Sunday, December 28

Happy Holidays!

Originally uploaded by photoschwalbe
This is my crazy cat lady Christmas card photo :)

Tuesday, December 16

"arctic air intrusion"

This is the reason school was canceled yesterday. Supposedly it was so cold the buses wouldn't start. Gotta love the plains....

Sunday, November 30

Tuesday, November 11

I don't have the focus to write a detailed account of my storm experience right now, but Marion and Sarah have already written thorough accounts so I'll just link to theirs for the time being:

Marion in Parmelee (about 15 mi. away)
Sarah in St. Francis (next door)

I'm hoping to have my students write about their experiences tomorrow.

Queen of the Drift

Queen of the Drift
Originally uploaded by cannon.sfis
this is not a snow bank created by plows... it's a 7ish foot drift created by driving winds

Monday, November 10

Blizzard update--

The blizzard turned out to be more damaging than I knew. Some communities were without power and heat for four days or more.

This article appeared on the front page of Rapid City Journal regarding the conditions in Wanblee, where four Teach for America teachers live and work.

I can't even imagine what the last several days have been like for the people there or for all of my students here.

There's a part of me that does not want to go back to being a Teacher on Wednesday--- but another part of me that will be relieved to see the kids again and feel lucky to be teaching them.

Friday, November 7

South Dakota Snow Break--- The Return

This is a picture taken by Evan of the front door of his school on the Pine Ridge Reservation after the blizzard that just passed through the Dakotas.

School was canceled here both yesterday and today. Our power (and heat) was out for about 14 hours last night. There is a snow drift that is about 6 feet tall outside my trailer. Sweet.

I should be using this time to get caught up on teaching stuff and start grad school and job applications. But mostly I've been sleeping, reading, cuddling with kittens, and bonding with other teachers.

Saturday, October 25

For my Students, Now Poets

Raise your voices, please

Please raise your voices

If you would only

Would only Speak Louder


Be heard Be heard Be heard Be heard

I’m scared I’m scared I’m scared I’m scared

You say you’re scared

I’m scared

So you whisper

You whisper whispered voices whispered

Your words always whispered so soft…

Someone might hear you

Someone might hear your whispers

And listen to your words and that someone

Might smile at your words

Might read those words those Lakota words

Those proud native words

Grass words and sky words

Animal words and ancestor words

Someone might read those words

And smile to know those words are still breathing

Those words are still living

You are still living.

You could make them smile.

Someone else

Someone else

Might hear your whispers

Whispers whispered voices

and be sad for you

They might cry for you

They might see in your words those gravestones you carry

Those graven images on your binder

On your t-shirts

Those gravestones that you carry

Covered in crosses and rhinestones

Those gravestones dragging, pulling, holding

Your hurt could drown hearts made of granite

You could make them cry with your words.

Someone else

Someone else might hear your whispered words

and get mad

Might hear your oppressed words

Inarticulate words without opportunities

Words that want more but don’t know how

Don’t know how because no one taught them how

And someone might read those wanting words

And it might make them want something more

For you

It might make them mad

It might make them want something more

To do something more

For you

To articulate your words

To give them opportunities

To teach you those words.

They will want to reach you

They will want to teach you those words

They might hear your whispers and get mad

Raise your voices, please

Please raise your voices

If you would only

Would only Speak Louder


Be heard Be heard Be heard Be heard

Make them smile

Make them hope

Make them cry

Make them mad

Make them want

Teach them

Reach them

With your loud voices Loud voices

Spoken Words

Spoken Loudly

Because it’s hard to hear whispers

Sunday, October 19

Its Native Tongue Facing Extinction, Arapaho Tribe Teaches the Young

Tuesday, September 30

and sometimes it's not...

It's been a while.

We're nearing the end of our procedural text unit. Final drafts are due Friday. Why am I so much better the beginnings of units than the ends of them?

I love brainstorming. I love immersing them in real world examples of the genre and letting them figure out what it is and how to do it.

But despite having read everything Jeff Anderson has published... I just can't get into grammar and editing. I know, what kind of English teacher doesn't like grammar, right? I can't help it. It's just boring.

I don't know why-- I don't mind revising and editing my own writing. I enjoy perfecting my sentences, rearranging, fixing commas, etc. (not that I do that kind of meticulous editing on here very often you may have noticed) But somehow I haven't figured out how to teach those things in a way that I like and kids like. I want to give them back their rough drafts with my comments on them and just say "go-- fix stuff! make them better!" But that approach definitely doesn't work. They have no idea how to improve their own writing.

I'm trying an Express Lane Edit tomorrow (courtesy Jeff Anderson), we'll see how it goes.

Next unit will be more heavily front loaded with sentence structure lessons.

This is a highly teacher talk post-- I just can't write about my frustrations outside the classroom right now. And by outside the classroom, I don't mean outside the school...

Tuesday, September 16

Sometimes being an English teacher is too much fun...

Unit 1 is on Procedural Texts. Sounds boring right? NOT.

Procedural Video Example #1:

Procedural Video Example #2:

Sunday, September 14

Just another South Dakota Weekend

Pictures stolen from Sarah.

We went to the badlands this weekend. in search of "some kind of--- Smart Bug" after watching Starship Troopers, which was filmed partially in Interior, SD.

We didn't find any giant alien bugs, but it was pretty fun all the same.

Sometimes I have to get away from school and my trailer to remember that this is a cool place and I'm lucky to live here.

Next comes three 5 day weeks in a row- and the execution of my first actual Unit this year.
I'm so not ready, but here we go....

Thursday, September 11

The Cricket in My Classroom

There is a cricket in my classroom. It is living behind a very heavy bookshelf that I am unwilling to try moving to get to it. It is a lively cricket and likes to chirp all the time, even when the lights are on, and especially during silent reading time.

Yesterday I was extremely annoyed by the cricket and it's chirping. Today- I'm developing an appreciation for the persistent little guy. It's almost nice to have a little bit of the outside in here. It's almost soothing.

And soothing is something I could use this week-- it's homecoming. I decided to not be student council adviser this year and it was a very good decision. I do not miss all that planning and scrambling one bit. Although, at such a small school many homecoming responsibilities fall on all of the staff, so I still feel pretty harried and pressured to get something together for the freshmen class- decorating a hallway today, decorating a float tomorrow.... keeping 50 teenagers under control with paint, paper, scissors, tape, streamers, and balloons--ha.

Thursday, August 21


I have them. I tried posting pictures but apparently my camera card is not working.... I'll figure something out soon. Just know that they are unbearably adorable.
Mattie is longish haired with gray and black stripes. She is super friendly and curious and follows me around and gets into everything.
Turtle is sleek and almost all black with white paws and a white chest. She is very shy, but when I do get her to sit with me she's a champion cuddler, purring and pawing in appropriately adorable ways.
They are about 8 weeks old and come from a ranch in Nebraska. They like to race across my trailer at top speed and pounce on one another. It is far too entertaining :-P

This post sounds like something I wrote about my cats in 7th grade English class.

I <3 Cats

*Don't worry, this is not going to become a crazy cat lady blog. Probably.

Tuesday, August 19


I recently started a Tumblr Blog which is a pretty nifty site where you can easily post snipets of stuff from around the web. Recently I've been collecting lots of quotes about writing from some authors I plan on reading with my classes this year. Check it out.

Sunday, August 17

A promise?

Haybale with Rainbow 3
Originally uploaded by cannon.sfis
A spectacular rainbow over St. Francis last Thursday.

Back in SoDak

So I'm back and not blogging much.... time to change that.

How did it feel to come back for a second year? The past two weeks I've been feeling something like this: one part excitement, one part dread, one part anxiety, three parts fortitude, two parts optimism, and one big part hope. So mostly- a whole lot of parts and no real consensus.

Things on the rez and in St. Francis seem about the same so far. In-service is still long and frustrating. But at least we don't have to move stuff into a new building! I was happy and comforted to see the school and be greeted warmly by teachers and staff I've grown to know and like. I've even seen some of my students around- a few are working for the school, two asked me if I was teaching any classes they could take this year! One even asked if she could get into my room to borrow a book :) The TFA SoDak corps is still wonderful and I have been even more comforted and excited to see all the great friends I have here.

Some things have changed. My boyfriend is 600 miles farther away. I've moved into my own (huge!) trailer. There are four new TFA teachers at St. Francis and twenty some new corps members around SD- soon to be new friends. I know a whole lot more about teaching- which I realize even more when I talk to new corps members who haven't had their own classroom yet! I have actually created a long term plan and Big Goal that are useful and will drive my instruction this year, so there should be less floundering and more learning in 9th Grade English this time around.

I have to share my appreciation to the Minnesota Writing Project Summer Institute, which has a lot to do with my new confidence as a teacher and excitement about teaching writing this year. Already everything I learned and pondered in class is spilling over into my planning and I'm looking forward to utilizing new skills and knowledge in my classroom. I feel like I will have an extra team of the 24 experienced teachers I was in class with standing behind me, supporting me, and guiding me in my teaching this year. Not literally of course, but their ideas, demonstrations, recommendations, uplifting comments, and advice are all with me as I head into this year. Thank you to any of them who may be reading this!

We have three more days of in-service this week which will be filled with testing data. I'll be spending a couple late nights at the school I think to set up my room. We have five days off over next weekend for the Rosebud Fair and then we start school on the the 26th. Gulp. I have a lot to do. Unit plans, assessments, syllabi, parent letters, management plans.... Here we go again!

Monday, July 28

Take Action!

I'll write a real post soon, but for now I want to get this up here.

If you are able and interested in helping me help my students this year donate to my Donors Choose proposal to get a document camera in my classroom this year!

Definitions: is a very awesome website where teachers write proposals for what they need/want in their classrooms and nice people who want to help schools and kids can go on and choose a project to donate to.
A document camera, in case you are not familiar, is just about the coolest thing ever. It's kinda like an overhead projector, only it takes a digital image of whatever item or document you put under it and projects it through an LCD projector onto the screen. I had the opportunity to borrow one to use in my classroom last spring and it totally changed the dynamic and engagement level in my classroom- this is not just flashy attention getting technology. It's useful, practical, time saving, and facilitates real learning.

Wednesday, July 9

Recent Travels, distilled

Somewhere, somehow in the last two weeks on my travels to Washington DC, Houston, and back to Minnesota, I started experiencing a strange sensation- I think, maybe, possibly... I miss South Dakota. Maybe it was on a crowded metro in DC that I suddenly craved open spaces; or when I saw the eagerness, anxiety, and naive confidence in the eyes of new corps members at institute; or while I was waiting for the sun to set on the 4th of July and I realized that sunsets will never be the same anywhere else; or sitting in a classroom full of English teachers in Minneapolis when I felt I had things to contribute, and even teach. I'm not sure exactly where and when it started, but somewhere deep down I'm feeling the first pricks of excitement to return to Rosebud and especially to my classroom. I admit, I'm a little relieved. Not that I wouldn't have gone back either way, but excitement is a much better feeling than dread!

A Poem

The Drum

The Drum in the high school commons,

Every morning at 8:20 a.m..

A heartbeat for this day.

The heartbeat of warriors and soldiers,

Of eagle feathers and full regalia.

The heartbeat of jingle dresses, fancy shawls,

and ghost dancers.

The blood of brown people, buffalo people.

From deep inside the earth and time,

A circle, the center of a tribe.

Now, the drum sees me:

White, young, idealist.

Unsure if bending my knees

to the beat is appropriate,

but unable to stop myself.

I watch students,

baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts.

They line the walls.

Leaning, not dancing.

I count them.

Where are they all?

Why aren’t they all here?

I’m afraid for them.

Afraid they will not make it through this day

without a heartbeat.

Who are you?

The drum asks me,

bending your knees to my beat?

You do not belong here.

My beat cannot refill your bleeding heart.

White skin rejects brown blood.

Monday, June 23

On Teachers and Slowing Down this Summer

Last week I went on a three day retreat as part of the Minnesota writing project course I'll be taking in July. I met 20 some wonderful teachers from around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota at a lovely retreat center nestled amidst the forests and plains of southern Minnesota.

A few things I noticed that teachers do when they're together on vacation:

Recommend books to each other.
Swap strategies and lesson plans in way that somehow blends so smoothly into genuine conversation that you'd never guess they were "talking shop".
Drink wine around a campfire quoting The Princess Bride and Monty Python (I'm not kidding!).
Discuss the merits of teaching various Shakespeare plays and quote their favorite scenes.
Offer all kinds of help and words of encouragement to new teachers.
Discuss working conditions and how to grade papers more quickly.
Share funny/touching student stories and most embarrassing teacher moments.
Appreciate nature and moving slowly.
Eat lunch very very quickly and then laugh about how quickly they're used to having to eat during the day.
Refer to "my kids" or "my students" all the time-- "my kids would love that!", "my students would never do that", etc.
Ask insightful questions.
Listen to each other.

Overall it was a wonderful experience and I'm excited for our class together in July. Teachers really are the best people. It is so nice to be around people who've chosen teaching as a lifelong career. They have a much different perspective on things than TFA in general. I was thinking about the differences especially as the new 2008 TFA corps is currently in Houston midway through what is often fondly (or not so fondly) described as "teacher boot camp". The emphasis there is on relentlessness and data driven results.

So for this summer it is a nice change of pace to move at a slower pace and narrow in on one aspect of teaching. It's nice to talk to veteran teachers and hear from them that everything really didn't click for them until year three or year five. They talk about how they've refined their practice over the course of years and years of trying various techniques as they keep up with new trends but blend them with their own experience. Quite a departure from TFA's "continually increasing effectiveness" which is supposed to happen from week to week or day to day or minute to minute. It's hard to find time to reflect or get a big picture when you're working with days of experience instead of years.

I should insert, at this point, that my mindset right now is also being influenced by Chelsea and Alexis's book club pick of the month that I'm reading called, "In Praise of Slowness". I would not say that it is an especially outstanding book, or necessarily recommend it. But I am thinking a bit more now about slowness in my life. I've always been a fairly slow person and been quite contented be that way. "You're slow as molasses" my Dad used to tell me all the time when I couldn't keep up with his giant stride as a child. I enjoy time spent staring off into space and dawdling and putzing have always been favorite pastimes of mine. But I think TFA culture has made me start to feel guilty for my slowness and regret that I'm not maximizing my effectiveness at each and every moment. This summer seems like a good time to recapture my slowness (luckily it's slow and easy to capture). And perhaps I can reflect on how I can use my inherent slowness to enhance my teaching style and my classroom rather than let it fill me with guilt or drag my students down, so that next year we can all learn more and rush less.

Monday, June 9

Speaking of...

other worlds, I saw this band perform last week. They somehow bring together Brazilian and Bluegrass and make it sound awesome. They were so fun.

At the end of the show they came down into the crowd with just their drums and continued singing and playing while the crowd danced and clapped around them.

And I wonder, will I ever hear drums again and not think about the flag song at St. Francis at 8:20 every morning? I have a hunch already that Rosebud will stay with me like no other place has.

In other news, in case you're wondering what I'm up to this summer here's a bit of what will be happening shortly:
I'm going to the 'In Da Tradition' Spoken Word and Hip Hop Institute at the UofM which is being put on by the Minnesota Spoken Word Association. I'm super excited for it. I have a master plan to start at Slam Poetry team next year.
I'm participating in the Minnesota Writing Project Summer Institute.

It's a literacy filled summer for sure. I'm doing lots of my own reading now- some that's professional development related and plenty that's not, and will hopefully do more writing later. Also lots of planning for next year will happen in there somewhere. How did I get so lucky to become a high school English teacher? Best job ever. (it's so much easier to say that in June!)

Sunday, June 1

“There is another world, but it is inside this one.”

Quote from either Paul Eluard or W. B. Yeats, seems to be cited differently different places.
Sherman Alexie attributes the quote to Yeats in the epigraph of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

That quote came to mind today when my mother brought me along to one of her friend's son's HS graduation parties. He'll be graduating from my high school this Tuesday and going on to college in the fall. When he greeted us at the door my mom and I both congratulated him. His response, "It's not a big deal really, just graduating high school." Yeah. Right. Just graduating from high school. I immediately thought back to St. Francis High School graduation just a couple weeks ago with 15 seniors on stage. 15 out of a freshmen class of probably 40. At least 7 of whom had been in danger of failing classes not graduating just weeks earlier. For them, making it to graduation was a very very big deal. And as far as I know, maybe one or two had solid plans for attending college courses in the fall.

My high school graduation didn't seem like that big of a deal or that much of an accomplishment to me either. I had received nothing but support and encouragement from family and teachers for all of my life and had never faced any major obstacles. Of course it didn't feel like a big deal to make it to graduation. I mean, everyone graduates from high school, right?

It's another world here from the one I've been living and working in. One of many inside this one.

Tuesday, May 27

Have I ever mentioned...

How much I hate packing?

I have? Oh. Never mind then.

Sunday, May 25

Wild Things

Monday morning I arrived at school anticipating a very boring last week of school as the seniors were already done and half of the freshmen class was going on a class trip to Valley Fair in Minnesota. I had decided not to chaperon the trip because so many freshmen weren't allowed to go because of failing grades, I thought I should stay back to work with them. At about 8:45 however, the teacher coordinating the trip told me that 4 parent chaperons had bailed at the last minute and they needed another female chaperon. So I ran home, packed a bag and boarded a yellow school bus filled with 9th graders!

10 looooong hours later we arrived in Shakopee, Minnesota. That night we went out to eat at Applebee's. The next morning we went to Valley Fair, rode the rides, bought ridiculous overpriced souvenirs, ate greasy food, and won a few giant stuffed animals. That night the kids hung out in the hotel pool and then went to Arby's and a movie. I toook the evening off to meet up with Chelsea, Alexis and Sarah who were nice enough to drive out to Shakopee to see me and provide some relieve from 15 year olds :-P

Wednesday morning we packed up and headed out early for another 10 hours on the bus. I got home about 7pm. Whew.

I'm glad I went. It was super fun to hang out with my students outside of school. Sitting at a table with 8 of my freshmen girls in Applebee's was way more fun than I could have guessed. They were all just happy normal giggly funny teenagers. It was fun to laugh and giggle with them. And fun to let them "drag" me onto all the big rides at Valley Fair (as if I didn't want to go on them all every bit as much as they did!), and to scream and laugh right along with them. I wish they could be happy normal teenagers all the time and not have to come back here to all the hard things that make them so angry, defiant, and apathetic in my classroom. Being at Valley Fair, the amusement park I went to every summer from 3rd-12th grade, I couldn't help but think about my high school days and how much fun I had and how many privileges I had that I didn't even think about at the time. I wish all my students had that.

They deserve happy lives and lots of privileges to take for granted every bit as much as I or anyone else ever did. And even though it broke my Minnesota heart a little bit to drive all that way and see nothing outside of Shakopee (not even the skyline!), the kids had a blast and that's what's important.

Thursday we came back for the last day of school. Not many kids were there. I don't think I really even said good bye to anyone. It was kind of weird and anti-climactic. Friday staff had a check out day and that was that. My classroom is all packed up and stacked up and locked up. When I come back in August it will be all cleaned out and ready for fresh crop of brand new 9th graders. 9th graders I don't even know yet who are going to be my future students! eep!

and now... Summer time here I come!

Monday, May 12


I've been tagged. This is a bit chain letterish for me, but I feel like I need to prove to Shannon that I'm not some kind of exclusive or elitist save-the-world kind of blogger (at least not ALL the time).

So, here are some facts about me you may not know:
  • The only bugs that really scare me are moths, I think they're creepy.
  • I've made four quilts (with some help from my mother).
  • I took printmaking and bookmaking classes in college and some of my prints are hanging in our living room.
  • My Fulbright research proposal (something of an add on to the TA assignment) was about the German Fascination with Native Americans. I also wrote a research paper on that topic in college- in German.
  • My youngest brother was named after my elementary school bus driver.
  • The only books I've re-read multiple times is the Anne of Green Gables series.
  • I'm not really a movie person.
  • I continued to go to Catholic mass after leaving home in college, in Germany, and at Georgetown in DC, but the Catholic church here completely turns me off to organized religion. I don't like missionaries and evangelism.
  • I was a synchronized swimmer for 10 years and hope to be again someday.
  • Senior year of high school I filled out an online application to join the Cirque Du Soleil "O" show as a synchro swimmer. Unfortunately you have to be nationally ranked to get in.
  • I did the lighting for several musicals in high school.
  • I went to Catholic school for K-6, but only ever had one nun as a teacher.
  • I was a terrible student up until 9th grade. Teachers had to call home all the time because I never turned in homework.
  • I've moved every year for the past three and it seems weird to me that I'm going to be staying in the same place next year.
  • I hate politics, but I'd love to work on the Hill at some point.
  • I collected Precious Moments as a child.
  • I also collected tiny animal figurines and pigs.
  • When I moved my South Dakota my grandparents somehow got the idea in their heads that I was going to be a German speaking tour guide at Mount Rushmore. Looking back, maybe I would have been better at that??
That's all I've got, maybe I'll think of more later. I'm tagging anyone who reads this and has a blog :) Especially all you teacher bloggers. Writing about something other than teaching is a nice change of pace! Participate at will.

Monday, April 28

So close...

...and yet so far. For pretty much my entire life this time of year has been a time of counting down the days until summer, or graduation, or leaving Germany, or moving to South Dakota. And now I find myself counting down again to the end of the school year. As per usual I feel like there is far too much to do and fit into the last weeks of school, and at the same time absolutely cannot wait for it to be over.

Today I actually felt like I have taught my students to be better readers for possibly the first time this semester. All my classes are loving "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian" and having a text that they are so engaged in makes all the difference. Even though we're still covering the same literary elements we did while reading "The Most Dangerous Game" and other texts, they seem to suddenly be actually getting it. Maybe it's the repetition, but I really think a big part of it is that with this book I actually have their attention! Finally they seem to getting how characterization works and they're able to point out examples and write and talk about it! And they're so good at finding similes and metaphors and explaining what they mean! They can even apply those skills to reading their own book independently! Amazing! It's like I'm really teaching something! remarkable.

After that teacher high in my morning classes the rest of the day was a pretty horrible let down. The entire school, k-12 participated in a completely unorganized and last minute "community clean-up" all afternoon. Which basically meant hundreds of children and teens were set loose on the town with very little reason or motivation to do any cleaning or stay together or anything else. On the plus side, it was a lovely day out and at least some trash got picked up, so who am I to complain?

Monday, April 21

Relentless Pursuit

I keep thinking to myself that I should write more book reviews in here, and then never getting around to it. But this a book I feel I have a somewhat unique perspective on. Plus it just came out last week, so I can be an early reviewer :)

The book, Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach For America, is by journalist Donna Foote who followed four 2005 corps members in one high school in L.A. for one academic year. I pre-ordered the book right after reading Mr. AB's glowing review. My roommate thought I was crazy for wanting to spend free time reading more about TFA and teaching, but I was sucked in immediately and in the end it made me feel more connected to the organization and the mission, and less alone in how I'm feeling completing my first year of teaching for America. Locke High School and LA are about as different as can be from from St. Francis Indian School and the reservation, but they're also remarkably the same. I feel the same frustrations and see the same dysfunctions at my school as the four corps members in the book do.

It's good to know that other first years are hitting the same highs and the same horrible lows in their classrooms and in their lives. It's good to know that other teachers feel so extremely isolated, even in a huge urban center. Other teachers come into a class with no curriculum and no support from administrators. At one point one of the corps members says she could be playing paddy cake in her classes and no one would know. That's what I've been saying all year!!! Only I usually substitute underwater basket weaving or German for paddy cake....

The sections about the Program Director and his struggle to support corps members also hit home. PD's have a tough job. It was nice to know that other corps members out there struggle with the limited support TFA offers which sometimes just feels like an extra burden.

There are lengthy sections of the book about Wendy Kopp and the history of Teach For America as an organization. I'm personally fascinated with the organization and it's success, so I enjoyed those sections. I could imagine readers who were more interested in the teachers being bored by them, however. I knew that TFA is data driven and tracks everything, but reading a little of the behind the scenes drove home the extent to which data and tracking dictate everything.

At the end of the book there seems to be little hope left for the future of the school. The TFA alum who had come on as an idealistic administrator quits to become principal of a charter school. Locke High School's test scores remain awful and violence is on an upswing. The book does not paint a hopeful picture of failing schools. But for anyone out there who thinks there is any kind of quick fix for schools- read this book! I'm going to make my mom read it because she's a professor of project management and I feel like I can never fully explain to her why my school can't just be better managed. This book is the answer, the problems are so complex and pervasive it seems nearly impossible to pull a school out of the spiral of failure.

I almost wish that the book could have included corps members in other regions, especially rural regions, but by following only one school Foote is able to narrow in on the outside factors affecting the city, neighborhood and particular school which are indicative of the factors affecting all high needs districts, urban and rural.

In case you're interested, here are a few differences between TFA LA and TFA SD:
I can't go out to happy hour when I've had a rough day or week.
Going "out" one weeknights is a no-go, but themed house parties are far more plentiful.
Two other corps members work at my school, instead of 22. And 0 alums.
None of my classed are overcrowded.
My school is small, I am the only freshman English teacher, I don't have other teachers to collaborate with or literacy coaches to guide me.
I can't go home to my posh apartment on the nice side of town, I live in a FEMA trailer about 100 yards from school.
I can't unwind by driving to the beach and apparently winter here lasts until mid-April.
My students are all the same race- 99% Native.
Less violence- a few fights, but no guns or shootings and I almost never feel unsafe at school.
The only other people my age in a very large radius are also teachers, predominantly TFA.
I know every current South Dakota corps member (40-ish) and PD (only 1!)
TFA doesn't organize "excellent school visits" for us, I suppose because the nearest excellent school is 300 some miles away.

I tried to list similarities, but they are too numerous. Poverty in America is the same everywhere. Gangs, violence, drugs, broken families, anger, hostility, and hopelessness abound. Trapped in the ghetto or trapped on the rez, it's the same cycle of poverty and oppression and the same struggling schools unable to serve the population that needs an excellent education the most. **One similarity I nearly forgot to mention because to me it goes without saying, is the potential of the students. Black, Latino, or Native; inner city or reservation; they are all just as talented and capable as their wealthier peers when given the opportunity to learn, and there is no doubt that they deserve that opportunity.

I thought that reforming an inner city school would be more possible. After all, it seems like it would be easier to get awesome administrators and teachers to live and work in LA than it would be to get them to move out here, but as it turns out it's not. One thing Locke High School does get, however, is a whole lot more media attention and general awareness of it's existence. Multiple celebrities and high up school officials and politicians visit Locke, and now someone's written a book about it. In the end that may be what will turn urban schools around, enough attention will eventually draw charter schools and education reformers to make radical changes or provide alternative schools in the area.

But what will happen here? Does anyone even know that there is a small failing high school out here? Does anyone care? Who will ever swoop in to save it?

But I digress. A lot. Relentless Pursuit is excellent journalism and as far as my experience goes, portrays 'the good, the bad, and the ugly' (as the principal in the book says) of TFA with great depth and objectivity. Read the book.

Saturday, April 12

Snow Break

"Snow break" seems a more accurate description than "snow day" to describe this weekend. A spring blizzard found its way out to the plains this week, starting Wednesday evening and lasting through Friday afternoon. As a result school was canceled Thursday and Friday.

Because I come from a long line of Minnesota farmers and I'm mildly obsessed with radar weather, here's a radar image of the storm still moving in Thursday morning...

I've spent the last three days being very lazy and it has been glorious. I spent quality down time with great friends who I don't see enough of. There were movies, junk food, chit chat and card games. It hasn't all been mindless though-- I learned to play Spades AND Bridge in the past two days. That's an intense amount of skill and knowledge acquisition.

The down side is that if there were even a tiny bit of momentum left in my classroom before this weekend, it's pretty much going to be dead and gone on Monday. Blah.

There are about 28 days of school left. The light at the end of the tunnel is bright and it is distracting. Great things might happen in my classes before the end of May, or very little of anything might happen. One way or another, I'm going to make it.

Side note:
There was a great travel article on Munich in the NY Times today.
I miss it.
Someday I will live in Europe again.

Sunday, April 6

Herons Nesting

Originally uploaded by photoschwalbe
My dad took this picture in Minnesota this week near our lake house. I like it. I kinda feel like those herons up in the trees waiting for the the ice to melt. I'm ready for summer.

Sickness and Testing

Over Easter break I went on a lovely trip back to Colorado for a few days. Upon returning home I came down with the horrible terrible flu that's been going around and was out sick for the entire 4 day week. Blah. I don't recall ever being that sick before. I've definitely never missed that much school before, as a student or a teacher and I felt pretty guilty about it especially because it was the week before standardize testing started and I missed out on teaching my mini test prep unit. So if my kids get bad scores I'm blaming the flu...

After sitting around my trailer for four days I was pretty ready to go back to school last Monday, but no. We had a snow day. That's right, a SNOW DAY on the very last day of March. Crazy South Dakota weather. I finally went back to school Tuesday and had a fun-filled (read: unbearably tedious) week of administering standardized tests. woo. The tests don't even really count for my 9th graders because the South Dakota state tests used to determine AYP are only given to 11th graders at the high school. So my kids just took the Standford 10 achievement tests, and I have no idea what even happens to those results. I don't think that all standardized testing is a bad thing, in fact it could be a great and useful tool, but pointless and poorly written testing is definitely a bad thing.

Now after two weeks of not actually having to teach anything or prepare anything I feel very derailed. Its hard to be excited about doing anything else the rest of this year when it pretty much just feels like it's all over and on the downward slide. Only about 6 weeks left. And I have to decide what to teach in those remaining weeks when there is SO much stuff we haven't read and learned... so many state standards I haven't even touched on. I'm going to plan better next year. I need to plan better next year.

Sometimes I hate having a job where my decisions dictate the high school literary experience of so many kids... It's a lot of pressure, you know?

Monday, March 17


break down? break free? breakfast?

Last week was "Spring Break". We had Thursday and Friday off so I drove home to Minneapolis. My students get big eyes when I tell them I went to Minneapolis for the weekend. To most of them it may as well be an alien planet instead of an eight hour drive.

It was an excellent break. I saw my little brother perform in the famous Passion Play at Holy Name, which was huge and impressively elaborate and well done for a group of over 100 9th graders. Such a different world from the one my students live in.

I also attended Chelsea's birthday cocktail party at their incredibly great apartment in Uptown. It was wonderful to go to a party and mingle with NEW people! Like-- people I've never seen before or talked to before! I love the TFA South Dakota corps, it's a pretty fabulous bunch of people, but I miss meeting new people. Especially new people who aren't teachers :-P

I'm SO ready to be home for the summer. I was ready to just stay home until August in fact.... There's still a lot of work to do and fun to be had here in SoDak this spring however. For example- teaching something for the rest of the year! eep.

Luckily today at school was pretty easy since tons of kids were absent or on an incentive trip and the rest were pretty mellow. I'm not really sure what I'm doing with my classes for the rest of the year. For the next two weeks we're doing a test prep packet to hopefully get them a little more reading for state testing. After testing... I don't know. I'm so far off from my original long term plan that it's pretty useless to me now. My options are-- Read Romeo and Juliet. Read "Absolutely true Diary of a Part Time Indian." Do a poetry unit. Read another short story, then have students pick another novel of their choice to read and have them do some sort of project with it that would demonstrate mastery of literary elements. I'm leaning toward the last option, because kids have been really engaged and doing really well with independent reading the last few weeks and they wrote some great book reviews. I'd rather let them do more of their own reading than try to get them all to read the same thing. They read and work at very different paces.

I think my curriculum next year is going to involve many more projects which can be completed independently or in small groups and can be at different levels for everyone. Whole group instruction just isn't effective here.

I'm scatted and rambling... ciao.

Sunday, March 9

Springing ahead...

There are approximately 50 school days left this year. Too early to be counting down? nah, I don't think so. It's March! almost mid-March even. craaaaaaazy. I must admit that my thoughts are turning more and more to end of the year and summer time daydreams. More that that though, they're turning to next school year and how I'm going to do all of this a heck of a lot better the second time around. The two year commitment is definitely a good thing. I'm much more invested in improving my teaching because I know I'll be doing it for another year at the very least. I'm actually really looking forward to spending a lot of time planning my curriculum this summer and making it really solid and something I'm excited to come back and teach. Of course it helps to know that some of that time spent planning could happen, oh say, while sitting on the dock at the lake house in my swimsuit getting a tan. sigh....

50 days... I can do it! That still leaves time to learn many things and read many things. I must resist the feeling that I should just scrape by for the rest of this year until summer. This year counts too, these students have to learn just as much as next year's students. I'm just so... tired. Having summers off may seem like a sweet perk, but right now I really can't imagine surviving this job without it!

Next week we get Thursday and Friday off for a four day "Spring Break" and I'm grateful for the chance to go home once more before the end of the year. Also that I get to go to Chelsea's B-day party and see my little brother in the church Passion Play (he is far less thrilled about being in it I'm sure!).

Short post, not much to say right now, but I felt I should update.

Monday, February 25

My return to the world of professional associations!

This past weekend I attended a South Dakota Council of Teachers of English conference-- a regional branch of the NCTE-- in Chamberlain. It was pretty fun to be on the attendee side of a conference instead of the staff side. Instead of answering a million (seemingly) stupid questions, I got to ask them! I also go to go to a whole bunch of very interesting sessions and talk with lots of great English teachers. English teachers, by the way, are a kind of goofy/crazy bunch mostly obsessed with Shakespeare, MLA formatting, and topic sentences. That said, these people are doing cool cool things. A lot of schools in South Dakota are participating in a one-t0-one laptop initiative (partially funded by the governor's plan for SD education) in which all of their students get a Gateway tablet laptop for use at school and at home. This allows for some really neat projects, blogs, chat groups, wikis, and tons of other learning and teaching ideas that open up the classroom beyond four walls. Many teachers presented on the things they were doing online with students. I only have four computers in my classroom, but I am bound and determined to do a book blog this spring when we read Sherman Alexie's "Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian".

Of course, it's hard to make getting a blog going a priority when I can't seem to catch up on entering grades or planning lessons and units beyond the end of the week.... First year teaching is so hard and frustrating! I want to be doing so many cool things in my classroom, but I'm mired in issues of classroom management, organization, and other teaching basics. It's like trying to teach kids how to infuse their writing with a unique voice when they still don't know how to punctuate. I totally know how they feel.

The conference made me think about myself as a teacher beyond these two years. I could get so much better. I could create such great curriculum and my students would learn more and more... but then I came back to school today, scrambled to get lessons together this morning and during prep period, shushed and yelled at kids all day, then stayed four hours after school and STILL didn't get my grading done and entered, and now I am exhausted and can't imagine ever being a teacher with any leftover energy to plan the cool fun things I want to be doing- not to mention having the energy for a weekday life outside of teaching!

They say it doesn't get any easier, but I hope at some point it gets more interesting and less tedious. Because it's hard not to get bogged down by the tedious things right now.

side note- perhaps my feelings of being mired and bogged have something to do with the growing mud pit as the weather warms up outside our trailer?

side side note-- upon searching for one-to-one initiative links I ended up browsing the OLPC project site, and I wonder again and again, if we have the technology to do this for children around the world, why aren't we doing it for children here?

Monday, February 11

Letter to Donor

One of TFA's fund raising campaigns in our region is the "sponsor a teacher" program in which a donor can help offset the costs for training and development for one corps member and in exchange receive periodic letters from that teacher about their school and classroom. So, I'm being "sponsored" this year and thought as long as I was writing an up-beat letter about my work I might as well publish it here too. This blog could use a little more positivity. So, here it is:

Dear [Sponsor],

Hello again from St. Francis Indian School! It is my pleasure to update you on the developments in my classroom over the past few months and to thank you once again for helping to make my work here possible.

First semester ended on an exciting high note in my Composition I class. For the final project in our persuasive writing unit my students and I read a series of articles recently published in a local paper on the topic of Lakota language preservation and revival. The students then wrote letters to the editor expressing their own views on Lakota language. My students blew me away with their interest and dedication to this topic. Their writing was profound and heartfelt. They wrote about their families, their history, and their identity as a people. I was deeply moved by their letters as was the editor of the paper who published eight of their letters during December and January!

This semester I am continuing the 9th grade Language Arts curriculum with a General Literature course. We’re building up basic skills in literary analysis now and I’m excited to dive into some great novels soon. My students have expressed interest in reading stories of young people overcoming challenges. They face so many challenges themselves; I hope that reading about others who have triumphed over diversity will inspire them to continue working hard to attain their goals.

January and February have brought days of blowing snow and subzero temperatures to the plains of South Dakota and I am thankful every day for the students who brave the weather to get to the bus and come to class eager to learn.

I am grateful for your contribution to Teach for America to support me in this work. The Teach for America South Dakota regional staff and network of corps members help me daily to stay on track in leading my students to achievement. I see positive change happening here and nation wide, and I know that our work is part of a greater movement. Thank you again.

Warm regards from snowy South Dakota,

Anne S.

Teach For America, South Dakota 2007 Corps

Friday, February 8

you know you're a teacher when...

You start receiving e-mail forwards like this one and you actually want to pass them on just to let everyone know how hard your job is ;-P

Next season on Survivor

Three businessmen and three businesswomen will be dropped in a high school classroom for 1 school year.

Each business person will be provided with a copy of his/her school district's curriculum (if there is one, if not they are required to make their own with little to no training), and a class of 28-32 students.

Each class will have a minimum of five learning-disabled, three with A.D.D., one gifted child, and two who speak limited English. Three students will be labeled with sever behavior problems.

Each business person must complete three lesson plans at least 3 days in advance, with annotations for curriculum objectives and modify, organize, or create their materials accordingly. They will be required to teach students, handle misconduct, implement technology, document attendance, write referrals, correct homework, make bulletin boards, compute grades, complete report cards, document benchmarks, communicate with parents, and arrange parent conferences. They must also stand in their doorway between class changes to monitor the hallways, without any time to prepare for the next class.

In addition, they will complete fire drills, tornado drills, and [Cod Red] drills for shooting attacks each month.

They must attend workshops, faculty meetings, and attend curriculum development meetings. They must also tutor students who are behind and strive to get their 2 non-English speaking children proficient enough to take the Terra Nova and PSSA tests. If they are sick or having a bad day, they must not let it show.

Each day they must incorporate reading, writing, math, science, and social studies into the program. They must maintain discipline and provide an educationally stimulating environment to motivate students at all times. If all students do not wish to cooperate, work, or learn, the teacher will be held responsible.

The business people will only have access to the public golf course on the weekends, but with their new salary, they will not be able to afford it.

There will be no access to vendors who want to take them out to lunch, and lunch will be limited to 25 minutes, which is not counted as part of their work day. The business people will be permitted to use a student restroom only as long as another survival candidate can supervise their class.

IF the copier is operable, they may make copies of necessary materials before, or after, school. However, they cannot surpass their monthly limit of copies. The business people must also continually advance their education, at their expense, and on their own time.

The winner of this season of Survivor will be allowed to return to their job with a 1% raise in salary.

Friday, February 1

Cute Cardioid

Mom and I pose in Team Minnesota's snow sculpture: "Cold Hands, Warm Heart"

Tuesday, January 29

Frozen pipes as a metaphor for education blockages....

Our pipes are frozen. Again. For the ten hundreth time. And the sewer line from our trailer is also frozen. About five guys have been out there working on it for over a week now. Shockingly FEMA trailers designed for New Orleans don't hold up well in South Dakota winters. Who'da thunk?

So I'm not very happy. Because I couldn't shower this morning and still can't now. And there was a bomb threat at school today. I'm not sure what went on exactly, they had the drug dogs in the school which they've done a few times this year. But this time after the dogs went through the made us all leave and get on buses and go sit in a parking lot half a mile away for about 30 min. Fun Fun. Tomorrow there are two different assemblies going on and we have some kind of crazy schedule where we only have 3rd and 4th period- or something, it's kind of unclear at this point. Between that and low attendance, kids leaving for basketball games, and being kids pulled out for various things, I don't feel like I'm doing all that much teaching anymore. I'm quickly losing motivation to spend much time planning lessons for kids who aren't there. Today I had 0,6, 7, 11, 2, and 3 students respectively in my six periods....

We're reading The Most Dangerous Game in Literature. So that's fun. Practicing lots of predicting. And finding details that create mood or characterization. Next week we'll get into plot mapping- woo! Literature is more fun than composition I think. The students would probably say they are both equally boring though I'm sure. Sigh.

Colorado last weekend was great! Check out pictures of the finished snow sculpture. It was good to see my parents and meet/see all my dad's snow sculpting buddies, plus I got in some really excellent cross country and downhill skiing.

Next weekend I'm off again- to Chaimberlain! For a "Take One" professional development weekend of some sort. I haven't even looked at all the materials they've sent me yet... hmm.

All for now- Think warm thoughts for me and my pipes please!

Sunday, January 20

I've been meaning to post these for a while. So, here are some pictures from a walk around St. Francis before christmas. Our teacher trailer neighborhood
Hay bale
The sprawling metropolis of St. Francis

In other more recent news... we went skiing this weekend! I love that over half of our entire corps was up in the black hills this weekend splitting two cabins. SoDak is the best. I'm looking forward to many more ski weekends in the near future.

The next couple weeks are kinda nuts. This week I'm leaving for Colorado on Thursday after school to visit my parents and see my dad's snow sculpture this weekend. Weee!

Tomorrow we don't have school and I fully intend to spend the day in my classroom catching up with life and figuring out what I'm doing for the week and for the semester. When I actually have time to plan strategically I really love teaching and planning and creating a long term vision for my class.

Any new '08ers reading this-- you're in for an adventure! It'll be great :)

Wednesday, January 16

Whatcha gonna do?

Love this poem today:
The Wind Doesn't Know what to Do But Be Blue.

by Simon Ortiz from his book "After and Before the Lightning" written during a residency here at Sinte Gleska University on Rosebud.

The wind is blue
this morning
so blue, ooooing
at a lonely corner
of the house.
Look at the sun.
at the sun.
But pays no mind.
Just so blue, it says,
just sooooooo bloooooooooooo
Blooooooooo oooooo oo ue

Whatcha gonna do.
I don't know.
Whatcha gonna do.
I don't know.
The blues are blue.
The blues are blue.
The wind is blue.
It goes oooo.
It goes oooo.
Whatcha gonna do.
It goes oooo.
The blues go oooo.
I don't know.
That's what I'll do.
That what I'll dooooo.

I still have one section of Comp I that I'm re-teaching this semester for a few students who weren't enrolled in it last semester but should have been (don't even get me started on scheduling insanity around here). This semester I'm starting with descriptive writing and I'm cutting out all the get to know you/ goal setting/ what is writing? crap that I did at the beginning of last semester so we can get strait to writing and producing finished pieces asap. I'm thinking that the best way to get kids to think of themselves as writers is to treat them as such rather than spending lots of time talking about what writing is, why it's important, blah blah blah. So I just cut to the chase on day 1, gave them their notebooks and we started writing. Descriptive writing is definitely a good place to start. It has so far been far more successful than starting with memoir/ personal narrative. Memoir is too personal to start on with these students, they don't trust easily, especially not teachers and white people, so naturally they don't want to share much about their own lives just yet.

Anyway, the point of all this rambling is that today we read several poems from Simon Ortiz's book and then we all went outside and sat in the medicine wheel painted bowery (pow wow grounds) outside my classroom. The temperature today was about -5 with wind chill. They were not very happy with me. But it was super fun. I love being a crazy teacher sometimes. They did some pretty good writing too:

"My ass is cold sitting on the yellow of the medicine wheel.
I see the white on the ground.
I see the brown of the grass dying as I sit out here on the cold.
The noise of white cracking as I walk through the cold.
The sun shining down on me as I write in the cold.
My hands are going to fall off as I write through the cold."

"With a depressing look the the tree branches move back and forth from the force of the wind"

"It feels like I'm at a wake. Too cold to write so laters.

"I think I'm getting old with the weather that's so cold.
Wind blowin', just last night it was snowin'.
So it creeped up on us like a mole.
Up is dark, dark as coal.
Down is hard, crunchy, white, blowin', but it's only snow,
but it's still flows from up high and rolls down low.
I sit and shiver
the branch on the tree quivers as I shiver
my liver has never been so shivered."
(Elias is a rapper-- he can't write without rhyming)

Sunday, January 6

Happy 2008

Why does going back to school tomorrow after two and a half weeks feel like the first day all over again? Only worse than the first day because there's already a stack of uncorrected papers and unfinished work to be dealt with. I don't feel like a teacher right now. I expect that I won't until first period tomorrow when I'm alone with a room full of 15 year olds once again. This is such a strange profession...

Break was nice. Too short for me, but probably too long for the kids. Driving away from Minneapolis was a little tough, it's hard not to imagine the other lives I could be living right now- one of which would be in MN and filled with family and old friends- not to mention Caribou Coffee, preppy Uptown bars, and other perks of city life!

I'm very glad I decided to drive back to SoDak on Friday, however, so that I could look forward to getting here and socializing with lots of familiar faces for a couple days instead of just dreading work on Monday.

Work. Not just work, Teaching. I'm trying to find a renewed sense of possibility right now. I think mine is sick. Students are dropping out left and right, scheduling for second semester is going to be just as nightmarish as it was for first, and everyone seems to think this is normal. So I need to remember that I can still do good things in my room and that I can expand my circle of influence to help my students. I need to remember that I'm not just here to make it through two years so I can be a TFA alum with an impressive resume. I need to be here for the students. I need to work harder for them. I need to be as idealistic and determined every day as I was on the first day.

How's that for a New Year's resolution?

Anyway, going back to work will be fun. I'll be happy to see my kids safe and back in school. I'm excited (and overwhelmed) to plan and start new classes next semester including Literature and a new ACT prep course. Also I'm excited about the brand new pack of colorful white board markers I bought over break :) Sometimes its the little things....