 2

eine kleine Pause

I spent all day today sleeping, watching tv with my little brother and pretending to pack, and yet my body and brain still feel like mush after the crazy crazy week of NAFSA conference madness. It was fun it was hard it was overwhelming. I'm so glad I stuck around long enough to actually go, but I'm not at all sad about not sticking out for the next one, it's a lot of work! It's HUGE. I don't think I could ever have wrapped my mind around the hugeness without seeing it, I still don't think I can. Seeing Colin Powel was cool, though I'd have to say some of the other speakers were more focused and inspiring. All in all everything seemed to go pretty smoothly and I'll be ok if this is the last time I ever see that NAFSA logo ;)

Tomorrow I finish packing up and leave for South Dakota. What???!! Oh how I wish I could take a week off and hang out with my friends and family here... it's always so hard for me to leave MN. I was a little sad to be leaving DC, but ready to go, it was a great experience but not my city. I've only been home in Minneapolis for a week and I already don't want to leave. Sigh. There's always 2009! Teach for America is going to be amazing I know. I'm so glad I got in and I'm doing it, I just still can't really believe it! I'm leaving tomorrow! I'm so scattered, I hope it all works out. I have definitely not finished all the pre-institute work that they sent me. Oh well. I don't think they'll kick me out at this point. I'll catch up, or maybe have some time to finish it next week in SD before we drive down to Houston. Could my life be a little more insane and exciting right now? Never a dull moment... I'm too distracted to be writing this right now, but stay tuned!!

Wednesday, May 9

Two Weeks....

left of my short DC life. Ah! Yesterday after work my roommate Meri and I rode our bikes down around the monuments and tidal basin, then back up to Georgetown where we stopped at an Argentinian Cafe for Espresso and Gellato, then we changed and walked out to a nearby bar for a couple beers. Talk about your action packed DC evening. There's so much to do in DC that I'm going to miss, I need to squeeze everything in to the next two weeks!

Sunday, April 15

Letter of Intent

The following is my letter of intent written to Teach for America:

During my year as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Germany I learned that a country’s education system is not only closely intertwined with its culture, but also a reflection of its values.

I was placed in two high schools in an affluent suburb of Munich, one of the wealthiest cities in Germany. Later in the year I had the opportunity to visit a school in a small and economically struggling East German town. After a day of visiting classes there, it was clear that they had access to the same technology, their buildings were equally as up-to-date, and their teachers were equally as qualified as at my schools. The German education system is far from perfect; they struggle with many of the same issues we do in America, including integrating their growing immigrant population. But I saw that German children, regardless of their geographical location, had access to the same educational resources and were expected to meet the same academic standards.* Germans recognize that this equality is necessary in order to move toward a better and more unified nation. This experience made me wonder; what would an outsider think of American values if they were to visit a public school in a poor rural town or inner city? I hardly think that the American public school system portrays the values of freedom, equality, and inclusiveness we pride ourselves on.

I want to join Teach for America because I want our schools to be proof that we are a nation that values all our children, not just a privileged few, and recognizes that they will all play a part in the future of our country. I want to be one of many Americans to reach out and tell those children who have been ignored that they are important to us, to America, and to the world. I believe that I can begin to accomplish that in my two years as a corps member by setting high expectations for the kids in my classroom and working hard to provide them with the support and knowledge they need to reach those expectations.

Teaching abroad and returning to work for an education association has taught me a great deal about myself and my strengths and interests. I am passionate about education and plan to pursue a higher degree in a related field, but before I continue my studies I want to see first hand the impact that I can have on one school and one group of students. My experience in a classroom will make me more aware the issues that require the most attention and that I will be most able to impact in my future. German school children taught me more about German culture than I could have imagined and I believe that American school children will inspire and motivate me to take an active role in shaping the future values of America.

*Obviously this is an oversimplified comparison, a 250 word essay does not allow space for a discussion of the complex pros and cons of the German school system (This article discussed some of the major problems they are facing especially with immigrants.). My comparison is based only on the Gymnasiums (highest track college preparatory public high schools) that I saw in Munich and Greifswald. Money is spread equally among schools within each German state. Teachers are likewise assigned placements by the state. This means that there is very little disparity between same-track schools in different areas of Germany. Of course this equality cannot make up for the discrimination that exists in the tracking process , I discussed this issue in this post. (In that previous post I wrote that placement was determined based on grades and tests, I learned that that is is not entirely true, the ultimate decision on tracking is made by the parents with recommendations by teachers.)

Friday, April 6

Announcement: Next Big Adventure!

At some point in the last months the adventures of me turned into something not so adventurous and more sedintary and my brain became filled with less witty observations and insightful commentaries and more whining about how boring it is to sit in a cubicle and push paper all day. And thus the blogging tapered off into nothingness. This development, among other factors, was an indication to me that my life was due for a new twist. Luckily for you I am not the type sit around and wait for things to happen. SO- In January I submitted the online portion of the Teach for America application... Three months and a few interviews later I've accepted a position as a Secondary English Teacher in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge or Rosebud Indian Reservation beginning fall 2007. :-D

A few other fun things happened in those months, a successful Holiday House Party on T Street, Christmas at home, a fun trip to Boston and a buisness trip to Kalamazoo (Yes! There really is a Kalamazoo), many more nights out in Georgetown, a visit to my Senators' offices on Capitol Hill, and more recently finally getting around to some DC touristy things (See pictures in Flickr account over there --->). But the long and short of it is that even though I work for a great organization, really like my coworkers, and fully believe in our mission and values, big city 9-5 office life just is just not my thing, at least not right now. I may one day return to work in an office for an organization I care about, but hopefully it won't be until I'm actually high up enough to have an office-- cubicles are just not good for anyone.

In the mean time-- Westward Ho!! I'm ready for some Wide Open Spaces :)

The time line looks something like this:
April- mid May:
Continue plugging along in my cubicle
Take Praxis II teachers test
Read massive quantities of TfA pre-reading
Find someone to take my room, my job, and my bike
Pack all material possessions into my car
May 24th-ish: Drive to Minneapolis
May 26-June 1: NAFSA 2007 Annual Conference and Expo in Minneapolis MN - We need temps if you're interested!
June 3 - June 8: Drive to South Dakota for induction
June 8-10 ish: Drive to Houston
June 10- July 14: TfA Institute in Houston
July 14- Early August: Hang out at the lake in MN
Mid August: Move to South Dakota
Late August: Be a real teacher!

Further updates and reflections are coming soon. Renewed blogging activity is obviously a must, but right now I should be working! Ciao