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.