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"