July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America!

Happy Fourth of July family and friends! I can't believe that this year is more than half-way over and that Institute will be done in a week exactly- craziness!

I feel that my last post, while very informative, was slightly negative about my whole experience here. I can blame that negativity on two major things- a humongous lack of sleep and the fact that I am working hard for something that really matters and it's difficult to put forward so much effort and not see things change or get better. Then, Thursday happened.

The thing I've been struggling the most with is a strange lack of confidence that institute has created inside of me. I know I can teach, I know I can teach well, but well is not good enough for TFA, and it is definitely not good enough for my students. In other words, TFA has broken me down to build me back up into a better teacher. I hate the process, but love the product, though all the effort and hard work came from me.

So, Thursday was the first day I saw positive results from all my mental work. Everything seemed to click- I over prepared because the day before a three day weekend can be, well, mayhem classroom management wise. I didn't get much sleep the night before, but I was READY when I got to school the next morning. We start the last day of the week with a celebration of our student's achievement (always a good start to the day) by showing them how many tests they've passed and who has moved up our 'Valedictorian' wall (our big goal is to get these students to high school, so high school is sort of our room theme).

I transitioned the students into a learning attitude without them knowing it by playing silent ball- the students throw a ball to each other and try to not make a sound. The point is to go as long as you can silently and they LOVED it! Competition and moving around are their favorite things to do.
Then, oh, and this is the best part, I told them a story. I LOVE telling stories! The objective for the day was to learn how to identify theme in a text, and so I told them my family's 'Jack' story. If any of you have heard this then you know what an entertaining story it is and Dad- you were the star of my classroom for a full five minutes. I have never seen their faces so interested in what I had to say- they were asking me what happened next, what happened to Jack? They were giggling- GIGGLING- and it was one of the happiest moments I've had in the classroom ever. The theme of my story was 'Ravens don't make good pets,' and I know that stories will have a major place in my classroom from here on out. (as will learning by moving)

The rest of the lesson went swimmingly- they were focused and on task and did really well on the assessment. It was a great way to end the week and a real confidence booster. Here are some more happy moments- the shyest and quietest student was valedictorian this week, and when we announced that he had gotten the best scores this week he looked right at me and smiled with a grin that melted my heart. He reads at about a 3rd grade level, and while I'm not supposed to have favorites, he is my favorite. His home life is complicated and it's obvious school has not helped him as it should, but he comes every day ready to learn. He wants so much to succeed- if you could meet him I know you would all be rooting for him like the worlds best cheer leading squad.

We had a good time in class getting to know each other with a truth and lie exercise, though unfortunately we didn't define 'appropriate' well enough and I had to turn around so that the class wouldn't see me laugh at some of the lies the students told- not good to tell them to not laugh when I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. Another time this happened was in one class two weeks ago when I had students perform an action to represent the four types of conflict in a story, and the man vs. nature involved student raising their hands above their heads and yelling as if something were falling on them from the sky. It was so funny when students would do that motion and noise when it was a different type of conflict (man vs man, self, or society). I felt so bad for laughing but it was FUNNY. I have to work on my serious face. Ha, that's a laugh....
Moving on from the amusing classroom and onto Atlanta, the hot city in the peach state. Did you know that there are about fifty million Peachtree streets in this city? Not good for driving directions. Here's a short summary of the things I've been able to do in my weekend free time:
Body Works exhibit- gross beyond belief- real human bodies that have been plasticised. I actually held a lung that once drew breath in a person's body. Ughgughgh- shudder...
Dialogue in the Dark- An experience in the dark to help people understand what blind people have to go through every day trying to find their way in a world where sight doesn't exist. I recommend this highly.
Swimming in a public pool- it's been years and it was SO much fun!
Piedmont Park- Looks a lot like Central Park, but with ten times the humidity and a VERY green lake. When I say green I mean neon.
Georgia Aquarium- Not the best aquarium I've ever been to (reminded me a lot of Disneyland) although the tunnel under the whale shark exhibit was too cool. I also had the rare opportunity, well, horror, to witness whales mate. I never want to see that EVER again.
King Center- under construction, but worth seeing. It was strange to walk by the grave of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife and realize that in that white tomb lies one of the greatest men that the world has ever known.
The movie UP- if you haven't seen it please do- it is so delightful and meaningful and Hollywood just doesn't produce that kind of quality very often.

In just a week I will be home and Institute will be done and I'm not sure my mind can wrap around that idea just yet. It will be strange to re-enter a world where everything does not revolve around teaching and closing the achievement gap.

Home away from home- my dorm on Georgia tech's campus, my spacious and decorated room, and a sign that looks disturbingly like a boy trying to look up a little girl's skirt....

Happy 4th to all of you- be safe and enjoy all the pretty lights!

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