Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Day Off

I took the day off today.

Actually, I had been planning to take it off, strike or no strike. A good friend of mine is visiting from Memphis and we haven't seen each other in five years. It was just my luck that the strike happened to fall on the same day that I was planning on taking off. So, instead of going into the city we had a lazy day in Brooklyn. We slept in, walked around Park Slope, went to lunch and had coffee at the Tea Lounge.

I'm all set for transportation tomorrow though. I found a ride with another teacher at my school in anticipation of last Friday's strike so I knew that I would have a way to get to school. I had volunteered her to drive about four other teachers who live near us/on the way to school but I was the only one with her contact info so this morning at 7am my cell phone was ringing off the hook with people trying to get rides.

We're all set with a plan for tomorrow though. I'm second to get picked up at 8:30 (which is pretty cool because school usually starts then). What a weird way to end the last week before break.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Random Tidbits

It's been a little while since my last post. Lately I either haven't had anything to say or I've just been too tired to sit down and write. So, here's a little update from the last week.

My supervisor from the region (I can't remember her acronym) came to see me for the third time this year. This was the first time that she stopped by when I didn't have a class. She stayed and talked to me for two and a half hours! I'd like to say that it was really great and she helped me a lot, but actually, I felt like she was talking to herself most of the time. I'm not sure exactly what her role is. Is she there to make sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to? (She said she wasn't.) Or is she there to help me with instruction? (She didn't do that at all.)

Anyway, there were actually two good things that came out of the conversation. The first was when I asked about observing some other ESL teachers. I told her that I wanted to visit some other K-8 Pull-out teachers so that I can see what they are doing, how they have their rooms set up, what they are teaching, etc. She gave me some names and has since introduced me to some teachers. Hopefully I can get those observations set up soon.

The other good thing was that we got to discuss the ridiculous room situation that I have. (On her previous visits she hadn't realized that I was sharing my room with two other people. As if I would divide my already small classroom in half by choice.) I told her about all of the disruptions that I have been having in my room and she was appalled. When I was at the regional office last week we both spoke to the head of the ELL department and they are planning a visit to my school next week. (I have my fingers crossed but I'm not expecting any miracles).

* * *

In other news, I am now a co-adviser to the 8th grade yearbook at my school. One of the 8th grade teachers (and fellow TFAer/friend) got a yearbook in her box with a post-it on it saying in effect that she was the new yearbook advisor. (The post-it did ask her to "accept" the position, but clearly this task was being handed to her since she was a new teacher who wouldn't rebel and say no.)

I offered to help her out. Actually, I'm REALLY excited about this. I worked on both my junior high and high school yearbooks. I have a lot of great memories of yearbook camp, photo shoots, and rushing to get pages in before a deadline. And now I have a book to show for all that work. I can't wait to get started leading these eight graders to produce a book of their own.

My co-adviser and I haven't had a chance to meet and start planning yet but we have some time since we're not allowed to start with the kids until after the ELA test. I am slightly concerned about how we're supposed to produce an entire book in just two to three months but I have to remind myself that this isn't going to be an award winning high school book. Still, I have seen the books from the past years and I know that anything we do will greatly surpass what they have done in the past. The books left a lot to be desired with some pages completely lacking pictures and several pages completely devoted to teachers and administrators. I want the kids to know that this is *their* book about *their* 8th grade year. It's not about teachers' inspirational quotes or 8th graders' thank yous to the administrators.

Producing this book is going to be a ton of extra work for both of us (advisers) but it will be worth it. And, as a bonus, we get to use the 37 1/2 minutes after school which means I won't have to plan for "small group instruction" (which by the way would be more students than I usually teach).

* * *

Today I went to the monthly ESL professional development. The topic of the meeting was the new "Science Initiative" in the region. Basically the science people got together with the ELL people and decided that we should try to teach language in the context of science for the benefit of all. Last year was all about the "Math Initiative" and we were told that we shouldn't forget about that. The presentation consisted of a quick run down of what the science initiative is followed by what's hard/easy for ELLs in science. Then we did a *40 minute* jigsaw activity to model what we could do with our kids. Then the meeting promptly ended.

There was no discussion of how we are suppose to teach science in ESL. I understand teaching language through content areas but where in my schedule do I do this? Do I devote a period a week to science, half of the periods, all the periods, or maybe simply use science books for a read aloud? All of these questions were running through my head as they were bringing the meeting to a close without time for Q&A. I asked after the meeting and, after giving me a look as if this were obvious, they told me that this was just a suggestion. If we want we can try it out and see how it works for us but if not that's ok too. They are not mandating anything.

The meeting actually got me thinking that I might be able to try this out with my fourth grade group. Right now I see them for four 90 minute blocks a week. I just started do reading groups (or centers) with them this week (for two periods a week). For the other two periods I could use science as my content area to teach vocabulary, language and writing skills. I think this would be fun for the kids, give me a focus on what I can do for unit themes, and hopefully help the 4th graders on their science exam in the spring.

During the first part of the meeting we had a presentation from a sales rep who showed us some really great materials to use in our classroom. Coincidentally (or not) they introduced a new science kit with Fountas and Pinnell leveled readers in them as well. I'm going to talk to my principal about ordering the science stuff. She did recently tell me that I had some money to spend for ESL (actually, I asked) and I'm sure that they will be all about efforts to raise test scores.

What do you think about that Ms. Frizzle?

* * *

I am really looking forward to going home for Christmas. I haven't been home since TFA induction in June so I haven't seen most of my family since then. And, as a bonus, the weather will be 20 to 40 degrees warmer there. That said, I'm not in a total pre-Christmas funk. Actually, I'm feeling pretty good. I've read/seen the graphs showing the slump that first year teachers usually go through leading up to Christmas before then starting to rise again after the New Year. Maybe I already hit that low, or maybe it will come late for me and in January I will be hating life. For now though, I feel like I am finally getting organized and on track. My schedule is now set, I'm planning on a weekly instead of daily basis and I have some idea of what I want to teach until June.

* * *

Lastly, I went to an information session at the TFA office last night about working at the summer institute. It's going to be in NYC this year and for NYC corps members only. As a first year corps member, I'm only qualified to apply for operations director positions (as opposed to instructional positions). There are only six positions available at each institute so it might be pretty competitive. And, institute starts just 5 days after school gets out (staff will get there the day school ends). I'm still thinking about whether or not I will apply. It sounds like an interesting opportunity though.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

They don't want to work

Reading this post at Tim Fredrick's ELA Teaching Blog reminded me of my 8th grade group. I hear similar complaints from them on a daily basis. Especially when it comes to writing.

"Why do we have to write? We always write when we come here."

"Last year, our ESL teacher let us read. And have parties."

They especially hate it when a lesson continues for more than one day. Here I am proud of myself that I am teaching a lesson that is building on itself and giving the students a chance to expand upon what they learned the previous day and all I get to hear is complaining.

"But we did this yesterday."

"I already did this. I'm not doing it."

"Why are you already teaching us stuff that we already know?"

Basically, it comes down to them just not wanting to work so they give any excuse that they can come up with. About two weeks ago I gave them a writing prompt and all four students refused to do any work. They were in my room for about thirty minutes and between all four students there were two sentences on paper by the time they left the room.

What were they doing for all that time? Two were trying to do their homework from another class. (I repeatedly told them that homework was to be done at home and they had an assignment to do). Another said he couldn't do it because he didn't know how (to read the prompt and write about it).

Last week went a little better. They were somewhat engaged during the instruction part of the lesson. They put up a little resistance at first but then started raising their hands to participate. It all fell apart when it came time to work independently. They just refused.

This is my only group that doesn't want to work. I am trying to make what we do seem relevant but so far it is not working. So far we have spent two days working on writing recipes. (I chose this topic because I noticed that they really liked talking about food so I thought that they would like this assignment.) Tomorrow will be our third day working on this assignment. I can already hear them now saying "Again?" I need to get them to wrap up this assignment before it totally fizzles out. Only one of them has the ingredients listed for the recipe so I'm hoping that tomorrow I can get them focused to finish.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

My First Snow in NY!

My alarm clock went off at 8:30 this morning and just as I was turning it off thinking that it was a mistake and I could go back to sleep, I remembered the plans I had made last night to go to brunch at 10 o'clock. Then I remembered that it was supposed to have snowed the night before. I sat up in bed and looked out the window but, being as blind as I am without my contacts, all I saw was a big blur. A big white blur. I put on my glasses and sure enough it had snowed quite a bit. I was so excited to go out and see snow that I forgot how much I had wanted (just two seconds earlier) to curl up into my down comforter and go back to sleep.

I bundled up in all of my new gear. I was so warm and my new boots were amazing. At 9am there weren't many people out on the street so fortunately I had my new boots to stomp a pathway through the fresh snow.

I met up with some friends in Union Square and we headed down 2nd Avenue until we came upon Virage. We had a yummy brunch and then walked around Washington Square Park. We also popped into a couple of shoe stores looking for boots for my two friends who weren't quite as prepared for the snow as I was :)

*No, the picture isn't of me. It's of my best friend Malinda and her boyfriend Al.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Fifth Grade Girls

Yesterday I started reading Any Small Goodness with my fifth graders. So far it is going great. I chose the book because I thought that they would be able to relate to the main character, Arturo, a boy who moves to L.A. from Mexico with his family. Of my three fifth grade girls, one moved to the States from Mexico, and the other two have parents who came from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

We finished the first chapter today which is about how Arturo's name is changed to Arthur by his teacher. He likes his new American name until he learns the significance of his name from his grandmother. While none of the girls had had this particular experience, they loved hearing the Spanish words in the story. I asked them how to pronounce some of the Spanish words and the girls laughed at how Arturo likes to mix English and Spanish coming up with words like "Por Please." They could also relate to Arturo's grandmother going into luto, mourning, after the death of her husband.

The best part was that they actually understood all of what we are reading. At the start of class I asked them to recap what had happened in the story the day before and they were able to remember all of the highlights. I'm excited to see what we can do with this book since they are so interested.

I rearranged my schedule and added a fourth girl to this group this week. She's an eighth grader who is on a fourth grade reading level. (Since I have to see her for eight periods a week, she'll come to ESL for four periods with the fifth graders and four periods with the eighth graders). She is a good fit with this group and I think that this will be better than the last groupings that I had.

This student has an interesting situation since she has been in ESL since kindergarten and speaks almost no Spanish. Her mother came to NY from Puerto Rico while her father was born in Brooklyn. She told me that the only time she speaks Spanish is with her grandparents but her mom mostly translates for her. It is unfortunate that in all of this time she has not been able to test out of ESL. Her reading and writing skills are so low that it is preventing her from passing the NYSESLAT (the English proficiency test). This is clearly a case of a student who should not be in ESL but insted getting help in other ways.

Anyway, back to today . . .

I think that she may have felt a little left out since she did not relate to the story as much as the other girls. When she said to me that she didn't understand the Spanish words I told her that I didn't either, "that's why the book has a glossary." She told me that she wanted to read next and then realized that one of the first words was a Spanish word. She said she didn't know how to pronounce it. I told her that I didn't either but we could ask the other girls. I hope that this is helping her to not feel left out. (Even the teacher doesn't know some of the words). I was happy at least that she volunteered to read even though her reading isn't as good as the other girls.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

All Ready For Winter!

So, this is going to be my first winter living in snow. Sure, I've *been* to the snow plenty of times to go skiing, but I've never actually had to go about my day to day life in snow. And let me tell you that I'm slightly panicked seeing as the last 7 winters I've spent in Arizona or Italy (and I grew up in Northern California so no super cold winters there either).

I've been getting some advice on essential items that I'll need to get me through the snowy season. This weekend my sister came armed with my mom's credit card so we went (early) birthday shopping for me. I think I'm just about ready now. Let me know if I forgot anything.

My new down coat. I got it at Macy's the day after Thanksgiving. It was ridiculously crowded in the store, but worth it for the sales.

Snow boots! Yeah! I've never owned snow boots before. I saw some other (cheaper) boots online at LLBean that I was going to get until I read Ms. Frizzle's post about her boots that are furry on the inside. Then I saw these and knew that I had to get them. I can't wait to wear them.

I never knew that long underwear came in silk but apparently it is the best kind to get. I bought two pairs, one in cream and one in black. They're on their way from LLBean right now.

My sister bought me this hat/scarf combo at the Gap. She laughed when I put the hat on but I won't be laughing when it's snowing and I'm warm!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

We had so much fun at the parade.

One of my friends from school met my sister and I at a diner near my house where we had breakfast. We got to the parade just before 9 and easily found a spot to stand where we could see everything. (We were between 66th and 67th Streets). It really wasn't that cold either. Plus, we had a huge thermos of hot chocolate to keep warm. From where we were standing the parade lasted less than two hours.

Now I'm just finishing up the stuffing and we're off to a friend's house for dinner.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving is Coming

One more day!

I am so excited for Thanksgiving this year. My sister is coming from Arizona to spend Turkey-day with me. She's getting in at 5am on Thursday and then we are going to the parade! Yeah! (I know, I know. It's going to freezing and it's going to be crazy but we used to watch it every year on TV so we kind of have to do this.) Then, for dinner we're going to my best friend's apartment (in Williamsburg). There's going to be a random assortment of people but I think that's the best part. And, I'm making my famous stuffing so thanksgiving will be complete.

(Oh, and the four day break from school will be nice.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Today was such a waste of a day. I was called into the office this morning and told that I had to watch the 5th graders take their state social studies test. Since there were three of my students who needed extra time it was apparently my job to supervise them taking it even though it took up all of my morning when I had other groups of students that I was supposed to be working with. The worst part about it was that there were only twelve students that needed extra time in the library but our AP got THREE teachers to supervise (the speech teacher and the resource room teacher were also there). What a waste of time for all of us. They have already told me that I will be supervising for the ELA as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I was only going to mention it . . .

. . . but J posted the entire letter that teachers in my region got from UFT president Randi Weingarten. The micro-management is out of control and I hope that this helps. (I have my fingers crossed).

Monday, November 07, 2005

No kids tomorrow . . .

. . .which means no lesson planning tonight! (I'm sure that tomorrow, no less than an hour or two into the day, I'll be wishing I was with the kids and not training on how to score ELA tests in February).

To celebrate our night of freedom, I went to dinner with another teacher from my school. We decided to splurge and went to the Al di La Trattoria in Park Slope. It was amazing. After living in Italy for three years I never have high expectations for eating Italian food in the States. This restaurant was soo good. It actually reminded me a bit of one of my favorite restaurants in Florence, Baldovino.

The food isn't traditional Italian recipes (which I tend to find boring after a while since all the restaurants have the same things on the menu), but more creative. We had mussels in a garlic and wine sauce for an appetizer. I had the Tortelli with pumpkin in butter and sage that was to die for. For dessert we shared a pear and chocolate cake. And of course to finish off the meal I had an espresso. Even apart from the food, the atmosphere felt like Italy. Unlike a lot of restaurants that are trying hard to look like Italy, this one felt like a trendy (rather than traditional) restaurant that you would *actually* find in Italy. If you can't tell, I highly recommend it.

After the last two days of thinking of Italy so much, this was just the thing to get me into full on I-need-to-be-in-Italy mode. I need to calm down. Italy isn't in my future for probably the next two years (at least), even though I hate to admit it.

One of my favorite things about living in Italy was going to dinner (or especially lunch) on a whim and sharing a great meal and glass of wine with a good friend. At least I can still have moments like that being a teacher in NYC.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Day Dreaming Part II

Over the last two days I've read almost all of this blog about an American woman who moved back to Florence with her husband last year. I've been so engrossed in it for a number of reasons. Mainly because I can visualize everything that she is doing. Florence is such a small city; every street she mentions, restaurant she goes to, or piazza she talks about, I know. I can also relate to her. Just like when I lived in Italy, she is constantly trying to separate herself from "those Americans" and feels like she has to prove herself with her Italian language abilities. I, too, often found myself saying things that were more complicated when a simple two word reply would have sufficed just to show that I do speak Italian.

After reading her blog I looked up this international school in Florence. Just to look. I've thought about working here since the first time I lived in Italy. Part of the reason that I wanted to teach in New York for two years was that I knew that it would give me some experience to apply for jobs like this over seas. As much as I would want to be back in Florence again though, I really do want to try living in a new country. Italy is so familiar and I'd love to have a new adventure. Maybe a couple of years in Egypt and then back to Florence . . .

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Day Dreaming

Classroom in Guatemala

Classroom in the West Bank

I came across these two pictures of classrooms in Guatemala and the West Bank. I decided to save them and maybe do something with them in my classroom. I'm not sure what yet. I may use them as a talking point and then later post them in my room showing where they are on a world map. I'd like to find some more before I do anything with them though.

Looking at these pictures got me thinking about going abroad again. I really haven't had much time to think about it since I got to NY. I'm so busy just trying to get through each day (and occasionally taking in the fact that I'm living in NEW YORK--another dream of mine) that I haven't had time to think about going anywhere. Seeing these pictures reminded me.

I would love to teach in an international school. Just before applying to Teach For America I was thinking about teaching in Egypt. I've been wanting to go to the Middle East for a long time. As it turned out, this year wasn't the time to go, but I'm thinking of possible applying to schools there after my two (or three, or . . .) years are up here in New York.

I also stumbled across some blogs of Americans living in Italy today. I put aside the teacher blogs bit and spent a good chunk of the day reading ex-pat blogs and reminiscing about living in Florence.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Almost Friday!

Whenever other bloggers haven't posted for awhile I wonder where they went and if they dropped off the face of the earth. I've been here all along reading and checking comments, I just haven't had the energy to post. I still don't actually, I just started feeling guilty for being so neglectful of my blog.

So, my last post was about my really awful day with the 4th and 5th graders. It's gotten better since then. I've started giving them points for good behavior and bribing them with candy. (I did individual points one day and group points another). It seems to be working so far. Even my most problematic kid was like an angel the first 45 minutes but then he fell apart the second half.

It's hard for me to keep a system going and stick with it. For example I really liked the points idea for dealing with the 4th and 5th graders, but I only see them all together twice a week. Then it's just the 4th graders alone and that is a completely different dynamic. Then today one of them was absent and I only had two students in that class and it was soooo easy. I didn't even need to bribe them. See, things are never consistent so it's hard for me to be.

Today, though, I noticed that when I walked the two 4th graders to my room they immediately lined up against the wall outside my door to wait for me. I was expecting them to just walk right in. I always make the 4th and 5th graders line up by the door because I tell them exactly what I want them to do when they go inside. When I bring the three kindergardeners or the two 2nd/3rd graders, I just let them walk in. I don't have behavior issues with them. So, even though there were just two of them today, they still knew that they always wait outside. I realized that I guess I do have *some* routnines that I am doing consistantly without even realizing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Good and the Bad

Today was a rough day.

Well, the ending was rough so that put a damper on the rest of the day which went just fine.

My biggest group of students is six 4th and 5th graders. Two of the boys like to cause a lot of trouble but the girls (all in 5th grade) are generally well behaved. They want to participate and are usually engaged. I do have to work to keep them from chatting to each other all period though.

Today was a different story. The girls (and one in particular) would not stop calling out, making comments to other students and talking back when I told her I was taking points off. The boys were a bit sneakier causing their trouble more quietly so that they didn't get called on it as often. This led the one girl to start pointing out everything that the other students were doing. It just got worse and worse as the 90 minute period progressed.

I am so frustrated because I expect that six kids can be have themselves. I don't have a huge class of rowdy kids running around and yelling; I should be able to handle a measly six kids.

Part of the problem is that the space that we are in is so small. Students are sitting way too close together and don't have enough personal space. Then, if I need to separate someone there is nowhere for them to go. I have one small table on the back wall that I could move a student to but they would not be any farther away from the other students.

The space was just part of the problem today though. I don't know what I am doing wrong. My procedures are in place. I have the students wait in a quiet line outside the classroom before we enter. I remind them that they have to enter quietly, sit down and begin the Do Now. One student picks up the composition books from the back table and then they begin on the Do Now.

That's about where the smooth procedures get derailed. They take FOREVER to copy down their heading and the DO NOW question even though I remind them how much time they have left. Usually after I've given them 5-10 minutes to do this they have barely finished copying the question or they've written it down but not responded. I think that today part of the problem may have been that the question was too hard for them. They didn't understand what I was asking. ("Why is it important to know who your audience is when you write a persuasive essay?" We talked about this yesterday.) I'll have to work on that.

Well, tomorrow is a new day and I will try again. Also, I only see the 4th graders tomorrow and that always seems to be easier than the two grades together.


In brighter news . . .

The coaches are starting to be nice to me. I don't know what happened.

Last week one of them was in a better mood than usual so I took that opportunity to ask her for help with teaching my kindergarteners their letters and sounds since I know that she specializes in early childhood. She was very helpful and gave me a lot of good ideas.

Since then, things have been going better. They say good morning to me when they come in the room and actually talk to me during the day.

Yesterday, I foresaw a huge fight coming--it never happened.

There was a tall box belonging to the math coach that had been sitting on the dividing line of the room since the first week of school. I had been using it to put my hand outs and clipboards on while I teach. Well, yesterday she finally got rid of the box. I replaced it with a small desk because I NEED a place to keep all my stuff while I teach and there is no other space at the front of the classroom. Knowing how things have gone so far, I was SURE that she would have a fit and say that it was in the way (it's slightly bigger than the box). I was all prepared for what I would say.

She never said a word.

I don't know what's going on with them but I hope that it continues. I asked them for some advice with my rowdy kids today and they did help some. I think maybe they like it when I ask them for advice. I'll keep on asking if that's what it takes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The nerve of some people . . .

Yesterday I was at our monthly ESL meeting for the region. I was sitting with two other TFAers and one other woman. The guy had missed the last ESL meeting because his school hadn't told him about it. He only found out about this meeting when he arrived at school that morning via a post-it note. Luckily the meeting was being held just down the street from his school and he was scheduled to do push-in for the majority of the meeting so it wasn't a big issue. He was planning however, to return to school to teach the last period, his history class. He mentions this to us and the woman sitting with us starts going into how he can't leave the meeting because it is mandatory. He explains that he learned about it last minute and that his school was expecting him back. He also said that it was a really difficult class and he didn't want to leave them with a sub--he needed to be there with them. So, this woman continues to go into how he can't leave, his school knows he has to be there, "and what? so you're NEVER going to take a day off the whole school year?" He says no, he's going to try not to. She tells him that he is entitled to his 9 days and he should take them off. He tells her that he just wants to show that he is dedicated and build a good rapport with the principal. She says that they don't care if he takes those days off--they're his. Sooo, he goes to the facilitator of the meeting and after arguing with her for a while about how he needs to get back to his class, she lets him go. After he's gone the woman sitting next to us turns and says "You know he's not going back to his school. He just wants to get out of here." I so wanted to smack her. The other TFA teacher said to her "We actually know him and he IS dedicated to his students. He really WANTS to be with his students and he really WON'T take any days off this year." She just couldn't comprehend that this could be possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I don't know why this strikes me as odd, but I can't get over hearing people talk about the Yankees and being upset that they didn't make it to the World Series. I don't even care about baseball it's just that I am used to always hearing about the Yankees as being the team that everyone hates (apart from the random few that are diehard fans but that everyone else shuns). Last night (or was it the night before?) I heard the new anchors talking about how they were bummed that the Yankees lost and I though to myself Even they like the Yankees?? Oh yeah, I keep forgetting that this IS New York. Is this a strange observation?

* * *

I just have to say that today was the nastiest weather. And this is about the WORST weather that we get all winter in Arizona. I don't know how I'm going to make it through the Winter!

Holiday Reading

Check out the Carnival of Education hosted this week by Jenny D.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Thoughts . . .

I don't know how I am going to be able to go back to a full 5 day week next week. These last two have been so great. Not that I have done anything interesting, but the random days off have given me time to catch up and plan. Last night was the first night that I had my planning for the next day done by 6pm so that the evening was all mine to veg. Over the weekend I also planned a month-long reading unit and writing unit for my group of second and third graders.

Yeah! Progress!

But that's about where it ends with my long term planning. I'm hoping to get some more accomplished this weekend. I want to tackle my 8th grade writing plan next.

I'm still struggling with what exactly I'm supposed to be teaching these ESL kids who all speak English. I know that they all need a lot of help with reading comprehension and writing so I am trying to focus on those areas. I just keep questioning myself all the time as to whether or not I am doing the right thing. I'm constantly worrying that I am pulling them out of some important lesson in their classes and that this ESL program is becoming detrimental to them rather than helping them. Maybe if I were more confident about my teaching skills and what I am teaching them I wouldn't feel this way.

And, I know that maybe I shouldn't speak too soon, but I'm not sure if I like being a pull-out teacher. Yes, I have so much more freedom than all of the other teachers. And, yes, especially in my region, where micro-managing is taken to an extreme level, I'm probably the only teacher in the school who doesn't get told what to do. I just keep seeing all of the classes and wishing that I were a classroom teacher. I would love to have my own class of second graders.

I still love the kids in ESL, and the idea of being the first teacher of new arrival students--only that's not my situation. I think I could really get excited about teaching a self contained ESL class. I'm just not in the right neighborhood for that.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Three day weekend!

First day of the long weekend and it's pouring down rain! Well, this should be conducive to all of the planning that I told myself I would do. I won't feel so bad for not getting out of the house an doing something! Though I might pack up my books and head over to the Tea Lounge on Union Street to get some work done. I love that place.

I do feel guilty though that in my first months of living in NYC I haven't had any motivation (or much opportunity) to explore and do fun stuff. During the school week I never get out of Brooklyn and even then I only see my classroom, the subway and my neighborhood. Every Friday night the new teachers at my school go to happy hour. That's usually the biggest outing of the week and I'm generally home by 10 which seems so late! Ah, the life of a teacher!


Today I got my order from Amazon.com. I got the 6+1 Traits of Writing book. I really love the concept and want to know more about it. I have all the rubrics for the model (from various workshops at Institute) but I don't really know where to start with implementing it. My plan is to get through some of the reading this weekend so that I can incorporate it into my lesson planning.

I'm hoping to use the 6 Traits to help me take my students beyond the bland Four Square Writing that they are currently doing. I'm going to emphasize that these Traits are applicable to Four Square writing (which they have to do in every single class and in every grade from K-12). I, however, don't plan on using the Four Square in my class. I really despise it. I know that I can get away with that for two reasons. The first is that no one in my building (administrators, coaches, other teachers) know what I am supposed to be doing therefore no one ever checks on me, I've never had my AP come into my room and tell me what should be on my walls or that my bulletin boards aren't up to date, etc. (I'm really sort of loving this freedom). The other reason, and probably most important because this is a justification that I could actually give an administrator, if asked, is that I have to prepare them for the NYSESLAT in the Spring which does not use the Four Square. In fact, it provides it's own graphic organizers which, if used like the Four Square produce the most horrifically organized papers. (I know this from the diagnostic I gave). So, I'm really looking forward to getting to know the 6 Traits and implementing them in my classroom.

Ok, so I'm going to stop procrasinating now and get down to work!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New KIPP School

KIPP is opening a new charter school in Houston to serve the students displaced by hurricane Katrina. The school will be largely staffed by Teach For America teachers who were also displaced by the hurricane.

I think this is such an inspiring story. I give major credit to KIPP as well as the TFA teachers for jumping on this and making every effort to make this school year meaningful to the students.

Teach For America in the News

Here is a link to an article in the New York Times that gives a basic run down on Teach For America. For those familiar with the organization, the article doesn't present anything new but I thought it might be interesting for those who may not have heard of Teach For America.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Professional development

I completely understand that in theory professional development can be a great thing. Veteran teachers and new teachers alike can benefit from new instructional strategies and revisiting or perfecting the ones that they already use. Why then is our hour-long professional development every Monday such a waste of time?

Actually, I think I can answer my own question. It might have something to do with the fact that our PD is presented as one session in the auditorium to every teacher in the school regardless of what they teach.

Our first session was on protocol for teaching Math to the new standards. There are a lot of teachers who don't teach math. (Me for one). This week we had a session on Four Square Writing. Leaving aside my personal thoughts on the Four Square, this session seemed at first to apply to more teachers than math. Then the presenter said that she would only be speaking to writing in grades 3-8. She said that teachers of the early grades should just "sit back and see what the rest of the grades are doing." There is a K-2 Four Square, but she wouldn't be discussing it. What a waste of time for those teachers. So they are clocking the required number of hours, but they are gaining nothing from it. Why not just let them go home (or work in their classrooms) if the PD is explicitly not applicable to them.

At the end of the hour I saw the two gym teachers make a bee line for the door. I hadn't even realized that they too were forced to suffer through these weekly trainings. Will there ever be even ONE session applicable to them? I highly doubt it.

What if, instead of meeting whole school in the auditorium, we had smaller more specialized PD sessions? We could team up with other schools in the district so that Social Studies teachers, math teachers, early elementary teachers, etc. could work separately to really focus on their teaching areas. Then, PD might actually serve it's purpose of helping teachers.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


There are certain things that the students at my school do without being instructed.

You don't have to tell them how to write the heading on their papers. It has been so ingrained into them that it just comes naturally. When a first-year teacher tries to present a particular way of writing the heading for her class, they promptly tell her that that isn't the way it's done. She's doing it all wrong.

Last week I gave reading comprehension diagnostics to all of my students. When I collected their tests, all of them had numbered the paragraphs in the reading selections. Someone had taught them that this is what you do when you take a test and they didn't need anyone to remind them.

They knew what was expected.

Wednesday we had a fire drill at my school and I caught a glimpse of how orderly the students could behave if only the expectations were set in place. I fully expected our first fire drill to be utterly chaotic. Based on the madness every day when just a third of the students go to lunch, I could only imagine what it would be like when the entire school poured into the halls to try and exit the building.

I was completely mistaken.

Somewhere along the lines, the students had been taught how they were expected to behave during a fire drill. The consequences for misbehavior during a fire drill must have been pretty clear too because every student was perfect. Students were lined up in perfectly straight rows. No one so much as whispered to another student. And everyone walked out of the building in a calm and orderly fashion. Another TFA teacher at my school commented, she had never seen so many students in the hall at one time. She had also never seen the hall so quiet.

All of us first-years were so amazed at how well behaved they were. This just proved how our school could be if only the expectations were set. Did the administration not see this as well? If the students can behave like this during a fire drill, why can't we expect this of them every day?

I feel like the focus is always on the small insignificant things rather than the imortant issues. Don't even think about writing the heading incorrectly but go ahead and run around the classroom and talk back to the teacher. Where are the priorites?

The same goes for the expectations of the teachers. The administration comes around checking to make sure that all ten memos are posted and that the bulletin boards have student work that is not a day over two weeks old, but does anyone even stop to see how the lesson is being taught and if the students are engaged?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I gave my fourth graders their reading comprehension diagnostic today. I had planned to go through the diagnostic question by question alligning each one to the standard that it was testing. From there I would make a mastery chart and start focusing my instruction on the questions that they got wrong. Then I graded them . . .

Three fourth graders took the diagnostic. One only answered eight out of twenty eight questions and got none right. The second answered all of them and got six correct (But I know that he must have guessed on at least most if not all of them because the diagnostic was really long and I didn't expect any of them to finish today and he finished early). The last student refused to answer any questions because he was rebelling in response to my not letting him go to the bathroom after we clearly discussed my bathroom poilicy last week and I let him use his emergency "pass" already).

So basically, all the tracking of questions that I was going to do is useless now as I just need to teach them everything.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Weekend Planning Plans Derailed by Toothache

Friday I got a lot of work done at school. I tied up most of the loose ends with paperwork and finally decided on my official schedule. Finally knowing what my schedule and groupings were, I had planned to spend the weekend writing lesson plans.

Then, the killer toothache set in. I had felt it coming on earlier in the week and went to the dentist but it was so bad that I was told I needed to see a root canal specialist. Due to some incompetence on the part of the dentist (which I won't go into details) and problems with insurance (I was covered but not yet enrolled) I didn't get to see the specialist. I finally resolved everything Friday at 5pm, unfortunately too late to see a dentist. So there was nothing left to do but stock up on pain killers and suffer through the weekend.

And suffer I did. The Tylenol with codeine wasn't even strong enough. I spent the weekend on the couch alternatively crying, banging my head against the wall, walking in circles around the room and not sleeping at all.

I finally got the root canal this afternoon. I still have to go back for another visit but thankfully the pain is gone. Needless to say, I got zero planning done. And tomorrow I have my first day with a full schedule of kids.

Monday, September 19, 2005

You've got to be kidding me . . .

Today in our weekly PD it was mentioned that the region doesn't want us to use the term "bullet points" anymore because it has a negative connotation.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

First day of graduate classes

My Saturday just disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Today was our first meeting at Pace for our graduate classes. It was actually pretty good. I'd heard from a lot of '04 corps members that the Pace classes were a waste of time. Well, they revamped the whole structure of the program and from what I saw today they did a pretty good job. Instead of meeting for classes twice a week after school, we only have to go one Saturday a month from 9:00-5:30 and then complete online assignments during the week. Our Saturdays essentially consist of three classes that we are taking: Curriculum and Instruction, Child Study, and Learning Teams. We're grouped all day by our content area so that we are always talking about things in the context of what we're teaching, which is nice. I think that the best part of the day is the Learning Team. The Learning Teams are led by TFA curriculum specialists. In this part of the day we have the opportunity to really discuss what is going on in our classrooms and ask specific questions that we have. I also like that this part of the day is led by TFA because I think that it helps to refocus on our goal of significant academic gains. In our training with the DOE, which was only two days, I already started feeling disconnected from the movement. Now we will be able to come back to that every month.

In other news . . .I found out today that we have a new addition to our corps. One of the displaced corps members from New Orleans has joined my region in Brooklyn. She's been through so much and now she's starting all over again here in New York. She's from Brooklyn so it was easier for her to come back home than to move to Texas (where a lot of New Orleans CMs have gone) or wait for the schools in Louisiana to reopen. I wish her luck.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

One step closer to having kids in my classroom

I finished testing the last students today.

Students get into the ESL program though a series of steps. First, their parents fill out a Home Language Identification Survey (HLIS) when they register their children for the first time. If they answer a certain combination of questions (such as "Which language does the child write?" "Which language does the child speak with friends?") with an answer other than English the student then takes a English language test called the LAB-R. If they student scores below a certain number on that test, he/she goes into the ESL program (or bilingual or dual language if they are available). Today I finished the last of the LAB-R testing. Of the six kids I tested, only one will be in the ESL program.

Now I have my final count (pretty much) for my classes: 14 students. I made some tentative groups by grade level. There are four groups: 4 eighth graders, 3 fifth graders and a fourth grader, 4 third graders and a second grader, and one kindergartener. Now I have to work on making a schedule. I started talking with some teachers today about how I might schedule this. For now I'm thinking that I'll take the eight graders during their writing block and work with them on that since one of their teachers expressed a need in that area. For the third/second graders I'm thinking about taking them during their morning literacy block and doing pretty much them same thing their teacher is doing with the class but modified for ESL. I talked to the kindergarten teacher today about pulling her student out for some periods (he needs work on English vocabulary) and for other periods pushing into his regular class. I haven't had time the chat with the fourth/fifth grade teachers yet so I'm not sure what the focus there will be. Hopefully I can make a final schedule tomorrow and then start meeting with the kids on Monday. Yea!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Not getting any better

I've already broken down into tears several times and it's only the third day of school. (And I haven't even started teaching yet!)

Today I went into school ready to talk with the teachers sharing my room so that I could finally get my space organized. One was really understanding and was ready to move everything around. She also agreed with me that I should take the back of the room so that when the teachers come into the room to talk to them they will not be crossing through my lessons. Then the second teacher got there and flat out refused to move any of her stuff. She said that she was already set up and she wasn't moving and that she had to be by the window and she didn't have to explain her reasoning to me. I finally said, OK, so I'll take the front of the room but you still have to move your stuff so that the other teacher can move her stuff over. She said that I and the other teacher could figure it out but she was going downstairs to do whatever. She came back ten minutes later and demanded "Well, did you figure out what you two are doing?" I should have had nothing to do with it. They were the two sharing half the space and therefore had to decide how to move their furniture. I just left the room (and that was the first time I started crying today).

It finally took the Principal to come in and help mediate and help me and the one cooperative teacher figure out a plan for THEIR stuff. The other teacher never came to help. So finally (!) I had my half of the room to myself. Then the cooperative teacher argued about my placement of my filing cabinet. She said that if I didn't move it she would. I just wanted to wait until I had my desk to see if there would be room to move it. She shoved the filing cabinet across the room and into the tiny corner that was meant to house my desk. I just couldn't take it anymore and started crying once again. I just don't deserve to be treated this way. I haven't done anything to make them so awful to me. As I was trying to eat my lunch (and still balling) I was seriously thinking of calling my Program Director and telling him that there is no way that I can do this. How am I supposed to get through this year sharing a room with these two ladies who are so nasty to me. I really don't know how I'm going to do it but I know that I'm not going to call him either. It's only the third day and I haven't even seen any kids yet.

I can already see that this room situation is going to be terrible. There are teachers coming in every five minutes to talk to the math and literacy coaches. Every time they will have to cross my chalk board. Every time the other teachers need supplies they will have to come to my side (and possible move the desks) to get to the cabinets. Whenever they decide to eat lunch we are going to smell their food since they have a fridge and microwave in the room. It really sucks. The only thing that I can think to be thankful for is that I have a permanent spot to be in and I don't have to travel to random classrooms or work on the stage in the auditorium.

I hope things get better. I finally got started on the Home Language Identification Surveys so that I can start to figure out testing and scheduling and start teaching.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Not what I'd expected for the first days of school.

I've been wanting to write a post since Tuesday night but I haven't had internet access. Sooo much has gone on in the past two days that I couldn't even recount it all now so I thought I'd go with the brief recap . . .

Tuesday I got to school armed with my fun decorations. I tried to start setting up my classroom but it was nearly impossible because the math and literacy coaches still hadn't moved out of my room. I only put up one border and then spent the rest of the day helping them move their stuff so that I could get to my classroom which was buried in books and furniture. Rather than being super grateful to me for all of the free manual labor that I was doing for them, they would yell at me for putting a box a books in the math area and not the literacy corner. The day ended with the custodians putting all the furniture I moved into the hallway (which belonged to the coaches) BACK in my room. Then I was forced to leave at 4pm because they were waxing the hall outside my room. I left feeling sooo frustrated.

Wednesday was a MUCH better day. I finally decorated my room, got all of the coaches' stuff out of my room, set up my filing system and worked on all of the little details. I put up paper and borders on almost every inch of wall space. I especially liked how I decorated the door and space above the chalk board with "Welcome" in 20 languages. I took quite a lot of work to find a rug and tables and chairs but by 730pm I left school with my room looking great and totally in order for the first day of school.

The first day of school was kind of a weird day. I didn't have any students so I worked on some more details for my room. Later I took a field trip to the school across the street and met with the ESL teacher who has been there for eight years. She was so helpful. I finally had someone sit down with me and explain exactly what I have to do as far as figuring out what kids I have, testing and forming pull-out groups. My administration told me nothing. Everything was going great until 2 o'clock. That's when they called me into the Principal's office (along with seven other teachers) and told me that they were taking away my room. My beautiful room that I loved so much and spent so much time on. They decided that due to space issues they were moving me into the room with the coaches. (I should mention that the room with the coaches is the exact same size as the classroom I'd previously had to myself. Small and cozy. I'd say a third of the size of a regular classroom.) They said that I'd get half the room and they would put up a partition and the coaches would share the other half. They said "Sorry about the inconvenience but it's not about you. It's about the kids. Just remember that." Can you believe they tried to use "It's about the kids" in this situation? Needless to say I was really upset. I walked out of the building at 3pm because I just couldn't deal with taking down all of my hard work just then.

Today I just worked on moving all of my stuff up to the first floor. So many teachers passed by my room today giving me sympathy for having to move and telling me how great my room looked. (and then telling me about the year they had to move four times). Every time I wanted to break into tears. When I finally got all my stuff moved the AP came and told me that I had to cover two periods of social studies. When I asked her what I was supposed to do with them she handed me a huge American History book and said "Is there anything in this book that you're more familiar with than another? You have an hour to prepare." I did get something prepared for them to do on the fly (not American history) but both classes were so wild and out of control that we never got past the "Do Now." I got back to my new room at three o'clock and the coaches STILL hadn't cleared out a space for me. It seems like the might be trying to renegotiate the half/half arrangement. Basically the last two days have sucked. And all this is not to mention the absurd bureaucracy that I'm just now starting to understand and the rumors that if my ESL case load isn't big enough I'll be sent to a second school.

It's hard to believe that I'm wasting so much school time with all this moving and BS. I haven't even had time to go through the cumulative records and figure out which kids are mine and start testing them so that EVENTUALLY I can form classes and start teaching.

I hope things get better next week . . .

Friday, September 02, 2005

My Classroom

I finally went to my school and got inside of my classroom today! Very exciting. It's small but I'm only going to have small groups of kids with me at any given time. It's really cozy--I love it. (There are other teachers who have the same sized room for 15 kids and that is really cramped.) When I got to my room it was still jam packed with books, supplies, desks, etc. My room used to belong to the Literacy Coach and Math Coach and they hadn't moved their stuff out yet. I met the Math Coach and she was the first person from my school who I've been able to talk to and ask school specific questions (I hadn't had any contact with my principal since my interview). I offered to help her move her stuff up to the second floor and I think she really likes me now because of that. She was introducing me to all of the staff and telling them to take care of me and give me supplies. She donated a few things to me already. I'll take anything I can get. The Literacy Coach still had tons of stuff in there so I couldn't really organize my room at all. Now that I know what the space is like I have a sense of how I want to arrange it. I want to have a carpet area but there's no rug in the room. The Math Coach said she'd try to find one for me. Yeah!

I FINALLY talked to the principal and it turns out there's an explanation for why he didn't respond to any of my emails over the summer. I found out this morning that the principal who hired me is no longer at the school. It's funny because I had gotten an email the other day saying when I could come into my classroom but I had no idea who it was from. Now I know it was the new principal.

I found out some other news about my classroom. So, we have some after school program at my school three days a week (M,W,F) and the coordinators need a place to plan and get organized for the kids after school. As luck would have it, that place is my room (my small, cozy room, remember). I asked my principal what I should do if they were going to be in my room but I had students. She said that they are only two adults and space is tight. Maybe sometimes I would have to take my kids to the library or sometimes they could go to the library. Doesn't it seem like the two adults should be the ones to go to the library rather than my group of kids who have a classroom. Why give me a classroom if I don't get to use it all the time? It doesn't make sense to me at all. I'm hoping that as things progress it will become obvious that the only thing that makes sense is for the the kids to stay in the room.

I was also told today that I should be having an ESL meeting on Tuesday. I'm sooo excited. I'm thinking that this could be the answer to all of my questions, though I know that I've wrongfully assumed that before (ESL training with TFA, Region 5 training). I still have to be hopeful. I really don't know what I'm supposed to be teaching!

After going to my school I went to the teacher store. I was so overwhelmed by everything there that I ended up only buying a few things (some borders, letters and a calendar). Then I went to Staples and spent $100. I was mostly focusing on buying stuff to get organized (file folders, hanging folders, file boxes the students can access, etc.). It's hard to know now how I will want to organize all of my paperwork, student paperwork, etc. In college I always started out with one spiral notebook where I took notes for all my classes for one or two weeks. Then when I got a sense of how I wanted to organize myself for each class I would go out and buy binders, notebooks, dividers. That's kind of what I want to do now (wait and see) but I want to have a start so that don't get bogged down with paperwork. I love organization so I have to get it just right. The other thing I bought at Staples was such an indulgence that I feel so guilty for spending $30 on it when I am so poor--a label maker. I love to label everything. I'm so excited but I'm having a bit of buyer's remorse.

So, things are progressing. Hopefully I'll be going to my classroom tomorrow to get some more work done. I still have to move all my stuff to my apartment too. I'm dreading having to make several trips on the subway with all of my bags. And it doesn't help that Williamsburg (where all my stuff is) is soo poorly connected to Park Slope (where I'm moving). Aargh.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The housing search is over (fingers crossed)

I don't want to speak too soon but I think the apartment search is finally over. I found a place yesterday in Park Slope with a girl whose roommate cancelled at the last minute. I contacted the landlord today to get my credit check, etc. I haven't actually moved my stuff in yet, but all seems good so far.

As this relief comes (I can finally start focusing on planning the first weeks of school) I am reading about the devastation from hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I know that was somewhere on my ranking of cities. That could have been me. I can't even imagine. I think of all the work and preparation that I've been doing to get ready for the year and I can't fathom what that must be like to now not know if the house I just set up is still standing let alone if I would be going back to my classroom. Here's a link to the blog of a New Orleans corps member who is currently displaced from his new home.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The first day just keeps getting closer and closer . . .

Today was our last training day for TFA. We are finally free to go into our classrooms and teach. In some ways I feel so prepared and in other ways I feel totally lost.

The things that I am feeling good about are all the things that TFA has been drilling into us for the entire summer: classroom management, investing students, high expectations. What I'm really at a loss for is what it is that I'm actually going to be teaching my students. I know that I am responsible for the English language acquisition of my students but I don't know how I'm supposed to go about teaching it. Should I do it in the context of English Language Arts, or should it be in the context of the content areas. And then there is the whole thing about significant academic gains. I know that I can track and take responsibility for their mastery of English (speaking, reading, writing and listening) but what about content areas. Today we had an ESL break out group and we were repeatedly told to not forget about the content areas. In many cases we (the ESL teachers) may be the only educator providing any comprehensible content to our students. We can't forget about the content areas. But how am I supposed to plan lessons around several content areas for nine different grade levels? Especially when I may have some students for just 180 minutes a week.

Another question that comes up is how do I plan my rules and procedures for such a wide grade span? It's hard (if not impossible) to come up with procedures that would be the same for Kindergarteners as well as 8th graders. Should I break the grades up into K-3, 4-8 when planning rules and procedures, or even into three groups? I think that I may have around 18 total students (if I can trust the school's web site). It's hard for me to envision how my classroom will look and sound when I don't know what the groupings will be like and how many students there will be in each group. I feel like a lot of management strategies that we have learned are geared to a classroom of 25+ students. How do I adapt that to a smaller group of four students who are stepping into a classroom for the first time in this country?

All summer I've been thinking that there would be this magical day when I would suddenly know what my situation would be like and then I could start planning. I'm starting to realize that that day isn't coming.

I was given some advice (and I know that a lot of other corps members are doing this too) to just plan for teaching procedures and classroom culture lessons in the first two weeks. Like I explained before, I'm feeling like I can't do even that. I'm scared that the first day is going to come and I'm just going to show up at school knowing nothing.

So, having worked through all these anxieties by putting them down on paper (or the computer screen) I do have some next steps. First, I hear that principals should be back at schools on Monday so I'm going to try and contact mine and finally speak to him for the first time since my interview. Second, today I was given the number for the ESL coordinator in my region. That could possible be a good person to get some information. Or at least ideas on what ESL teachers do in other schools.

... and, to add to all of the stress, I STILL haven't found a place to live. It's starting to get to the point of desperation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New Teacher Training

The Department of Education New Teacher Training just ended today. I can't say that it was really that useful. Basically we just had a two day overview of all of the things that we've been learning all summer. It really made me appreciate how well we were prepared during Induction, Institute and Orientation. Everything that was covered in the two day training was information that we had already discussed extensively during sessions at Institute and then put into practice in our classrooms. It was nice to know that at least they are trying to help new teachers out. I do wonder about people that don't already know the basics that they were presenting though. Really I feel like all of my questions and concerns are school specific at this point. I'm told that all of the principals report to school on Monday, so I'm thinking that I'll take a trip to my school and see what I can figure out. I really want to be as prepared as possible but at this point there are just so many variables that I don't know what to prepare for.

I just have to say, in praise for Teach For America . . . Orientation just ended on Thursday and today we got an email saying that they went over our feedback from the four day orientation. They told us the sessions that we said we found most/least useful and then the changes that they will be implementing for not only next year's orientation, but for our Professional Development Day this Saturday. This organization never ceases to amaze me with their responsiveness and efficiency.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Still So Many Questions

The first day of school keeps getting closer and closer and I still don't have a clue as to what I will be doing the first day/weeks of school. The only thing I know about my job is that I am teaching K-8 ESL. The principal didn't tell me anything about the position (other than I'd be doing push-in/pull-out--and he only told me that much because I asked). I looked on the school's web site and saw that there are only 18 ELLs in the whole school (though I'm not sure how accurate that is) and I am responsible for all of them. That's not so many kids but I'm not sure how that works when they span 9 grade levels. I have sooo many questions to ask the principal. Basic questions that need to be answered before I can start any planning. I wrote him an email the other day only asking the three most pressing questions and still haven't gotten word back. He's probably on vacation now or something but I talked to another new teacher at my school and she emailed him 2 weeks ago and still hasn't gotten a response. I definitely don't feel like it's time to start panicking just yet. There's still time to get organized. But I'm wondering what's going to happen if I don't ever get my questions answered and I show up to the first day not knowing anything! I know that a lot of my colleagues are in the same position of not having a lot of information to go on but I feel like it's harder being an ESL teacher. If you know you are teaching 3rd grade, you can look up the standards for third grade and at least start to come up with a long term plan. In my position, I don't know how I am going to have my days structured, how I will work with the general education teachers, what I will be expected to teach the kids, how long I will have them. It's really a lot to think about. I'm not panicking yet though.

Oh, and as for the housing search--I still haven't found anything!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Classroom Library

I'm going to submit a proposal on Donorschoose.org for a classroom library. I'm trying to compile a list of books to include. Anyone have any essential books (K-8) that shouldn't be left off the list? I'm especially interested in books that portray characters from a variety of backgrounds and recent immigrant stories.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Homeless in NY

It's not easy finding a place to live in New York. I'm currently staying with some other corps members in Brooklyn while I look for an apartment. Yesterday I saw one place and I have a few appointments for tomorrow. I hope something comes up soon. It's very unsettling being in a new city and not even having a place to call home. There is so much to do (get ready for school, organize my finances, buy furniture, etc.) but I can't really do anything until I have a place to live. Not to metion I want to start enjoying my first summer in New York! I have my fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Institute: And we're off!

Institute is over. Now the 750 of us who have spent the last five weeks eating, sleeping, working and teaching together will scatter into our regions to begin teaching in the fall. Only six weeks to get ready for our students who will enter our classrooms for the first time in September. There is still so much work to be done!

The last day of teaching (Thursday) was great. We reserved the last hour of school for games and a party for the kids. They had so much fun (and we did too). We let them ask us questions. The most frequently asked questions were How old are you? and What's your real name? At the end of the hour none of the kids wanted to go home. Some were crying (including our "tough girl" who was our biggest behavioral challenge and who in the end scored the highest on the final assessments). In particularly girl in the class stood out. I had been working individually with her in reading for the four weeks of summer school. She's going into seventh grade in the fall and on a low first grade reading level. At first I didn't realize just how low her level was. She's gotten pretty good at faking her reading over the course of her elementary school career. Using context and the beginning letters of words, she can guess correctly most of the time. Finally, I stopped to assess her actual level and realized we'd been working on books that were way above her level. I realized that we had to start with the basics and we began working on phonics and reading beginning first grade decodable books. At first she was reluctant to read these babyish books. The other kids were reading 4th and 5th grade level books out loud fluently and she was struggling to decode first grade words. Eventually, she started seeing the progress she was making and became excited to read. Then there were days when her face lit up as she read an entire page without stumbling and others she struggled with one too many words and became so frustrated that she put her head down on the desk cried. Together we made some progress this summer, but four weeks just isn't enough. I was concerned that I wouldn't be there to help her in the Fall. Her school doesn't have a special reading program for kids like her who've been looked over and are now going on 13 and still can't read. I made a summer reading project for her to work on before the school year and tried to encourage her to ask for help from her 7th grade teacher. She promised to practice all of the words and sentences that I gave her. As she left the classroom on the last day of summer school she gave me a card that said "Best Reading Teacher Ever." Inside she wrote that she hated reading before because she didn't know how and now she wants to learn. She wrote her phone number in the card and said I could call her to make sure she was reading over the summer. Once again she was crying. She said "I don't want you guys to go!" It was the hardest thing to say goodbye to these six kids that we had just started to get to know and see make some small steps towards academic achievement. Now more than ever I can't wait to begin teaching in the Fall. It's all about the kids.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Institute: The Final Stretch

I can't believe how time flies! I'd intended to write so much more here at Institute but there literally has been NO time. This past week we all taught one full day of teaching rather than four 45 minute blocks. Although it seems like teaching only one day rather than four would be less stressful, it was actually a lot of work having to think about an entire day rather than just one period for the first time.

It feels like things are winding down here as we finish our fourth week. We only teach four days next week. And we're giving assessments on the last day. It's weird to thing about leaving these kids that we're just starting to get to know. My collaborative teaching team only has six kids in our class, so it's become a close community. Next week is going to be a lot of work to wrap up our four weeks of teaching and five weeks of Institute but the end is in sight. The first week felt like three but I can already see that the last week is going to fly by.

I'm soooo happy that it's Friday! I'm off to NY to meet my aunt who is visiting from California. It will be nice to get out of the dorm and the WORK, WORK, WORK environment for two days at least. I still haven't found an apartment yet, or really even put much effort into it, but that's not on my agenda for this weekend. I really just need a couple of days to de-stress.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Institute: Made it through my first week of teaching!

Wow, what a week. So as it turns out the second week is when the fun starts. Being with the kids for half the day really made the week go by faster. I was surprised by a lot of things this week. First, my 6th grade class only has six kids (we started out with four!). Managing six kids is such a breeze compared to some of the other classes I've observed (namely the 7th grade class full of rowdy boys who definitely DON'T want to be in summer school). It's funny how after the first day you start calling your students "my kids." After four days in the classroom I'm already pretty attached to them. And, I know that I shouldn't be surprised about this because we all know why we're--our kids are seriously below grade level--but, knowing that your students are going to be behind and then seeing a 13 year old who's about to enter the 7th grade reading on a 2nd grade level is pretty shocking. We only have 19 days with our kids this summer. It seems almost impossible to make any real progress. It's hard working with these kids all summer knowing that they're going to move on to 7th grade and there's only so much that you can do with them. Another surprising thing is how comfortable I felt in the classroom. I put down as one of my goals for my first week of teaching to be assertive in the classroom. That turned out to not be much of an issue for me. Asserting your authority over kids is a lot easier than adults, it seems. Sort of related to that, I found that I wasn't nervous at all this week. Not really even on the first day. I've just had this calm about me all week. Even on Thursday when we were at out schools until 4:30pm, I came home, had dinner and wrote two lesson plans by 7pm then went to a learning team meeting from 7:30-9 and a professional development workshop from 9-10. I can say that I am soooo happy that it's Friday! I think the last thing that I was really surprised about this week is that Institue isn't as hard as I imagined. Don't get me wrong, it is really intense, a ton of work and responsibility and overwhelming at times. I think that I am actually doing so well because I was mentally prepared for how challenging it was going to be. Because of that I made a pact with myself to get to bed as early as possible every night and not to stress no matter what. I didn't think that that would actually help but I know that it has. It's also helped to have a positive attitude about everything as much as possible. I've purposefully been avoiding people who start getting negative because it brings me down and I don't want to feed on negative energy. (So any future TFAer that may read this, that's my advice for surviving Institue!)

On the ESL front, I'm getting more and more excited about it every day. Our ESL learning team meeting on Thursday really got me psyched about learning everything there is to know about it. I'm also really excited to get to my school and figure out exactly what I need to do this year. I really don't know if my school is going to give me a ton of advice or none at all. The only thing that I know for sure is that I'm going to be the only ESL teacher for K-8 and I'll be doing push in/pull out. Thanks to all of you that commented about ESL. I really appreciate it.

As for the apartment search, basically there has been none. I haven't had time! In three weeks I am going to be homeless in NYC so I need to get on that ASAP! I'm teaching way out in Brooklyn (Brownsville) so I think I'm going to stick to looking for a place in one of the nicer areas of Brooklyn (and possibly, but not likely, the East Village.) Luckily my school is right near where four subway lines intersect so I have a good choice as to where I can look. I just have to decide how long of a commute I'm willing to deal with. (And seeing as I'm not much of a morning person, I think not very long). So I think that will be my project for this weekend.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Institue: One Week Down

The last two weeks have been so crazy that I haven't even had a chance to check my email, let alone blog. The first week in New York was busy with our meetings starting every day at 9 am and running until about 6pm. Then dinners and social scheduled through the evening. That was nothing compared to the first week at Institue though. We get up at 5am every day to catch the bus at 7. All day long we have sessions trying to get us ready for teaching next week. At 430 we head back to the dorms only to eat and get ready for more sessions, group work, and lesson planning well into the night. A lot of people have been staying up until 2am or even pulling all nighters, but I made a pact with myself to not stress and to get things done as early as possible so that I can get a decent amount of sleep. So far it's working and I've only stayed up until midnight once. But that was just the first week. Next weeks the kids come. I've heard from some advisors that this is the easy week and next week is when it really gets hard. I've also heard, on the more optimistic side, that next week is when it starts getting fun since we'll be teaching. It'll definitely be nice to have a chunk of the day (9am-1:15pm) where we won't be sitting in our sessions. My gut feeling is that next week will be pretty stressfully with the first week of teaching and getting over the anxiety of standing up in front of the class while being observed, but then the third and fourth weeks of teaching will start to get easier. All in all, I think last week has been very long and draining but not the most stressful week of my life like I've heard others say.

There are 750 of us here at the Institue in Philadelphia. We're all from NY, Philadelphia and New Jersey. During the day, they bus us to different schools throughout Philadelphia where we teach summer school to kids who didn't meet the requirements to pass on to the next grade level. Even though it sometimes seems like we're just going to be "pretend teaching," it's the real thing and these kids actually do need us. I think that next week when the kids get here it will start to seem more real. The elementary school that I'm teaching at in Philadelphia is completely comprised of ESL students and all of us teachers are teaching ESL in the fall so it is nice that we have that community. (Some people are teaching high school English in the fall but teaching math here in Philly.) So, for the next four weeks I am teaching 6th grade. There are four of us teaching each class and we rotate between teaching math, reading, and writing. My first week I'll be teaching writing.

I titled one of my first posts ESL, what is it exactly? Well, as it turns out, that was the million dollar question. I kept thinking that once we got to Induction or Institue the information would start flowing. Not so. Basically what it comes down to is that this is the first year that TFA New York is placing ESL teachers so they don't have a lot of experience with it. ESL is also kind of controversial subject and no one can agree on what is the right or most effective method. I've been really excited to teach ESL (and still am) so I think that I am more able to be flexible and go with the flow, but I've found that a lot of people didn't want to teach ESL and so the lack of information is really frustrating them. Also, there are so many models of ESL that it's hard to imagine what teaching in the fall will be like. Will I have my own self-contained classroom? Will I teach a push-in/pull-out model? Will I teach five different classes of ESL each day? I guess I am lucky in that I got placed during Induction so I know just what I'm going to be doing. I am teaching at a K-8 school where I will be teaching a pull-out/push in model. It's definitely not what I had imagined when I joined TFA but I'm getting really excited about it. I found out that I am going to be the only ESL teacher at my school so I'm really going to have to become the expert. While that's a little stressful, I'm excited to learn all about ESL and come up with some programs to not only help my kids but to give support to their general education teachers. This week we start our "learning teams" which means we will meet in groups with other corps members who are assigned to teach the same thing in the fall, so I'm hoping that I'll start to get a better idea of what to expect. In the meantime, I've started some research on the internet.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Off to New York

It's finally here. Tomorrow I leave for New York. I'm not sure if I am mentally prepared for the six weeks of madness that are about to begin. Monday begins "Induction" which lasts for one week in NYC. Then all 600 of us new corps members from NY get bussed to Philadelphia where we join other corps members from different regions for 5 weeks of training known as the "Summer Institue." For those who don't know, the summer institute is supposed to be--in a word--INTENSE. A day in the life of the institute consists of teaching summer school in the morning followed by workshops and seminars in the afternoon, then planning for the following day's teaching in the evening (and well into the night). From most accounts we should be expecting to get about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Back in March I found Andrew's blog, where I got my first real description of just how intense the summer was going to be. I can't believe that now it's only a week away. What I didn't know is just how jam packed our Induction schedule was going to be. Yesterday I got a preliminary schedule in the mail and they have us busy from breakfast all the way through to dinner plans. Somehow in that week we are supposed to find housing for August first when we get back from Philadelphia. I'm not sure how that is going to get accomplished as it seems we are barely going to have time for bathroom breaks.

I did finish just about all the reading in preparation for the Institute (seven texts in all) which was no small feat considering I had just a month to do it in and I was working over 40 hours a week. I didn't do it exactly how they set it up for us (in the neat little exercises followed by classroom observations) but I did get it done. I only did 4 of 9 observations, but seeing as I got back from Italy just two weeks before the end of the school year, I think that I did pretty well. I was shocked when I was talking to one current corps member, whose classroom I observed, and she said "It's so good that you are doing these observations. When I got to Institute I met a lot of people who hadn't done any." I didn't think that was an option, but I'm glad that I got most of it completed.

Though I didn't do all nine observations, I think that I sort of had an alternative series of observations. I found that a lot of what I was reading in the seven TFA texts sounded quite familiar to me. Reading teacher blogs over the last few months has taught me a lot, I think.

So . . . tonight I take the red eye to NY! Wish me luck on the 6 weeks of madness that I am about to endure!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

To the Bronx . . . Or not.

Today I got a short and sweet email telling me that my region has been changed and I'm now going to be teaching in Region 5 (Brooklyn/Queens). I guess it's not nearly as dramatic as it could have been (changing subject area or state), though I'd started getting attached to the idea of teaching in the Bronx. I'd only had my placement for a little while though and now I have plenty of time to get used to the idea of teaching in Region 5. This does majorly affect the housing search. For that I'm really greatful that the news came early on.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Time's running out . . .

Less than two weeks now until I'm off to NY. I feel like there is so much that I need to do to get ready. I've only been back in the States now three weeks and I'm already having to think about packing up again! I'm working over 40hrs a week to try to save every bit that I can before I go. I won't get my first paycheck until September and seeing as I just got back from a year abroad, I don't exactly have any funds saved up. In addition to working, I'm trying to get through the pile of reading that needs to be done before summer institute. I'm focusing on the literacy texts because I know that they will be useful for the Multi-subject CST that is coming up at the end of June. There's really a lot of information there that I am completely unfamiliar with. I hope that I can get it all internalized before the test. Finally, my family. I feel like I haven't had enough time to spend with them. This month is going by so quickly. At least NY isn't as far away as Italy.

That said, I am really excited about getting to NY. I'm especially looking forward to meeting a lot of new people. Through the TFA website, I've made contact with a lot of interesting people. I'm definitey excited for this new adventure in my life.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

South Bronx

I just found out today that I'm going to be teaching in the South Bronx (region 1). It's exciting to know even just a little more information on where I'll be teaching. I didn't give any preference for where I wanted to teach in NY--at this point, it's all the same to me. It helps to know where I'm going to be teaching though because now I can start thinking about where I want to live. I'm glad that I got to spend a bit of time in the city this past spring or I would be completely lost. When I was there I had plenty of time to wander so I kind of got my bearings in the city. So, can anyone give any recommendations as to where they would live in the city knowing that they would be teaching in the Bronx? I don't want to have a crazy commute. I'd like to live in a neighborhood that is really colorful with interesting bars, restaurants, shops, etc. A place where I can witness and take part in the "city ballet."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Classroom Observations

Last week I did the first of my classroom observations that I'll do before the summer institute starts at the end of June.

The first day, I observed two Teach For America teachers teaching bilingual classes at a charter school. Both classes seemed very well behaved. All the students were attentive and classroom procedures went so smoothly that you almost didn't notice the transition between activities. I also noticed how quietly and quickly minor disruptions were handled by the teachers. I think that is one of the main things that I learned from watching their lessons. I think back to last summer teaching English at summer camps in Italy and I realize that minor disruptions by students were multiplied by the teachers (or "counselors") when they stopped the entire group activity or lesson to address a single student who was acting up. Last week I saw teachers walk around the room while talking to students. They were constantly putting a student's hands back in their own lap, tapping a student on the shoulder and pointing to the "time out" table, or picking up a student who had sprawled out on the carpet during circle time. All these disruptions and more were handled without ever speaking or stopping the lesson. (The classes I observed were kindergarten and 2nd grade, by the way). Lesson learned.

I'm sure that order and efficiency of the classes I observed is the fruit of the year's labor. I had the fortune to visit the class at the end of the year after they've had nine months as a class together. To the casual observer, classroom management seems easy. I actually did observe one student in the first class who was constantly talking out of turn, getting out of her seat, and generally being disruptive. The teacher told me immediately after the class that she just transferred to the school and has had some trouble adjusting.

The second day, I watched a 2nd grade class in a regular school (also taught by a TFA teacher). At first glance, the school was quite deceiving. It's only five years old and a really nice facility. All around the school construction of new homes is taking place. I arrived at the school just as the school bus was pulling up and letting all of the uniformed students off the bus. You would have never known that this school is in one of the worst performing districts in Phoenix. Inside the classroom, the differences between the students in terms of being on grade level wasn't immediately obvious to me. Students seemed to be all participating in the morning carpet time and "stations." After lunch, I was given the chance the work with the students individually on reading. That's where my shock came. I started out working with a student who could read the words on the page, only very slowly. Then I worked with a student who could barely sound out the words and often invented words based on the first letter of the word. Finally, I worked with a few students who fluidly read all the words without stopping to sound them out. The gap in learning was huge.

My main observation the second day was based on a question on the observation form. The question asked if students worked together and seemed supportive of each others' learning. To that I would have to say no. During the morning "stations," students were put in groups where they rotated between five stations. In one of the stations students worked with the teacher on reading, in the other four stations students were basically left to work on their own and in groups. Here I saw students that seemed to be competing with each other rather than being supportive of each other. I constantly heard students saying "That's easy!" when another student was working to solve a problem or read a sentence. They were always quick to point out who couldn't read. Some students had taken over the reading for their partners when they were supposed to be reading to each other. "This is what we do because he can't read," one girl told me. Overall the atmosphere wasn't cooperative. It must be so discouraging for a student to be constantly told by his peers that what he's working on is "easy" and to have all the students point and say "He can't read." This has me thinking of ways that I can really emphasize a cooperative classroom environment where students want to help those who are struggling.

Hopefully next week I will visit some upper elementary classrooms. I am kind of leaning toward wanting to teach lower elementary though.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Busy, Busy.

I haven't posted in the last week as I've been in constant travel between cities. The bag made it OK to London (I didn't even have to pay excess baggage fees!). Then I went back to Sardegna for my last two days of teaching. Then it was back to London for one night. I collected my bag and proceeded to the airport with two 65lb bags and a backpack. I was in NY all weekend. I took the LAST on Saturday and attended a "Placement Kick-off Event" for TFA on Sunday. In between all that I spent time with two friends that I met and worked with in Greece back in 2003. It was good times. I returned to Phoenix late last night exhausted! Today I'm recouping and getting ready for my classroom observations that start tomorrow.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Suitcase to be delivered

Originally uploaded by Ms. M.
I'm off for a quick little jaunt to London before I head back to the states. The sole purpose of this trip is to drop off this suitcase. My flight to New York leaves from London on May 12th. Much to my irritation, the only easy way to get off this island is to take Ryan Air and they have ridiculous baggage restrictions (fifteen kilos between two bags!). After much research, I figured out that it was just easier (read: cheaper) to personally deliver one of bags to London myself. When I go back to London on Wednesday I'll take the second bag. Madness. Luckily I have a good friend living in London, so it's an excuse to visit her.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Originally uploaded by katenadine.
It was a beautiful day in Sardegna today. I went with some friends to walk around Alghero. (30 minutes from where I live.) I brought my camera with me but the battery died after one picture. (That's always happening with my digital!) So, here's a photo of Alghero taken by someone else. Beautiful!

English in the Italian Language

One of the things that I find really interesting about teaching English to Italians is finding out where they obtained their previous English knowledge. Unlike the French, who go to great lengths to keep English language and culture from invading their own, Italians tend to embrace all things English. The Italian language is full of "adopted" English words. (Bar, privacy, beauty case, computer-to name a few). Often I'll be teaching a lesson, introducing what I think will be completely new vocabulary, and my students will shock me by already knowing the word. One such occasion occurred last week in my Level 2 class when I was presenting new vocabulary associated with "telephoning." I was miming the steps involved in using a pay phone.

Me: First you . . . *uses thumb and pinky finger to mime a telephone, then lifts "receiver" to ear
Students: Ah! *Shake their heads at me* (Their usual indication that they get what I'm doing but don't know the word in English)
Me: . . . pick up the receiver
Students: Ah. Pick up the receiver.
Me: Then you . . . *mimes putting coin into phone*
Valeria: Insert coin!! (She responds, thrilled that she knew the word)
Me: *look of astonishment* Huh? How do you know that word?
Valeria: Video giochi. (She responds in Italian. Video games, similar to slot machines, found in most bars in Sardegna)

Eliciting for previous knowledge is standard procedure in teaching English and usually I just respond with a simple "good" when the student already knows a word, but when it's a word that they would have never learned in class otherwise, it kind of throws me off. We all usually get a good laugh out of it.

A lot of their knowledge comes from songs. For instance when I was teaching my English 1 class "to be born," one of my students responded: "Bruce Springsteen. Born in the USA." Right.

Just the other day I was introducing the verb "to spoil" to a Level 2 student in one of my private lessons. We had just come up with a list of things that went wrong on our imaginary vacation.

Me: Did all of these things SPOIL your vacation?
Student: What means spoil? (The expected answer since I am teaching a new word)
Me: For example when you have milk and you keep it for one month, it spoils.
Student: Ah, spoils. Like spoils system. In government. In Italian we use the same word. There is no Italian word for spoils system.

English is everywhere in the Italian language. I have yet to meet an Italian student who is an "absolute beginner."

Sometimes though, the abundance of English words in Italian can get them into trouble. Sometimes they English use words differently than we do. For example in Italian they use the word "slip" and it means underwear. Of course, they just assume since the word is in English that that is the correct usage of the word. My personal favorite is the use of the word "footing" in Italian to mean jogging.