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.