June 22, 2009

Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia- say that tongue twister five times fast!
I've got author's tone, theme, sound devices, character motivations and every other reading skill you can imagine on the brain right now. I dream about author's purpose. And no, these are not restful dreams. They usually involve some crazy, frizzy-haired author storming into my room screaming that, "NO! I did not write that story to entertain! How dare you teach that filthy idea!" all while my students sing 'Eye of the Tiger' in tandem. Maybe I should explain...
The last two weeks have some of the most intense days of my life. Here's a quick run down of the schedule
5:30 (lately been pushing 5:45) wake up, eat breakfast, pick up my lunch (yes, I have a lunchbox) and run to the big yellow bus before
6:30 At which time my bus promptly leaves (it has left people behind before).
7:00 Arrive at school after a warm drive through Buckhead- the land of never ending mansions that are 10 feet away from each other. Listen to my CMA Liz (Corps Member Advisor- TFA is in LOVE with acronyms) tell us how to improve certain trends she has been seeing.
7:40 Time to set up the classroom! I am working in a four person collaboration group- they are all good people and I enjoy their input, but sometimes it's hard to agree on procedures and the like. Anyway...
8:30 Students begin to arrive and keep trickling in until 8:45, 8:50, 9 o'clock...
I have 11 wonderful students who are so invigorating and exasperating at the same time. And no, they are not in the minority. I am.
8:45 Begin instruction in spite of late buses. This is a study hall period- lasts for an hour, we can teach just about anything right now.
9:45- I TEACH READING! (every other day that is) It's amazing how much I need to improve my instruction and planning even though I have a degree in education and experience in the classroom. I think that my student teaching experience was great in the fact that I 'found' who I was in the classroom, but this experience has actually tested the idea that I need to be able to teach to each student, not just a class. It is SOOOO hard to teach a student how to learn. You sit back and wonder, 'Why don't they get it? I get it! Why don't they get it?' and then you realize, oh, I didn't tell them how to get it, I just told them 'it.' Big help that will be to a student who reads at the third grade level.
Which brings me to the conundrum of the day- How did an eighth grader get to the EIGHTH grade without being able to read? Next question- How is four weeks, four hours a day, going to help said student on a state exam? And here's the kicker- If that student does pass the exam (and not one of my students was more than 20 points away from passing), how will they EVER survive in high school?!?! I mean, I may be a good teacher, but I'm not a miracle worker. I can't teach a student how to read in four weeks. But I can help them pass the test...
11:20 Run out of the classroom to get to my CS session (Curriculum Specialist) on time (which I have never done yet). Try not to fall asleep.
12:30 Lunch
12:50 Next session or 'work time' which always ends up being another session. Never stop training! These sessions cover everything from contacting parents to assessment to literacy to diversity. This continues until
4:10 When we gather to shout out the goodness we've seen throughout the day (big confidence and ego boost- woohoo!), then we get on the buses back to Georgia Tech, the city within the city. 5:00 Arrive, de-stress, maybe work out, watch a little Buffy...
6:00 Dinner
6:30 Either sessions, lesson planning time, observation review, or more lesson planning time. This continues into the wee hours of the night (depending on what's due the next day). I've been trying to get to bed by 10. Ok, 10:30. Which has not happened. Once.
Then it starts again, usually about five hours later....

I know that this is a really long and boring post, but the amount of work that goes into each day is enormous, and I don't have enough sleep to weave it into a story- I need that creativity for my kids ;-) I don't know if I would have been able to do this without an ED background like so many of the people here, I have pushed myself physically and mentally further than I ever have before, and honestly, the first week I was here in Atlanta I felt like I was going to strangle the next person who said, "Close the achievement gap!" But then, I met my students and I understood in a way that no presenter could ever explain that these students deserve so much more than the cards they were dealt. Take student #1 for example- he actually hugged me on the first day of class because I told him we were going to help him read faster. He reads at the 5th grade level. Or student #2, a sassy girl who tries so hard every class and it's starting to pay off. She reads at the 3rd grade level. Or student #3, who looks up at me and says, "I got a hundred on that test, didn't I Ms. Labrie?" every time he turns a test in. Even the little troublemakers are beautiful (and they only make trouble to be popular or because they don't understand) and I love them all. Even though I've only been with them for the past two weeks, I desperately want these kids to succeed. Whatever that word means...
Being able to read, to sit still, to pay attention for longer than five minutes- these are things that I have ALWAYS taken for granted- be thankful for your ability to read this post- my students wouldn't be able to. Thanks for sticking with me- I promise the next one will be more interesting.
Preview of what's to come- Stories from the classroom...Atlanta, Georgia- a land of humidity and thunderstorms...The King Center...and the strange presence of beer, everywhere....

June 7, 2009


I have great news! Not only have I found a house but I also have a job! The house is a gorgeous, turn of the century, 5bdrm slice of heaven (Please see the picture), located in Tower Grove Park. That is a safe and upbeat neighborhood in the southern-middle part of St. Louis where many TFAers live. My four roommates and I are still working on signing the lease, which against all advice is two years long, but hopefully we'll have everything set by the end of June. My JOB is at Fanning Middle School, about nine blocks from our beautiful house. It's a public school with a lot of other TFA placements, a very intense and supportive principal and great staff. Everyone I talk to with experience in the STLPS district says, "Oh, that's a great school!" so I have high hopes. I will be teaching either 7th or 8th grade English in a very diverse atmosphere with kids from Africa, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Korea, China, and America (in all different shades and sizes)- I simply can't wait!

There is one problem though- the job is not set in stone until my placement has been confirmed by the School District, which means I will not know for SURE until the first day of school whether this is my job or not. I really want this job and this house, so, again, prayers are always welcome. Thanks, because I know all your prayers and good thoughts make a difference. I really am on my own now- a grown up with a house and a job in a new city. Growing up is hard to do, though they never tell you that as a kid- it's all about being big enough to go on the rides at the theme park, or to wear the fancy clothes, or get to play with the really big toys. Once you have grown up you realize that being an adult certainly has its benefits, but responsibility is hard.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a kid and not have to worry about getting from one point to another without a car, trying to figure out a lease, or interviewing for a job. While I've legally been an adult for four years now, this is the first time I've ever felt grown up because I actually have to take care of myself. However, the dreams of growing up aren't all delusions- the freedom of choosing where I want to live, the joy of getting a job that I earned and wasn't given because I knew some body's uncle, and that promise of a first check from a first ever salary make all the new responsibility worth while.

I'm now in Atlanta, GA for Institute (training and teaching summer school), a huge city that is very pretty and, from what I've heard, has a lot to offer. I only arrived today, so I wouldn't really know, but I intend to do some serious exploring in the plethora of free-time that we have (sarcasm- every minute of every day for the next five weeks is planned out-I shall have to use my time very wisely). It was strange to see everyone from St. Louis again, because now that we're with four other corps cities, knowing each other among strangers has made friendships cement after only a week or so. No complaints there! Everyone I've met is so friendly, outgoing and supportive. I love it.

I start in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow with my bus departing promptly at 6:20 (it's left people behind before), and training lasts until 6pm. And yes, I am three hours ahead of west coast time. WOOHOO!!! Better finish up my laundry and get to bed.

PS- sleep is just wonderful. And now I know I need nine hours to function properly. Oi vay.

June 2, 2009

And so it begins!

I have arrived safely in St. Louis, my new home!

It's strange to think that this is the place I will be living for the next two years at least- I've always been close enough to home to never feel too worried. The midwest seems like a different country to this Northwest chic (although, when I was in a different country, studying abroad in London, I never felt homesick, oddly enough), but I do feel homesick right now. Not an overwhelming or debilitating homesickness- just an ache that won't go away.

Now, I don't want to sound melodramatic or make it seem worse than it is-I really am very happy to be here. I had a great day of traveling through the San Juan Islands by bus and ferry to Seatac airport, a non-stop flight to St. Louis, a quick taxi ride, and I am now comfortably set up on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, ready to learn how to CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP!! Everyone I have met so far has been friendly, helpful, welcoming and fiercely proud of their city and all that it has to offer (which, now that I've had serious conversations with Lu natives, I have come to realise the city offers quite a lot).

Induction (an introduction to Teach for America and St. Louis) started last night at full speed and we haven't slowed down since (and I don't think we will until Institute is over). I won't bore you with the dirty details, but it all boils down to the idea that there is an achievement gap in this country. We all realize it's there- it is a sad reality. What TFA is trying to do is close the gap by breaking the cycle of low funding, poor teaching and low expectations of students who are born into poverty and have every ability to learn but no opportunity to do so. I feel that, not only because St. Louis is a pretty cool and welcoming city, but because I have come here with a good purpose, that this is where I am supposed to be (even if I am a little homesick right now).

Thanks for all your prayers and good thoughts- I'm sure you're giving me the strength I need. I would really appreciate any prayers regarding housing- I'm visiting three possibilities tomorrow- and with job hunting- I have an interview on Thursday with Fanning Middle School.

I'll keep you updated on any interesting tid-bits and if I find a job/house!!

Love you all so very much,