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!!