August 27, 2009

No, the Table of Contents is NOT something you eat on

One whole week (plus two days) done- and I am still here to tell the tale. Honestly, I love my job and all of my students. My classes are full of 6th grade sweethearts- some who behave beautifully, and some who don't. All just want attention (some will settle for ANY sort of attention) and someone to genuinely care about them. I only just started teaching the content, but in this past week and two days several ideas have been cemented in my brain. First and foremost, students really don't care what you know until they know that you care. Secondly, if I ever tell a student to 'listen harder' again, I am going to whack myself. How do you 'listen harder'? After I said that I just wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from the Teacher Mistake Monster that eats people who make students feel stupid when it really isn't their fault.
I now have empathy for teachers who get frustrated with their students, but in the end it's really not the students fault (well, not all the time ;-). The teacher is in charge and students misbehave when they are bored, do not understand, or have something emotional going on outside of the classroom. The key is to remember that bit of wisdom (the fact that I am responsible) after select students decide to laugh, turn around, wiggle like a worm having a seizure, giggle wildly, hum, whistle, pass notes, make faces, make fart noises, actually fart, and pretty much do anything a middle schooler can think of that is not what I ask. I love my job!
That last paragraph makes my job sound much worse than it is. (Well, the flatulence is as bad as it sounds/smells) My middle schoolers are who they are- ten and eleven year-olds forced to sit still and be silent for seven hours, with two minute passing periods to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, and open their locker that they can barely get to with a crowd with a lock that they just learned how to use. Do you remember the stress of learning how to open a lock? I do now...Especially after spending twenty minutes saying things like, "And now you turn to the left to find your second number...left is this way, honey..."
Downsides to teaching-
Asthma attacks in my classroom. Enough said.
Students with anger issues, parent problems, horrible troubles at home- the list of hardships goes on for far too long and it always manifests at school. How can a child learn when they are thinking about the death of a parent or the possibility of getting jumped on the way home from school? There are so many times during the day when I think of my blessed childhood and how lucky I have been throughout my life. Life can be cruel sometimes.
Some of my roommates and other members of Teach for America are having a tough time of it- and when I say tough I mean that no teacher should have to go through what they are going through. Threats of violence, unruly students that make raciest comments or simply exude disrespect, unsafe neighborhoods...When I decided to become a member of Teach for America I went in with the full knowledge that our placements were mainly in schools that weren't on the top of any teacher's preference list. I also knew that stepping into a classroom without much teaching experience (as most TFA members do) is not the best idea in the world. It's just hard to see the suffering of people I admire and respect and not be able to do anything but give advice. Please think good thoughts for TFA teachers everywhere. It's not an easy job, but it is a worthy service.
Highlights of the week-
My school is AWESOME! The staff is great, I have 70 sixth graders that I adore (so far ;-) who I get to teach for 80 mins EACH day, and the school is in a good neighborhood. My experience has been absolutely wonderful and I go to bed each night wanting to go back to work the next day.
I had a tough day on Thursday (yes, this is a highlight) and I asked my fourth block to cheer me up after third block got me down (lots of talking and craziness). One student raised her hand and said, "You are an amazing teacher, Ms. Labrie!" One student told me a joke- "What's the biggest pencil ever? Pencil-vania!!" (I'm a sucker for corny jokes). Another made me a cute note and handed it to me with a sweet smile. The note holds a special place on my teacher board. My students rock.
One student makes constant references to movies (a child after my own heart). The thing that makes this a highlight is that EVERYTHING reminds him of a movie. EVERYTHING. Such as me saying my family owns a dog- The Incredible Journey. Asking students to tell me who their heroes are- every single comic book movie ever made. I don't think I have another student who raises their hand SO much, or has the most random connections...
When I asked a student to sound out the words he didn't know how to spell instead of asking me every two minutes for spelling, he said, "Oh Ms. Labrie, that's OK, I'll just use my dictionary," After which he whipped out his very own personal dictionary that he carries with him everywhere....
And last, but not least, the look on my students faces when we did my very own personal motions that go along with the 'Plot Roller coaster' (or plot chart for those of you who learned it a different way). They LOVED pretending to be on a silent roller coaster ride, especially making the silent scream at the climax of the story. He he...I must admit that sometimes I do things in my classroom just because it's fun to see twenty-some children copy me.
Random ending-
If any of you are getting rid of your computers for any reason (besides them being broken), please tell me. A friend in the peace corps is willing to pay for shipping so that her students in Burkina Faso have access to the computers.
Thinking good thoughts for you, yes you: love lots, Jessie

August 16, 2009

Twas the night before school started....

This is my classroom!! Keep in mind I took these pictures yesterday, and did a LOT of work on it today, added six desks, and cleaned- so it looks a bit different now. But I love my room and my school and I hope that the kids enjoy my room too, because all of the hours and long nights were spent for them.

I just had to take a moment out of making assignment logs and parent letters to write to all of the very important people in my life and say OH MY FREAKIN' GOODNESS, I'M GOING TO BE A TEACHER TOMORROW! This is the last night of my life before teaching. When I wake up tomorrow, I will start a new segment of my life, taking the big step into a role I have been working towards for the past four and a half years. I could write a few key expletives at this moment to impart just how BIG this is, but I'll leave my choice words to your imagination.
I am very stressed (won't get much sleep tonight), but also surprisingly calm (which is awesome-I'm just not used to this sensation). I know those two don't really go together, but it sort of feels like this: I am scatterbrained and can't concentrate on conversations, yet I know tomorrow is going to happen and it will be OK. My mantra right now is that my 6th graders will be more nervous than I am...I hope.
Before the big plunge tomorrow, I wanted to update you on all of the very important things that have happened in my life since last I wrote. First and foremost- bugs. Not your ordinary, average, everyday fly or ant- I mean BUGS. Let's start with the most disturbing. Cockroaches. These unnerving things have very little going for them on the scale of being liked- a huge yuck factor, often equated with dirty, rotting things, they run in a fast zig-zag formation which means they KNOW you want to kill them, and even their name is rough and abrasive. I have never really experienced the joy of cockroaches before and have found more than I care to tell in my classroom, among other places. Don't get me wrong, my room is a clean place, cockroaches are just EVERYWHERE. Yuck.
Cicadas. Holy Smokes those are the loudest bugs I have ever heard! When I arrived here with Caitlin after our three day trek, the very first thing I said after getting out of the car was, "Oh, some one's alarm is going off." To which Caitlin replied, "No Jess, that's a bug." I have come to enjoy the clicking, multi-pitched hum (or wail) of the cicadas- especially since they turn off at night and don't disturb my sleep.
Silver fishes. As common as ear-wigs in the North West, but boy, do these things give me the willies! These aren't shrunken blast-ended screwts like ear-wigs, these are hairy, multi-million legged worms that move like really small snakes across the floor when you turn on the light (they scatter like cockroaches, which I have now had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes as well). Normally I would be fascinated by the three inch whiskers on one of these guys, but when you turn on the bathroom light in the morning and a four inch long silver fish slithers under the radiator, just daring you to enter the bathroom with your bare feet so it can do something nefarious to your toes, well, the interest turns into horror. You just can't find these things in Washington.
Moving onto a much more pleasant topic- Bird Poop. Let's just say my street has been inhabited by the poopiest birds I have ever seen in my entire life. What do these things eat?!?! I swear, I would park my clean car under a tree for ONE night, and in the morning my car would have a new paint job. One person on the street has left their car under a tree for a month and it used to be red. Now it is completely white. I have started parking my car around the corner where there aren't trees because even the car wash can't get the poop off! So, not only is the poop plentiful, it's hardy. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My neighbors have taken the situation into their own hands and instead of shooting the birds like some of the men wanted to do, they shot bottle rockets into the trees at dusk for three nights in a row. It was quite the party, with fireworks going off, people drinking beer and smoking on their porches (great combination), all watching out for the police because the rockets do sound like gun shots.
Changing course dramatically- if any of you have simple recipes that you'd like to share for diners, dishes or deserts, please send them my way. To my profound surprise, I enjoy cooking for myself and am not too bad at it. It only takes about five times of cooking it for me to get a dish right ;-)
To end on a VERY happy note- I get to cat-sit my landlord's cats for a month! And I get paid for it (a job I would have happily done for free). I miss animals SOO much it hurts. I think, once I have time (HA HA HA HA!), I will be a volunteer at the Humane Society, getting my weekly dose of animal fur.
Next time I'm sure I will have student stories to share...all of which I hope will be funny and delightful...not the other way around....Think good thoughts for me, and know that all of you are also in my prayers!

August 3, 2009

Following Lewis and Clark....only backwards...

Mom and Dad with Corey on opening night!
Nearly a month has passed since last I wrote and every single day has passed by in a torrent of activity, sort of like watching a river flow by, while walking in the opposite direction of the current, trying not to get sea sick because of that weird optical uncomfortableness that happens when something is moving next to you but the horizon isn't. To be quite frank- I have been hella busy.
Here's the big news/headlines-
*I survived Institute- no, this is not my ghost typing posthumously...though at times it felt that the lack of sleep and constant pressure was going to make my eyes pop out of my head, my teeth grind each other to dust, and my shoulders fall off. The kids were great and worth it, but I will never voluntarily sign up to be a slave to constant achievement again. I had forgotten what it was like to feel relaxed until I went home. In short, I did not really enjoy myself outside of the classroom. I still haven't heard whether my students passed the CRCT or not: think good thoughts :-)
*I have a job!!! Through several confusing mishaps that I won't bother to bore you with, I was placed at Busch AAA Middle School, teaching 6th grade Communication Arts (English, for those of you not from Missouri). I love the school- it's in a good neighborhood and has about 200 kids. I even have a classroom which I am SOOO excited to set up. One of my big projects this year is to have every single one of my students become published authors, but more on that later.
While it used to be magnet school for athletics (Athletics and Academic Academy is what the AAA stands for. Not a training camp for beer drinking insurance salesmen as I first thought...) it no longer has the funding to go bowling, rock climbing, ice skating and the like, but it is one of the only schools in the entire city to still have gym everyday. Woohoo! Get that energy out elsewhere- heck yes!

The start of the big trek, going much faster than Lewis and Clark
If you look closely you can see Mount Rushmore in my sunglasses
*I drove across the country in 3 days- after packing up my room at my parents house for the last time, I went out to see the US of A from a jam-packed car riding shockingly low to the ground. It was lovely to spend time with my older sister Caitlin (who was an angel for coming out to help me move), but after 36 hours in a car I went a little loopy. If you've ever seen me loopy- well, it's either very funny or extremely disturbing. Probably a mixture of both. (I still can't believe I fit all my stuff in my car)

*I moved into my beautiful home, bought furniture and have food in my pantry! My hierarchy of needs has been met. Now all I need is a paycheck.

*Corey was the star of Peter Pan- the role she was born to play, and my goodness, seeing her fly up there on stage gave me goosebumps every time (even the time when her shin was slammed into sharp edge of the poop deck on the Pirate ship- though those weren't good goosebumps). She was magical and amazing and I am so glad I got to see her perform, especially watching the little kids come to her for fairy dust afterwords- let's just say she has a fan club.
*I met the neighbors and have started job training- but not at the same time. Today's orientation was, well, interesting...and long...and I'm sure I have more wonderful information filled sessions to attend. I'll just have to put on my 'happy face!' ('Strictly Ballroom' quote for anybody who's seen that movie).

On the other hand, I'm very happy with my street- I'll try to paint a picture in your mind....imagine a wide road, bordered by huge maples and oaks that cover the street and the cars with shade and bird poop. The houses reside behind the neatly arranged forest, and are made of the same red brick that is ALL over St. Louis (it was the first thing I noticed about the city by the way), but each one has a unique design. The front porches are prime sitting spots to watch the neighborhood wander through the day, and I truly enjoy sitting on my porch swing (yes- a porch swing!) watching people walking their dogs in the afternoon, the fireflys giving off their short bursts of light in the evening, the kids racing each other down the sidewalks on bikes and scooters, all the while being eaten alive by freaking mosquitoes. I truly love the Midwest.

My room is a sea of green- the pale calming type- and while I am currently sleeping on an air mattress while I wait till I can afford an actual mattress, I feel so comfortable in my room and in the whole house. It truly is spectacular and gorgeous and way beyond anything I expected.
In other words, I have officially transitioned to St. Louis: it's my new home. Weird to say (or write) that. I'm in a very good place right now. My next entry will be somewhere in between the training abyss and freak out land near the first day of school, which isn't too far away...I just had the strangest mixture of joy, fear, anticipation, and a random memory of my first day in kindergarten. I feel just like a five year old getting ready to start the big kid stuff, with my backpack and my shoes tied, but without a clue as to what awaits me when the big yellow bus comes to take me away from home and happiness and nap time. Big adult world, here I come!