Friday, July 21, 2006

Building the Apartment

The illustrious Mr. Shisler and I moved into our new residence on Saturday, July 15th. While the rent was near the upper bound of my price range, I am very excited about moving into a (nice) place that will be my home for longer than 4 months.

We are located just a little bit east of the Galleria district in Houston. During the apartment hunt, Adam and I gave weight to a limited number of factors such as work proximity, entertainment proximity, and non-suck-hole-ness (yes, that is a technical term). Our residence, Gables CityScape, conquered all of these criteria and managed to offer some other very solid perks.

First and foremost, the apartment management decided to replace the carpet and linoleum in the dining room and kitchen respectively with vinyl faux wood flooring. This seemingly minor change does wonders for the space. We also get our very own washer and dryer. I don't know if you know this about me, but laundry is one of my great vices. Or something. Whatever, I like doing laundry. There is also a wide selection of really great supermarkets. There is a ritzy Kroger (if there can be such a thing), a Whole Foods, and then this Central Market place, which, I hear, is basically this bazaar of produce and weird stuff. I really like grocery shopping way more than I ought, so these stores are quite exciting.

The sum of these pieces is an impressive whole by my eyes; I have an apartment where I am excited to be living, with a roommate I enjoy, that is located close to interesting things. And not only that, but 14 other TFA people ended up renting in the same complex, so there will be endless amounts of fun and Real World like romances popping up I am sure. There is nothing like a fair bit of drama (which I am not directly involved in).

The downside, if it could be labeled as such, is that since I am coming from a completely transitory lifestyle, I am extremely reticent to purchase any furniture. And in case you were not aware, shopping for furniture is an immense pain. It is almost as bad as shopping for an apartment.

I came to Houston with one official piece of furniture, which almost doesn't count, because it was only a mattress. I don't even have a box spring or frame for the mattress. Nor am I likely to be obtaining these items anytime soon due to my abnormal stature; my bed was purchased to fit me, and as a result, is a daunting 6'10" in length. Does IKEA carry beds for that size? No. Walmart? No. Target? Yea right! Mattress places? Haha! The Internet? Well, probably somewhere...but I couldn't find it.

So I am torn over what direction I actually want to go with this whole furniture quandary. My roommate has this perfectly decorated room (initiated by his perfectly decorating mother), with a giant queen bed with stained wood frame, desk, filing table etc etc. Then I look in my room, see my beautiful mattress lying limply on the floor, and...Well, I don't know.

Perhaps I should drop a large portion of my discretionary funds on purchasing matching furniture, including a desk, a chair, a floor lamp, a desk lamp, a bedside table, a bed frame (one of those metal ones that can fit any mattress), a box spring, a couch, a book shelf and a table lamp.

Or maybe I should say "screw you" to the man and his cultural hegemony which demands my kowtow, and use my rubbermaid totes as seats, set up my milk crates with a board on top for a desk, and be off on my merry way.

Until it all collapses on my foot and I swear for the next hour.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

TeachForAmerica - Institute Day 21-End

The last two weeks of Institute were a whirlwind of activity. Mr. Wu turned 22 and there was partying. A lost student returned to my class and there was (almost) partying. I turned in a bunch of lesson plans and there was (not) partying. I turned in my last lesson plan of institute and there was (exhausted) partying. My roommate and I planned/orchestrated a prank and there was partying. Our prank was foiled and there was (not any, absolutely not) partying. I gave an assessment to my students and they all pretty much failed and there was (~, which means negation) partying. I left Thompson Elementary on Friday, July 14th and there was partying. I participated in Thompson's Follies showing, and there was partying.

So as you can see, my only excuse for not writing over the past two weeks has been a confluence of parties.

In truth, the highs of the past weeks, which include Mr. Wu's birthday, the return of Joshua (my missing student), planning our prank, and finishing Institute, were mostly lost in the shadow of the lows. The never ending sea of lesson plans were nearly drowning, but to have the prank foiled *and* almost all of my students fail the end of summer assessment was a kick in the stomach I would have preferred to avoid.

Everyone who I have talked to about becoming a teacher always says that the first year is horrible. "It was disaster" they say. I am hoping that my five weeks of little sleep and even less student success during institute will immunize me against the potential horrors of the 'first year'.

In spite of this low, or maybe even in light of this low, I am really excited to get my kids in the fall. It is a useful thing to learn that I will not accept the failure of my students. It is even more useful to learn what continuously increasing effectiveness actually looks like when put into practice, so that my students in my fall placement will be successful.

Now though, I rest. I have been sleeping 9 or 10 hours every night to make up for the 5 weeks with an average of 5 hours per night. Adam and I moved into our apartment on Saturday. I will soon own my first pieces of furniture. I acquired my first real set of wheels (I am the proud owner of a 2001 Toyota Camry!). And I start planning for the fall.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

TeachForAmerica - Institute Day 16-20

Busy week. Here's a summary...

Day 16,17 (Tuesday and Wednesday)
On both of these days my third grad class was taking the TAKS test. This test is a high stakes test as part of the No Child Left Behind initiative (which I basically think is a load of crap, but I digress). The kids were *very* nervous about the test. They were required to come to summer school because they did not perform well on the TAKS the first time they took it this year, and they might be required to repeat the 3rd grade if they did not perform well on this go around. While I think that the school administration generally shies away from holding back students based on test scores (they favor the 'social promotion' mindset), the option is still very present in the minds of the students, and is a recourse available to the administration.

A bi-product of the TAKS testing on Tuesday and Wednesday was an inordinate amount of free time to observe other classrooms, work on teaching skills, review curriculum, and hone lesson plans. On Tuesday I got to travel to Edison Middle School for observations. At different times, I sat in on 6th, 7th and 8th grade math classrooms. It was great to see the age group that I will be teaching and to see some of the curriculum that I will be responsible for. One of the classrooms had exceptional classroom management and decent student engagement and participation. The second class was middle of the road in terms of classroom management, but student investment was pretty high. The third class was a disaster on both accounts.

Day 18,19 (Thursday and Friday)
While I was supposed to be teaching Writing this week, Thursday marked the beginning of TFA Summer School and the end of Title 1 Summer School. Practically, this meant that the Title 1 teachers were no longer teaching Math/Lit hour and Math, leaving both of these previously unassigned subjects to the TFA teachers. So I switched to Math. On one day's notice. And had to write 2 extra lesson plans, prepare a lesson that I had not finalized and 'waste' 3 Writing lessons I had prepared (these were all transferred to collaborative members, so it was not a total waste). In general though, this has been the standard Operating Procedure for A+ Thompson, so I took it in stride.

In fact, my math lessons were something I had been looking forward to, prepared very thoroughly, practiced, and subsequently gave, with great success. On Thursday we reviewed the writing of numbers in word and numeral form (11,203 = eleven thousand two hundred and three), and placed it in the context of writing checks. "Imagine that you are graduating from college. You are one of the top math students in the entire country. Everyone wants you to work for them. Microsoft wants you to make up computer programs. The Government wants some codes. They are all offering you this piece of paper with numbers and words on it. Is this money?"

Friday's lesson plan went really well also, and the kids got so excited about winning points in Around the World, even though the points did not go towards anything (other than self-satisfation).

Other Big News
I am signing a lease for my apartment tomorrow evening. I will be living one roommate (Adam), in a pretty convenient location on the west side of Houston.

I also got a job this week! I was offered a yet-to-be-finalized position at ALIEF Middle School as a math teacher. I will either be teaching 8th grade, or a 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Intervention class for students who failed the TAKS during the previous academic year. Either position would be very cool. The principal is also excited about me playing basketball for the staff in the student vs staff basketball game. I don't think she knows that I was a swimmer. :^)