Sunday, January 28, 2007

Odds and Ends

I like cooking.

I like sitting outside when the sun is shining and the temperature is cool and feeling my body be warmed, as if by an embrace, and feeling so content that I never want to move or think about moving, while at that same time knowing that everything will be simply great.

I ended a friendship today. It has caused me so much pain and heart ache that I almost feel like I should be glad that it is so firmly defined. But I can't. I still move to that place by instinct when ever I have dreams of adventure, and now instead of being vibrant, it is broken.

Lord, please make me whole. Help me to believe that every day is new and beautiful and a gift to be taken humbly yet forcefully and that You are still working.

Some times I hate my students. I blame them for not succeeding. And then I look at myself and see a dirty, self-possessed man who cannot break the cycle of conceit and arrogance. I see shit.

I love friends. Tonight we are cooking together. I think this will be good.

This is my verse of the moment. Sometimes I wonder if my faith is truly a by product of weakness, as I have read on various atheist blogs/books. But then I decide I don't care, because I would rather have hope than have nothing at all.

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Horrid Day

I had a horrid day to put the figurative cherry on the horribly crappy sundae of a week.

When I was leaving school, Farber and I were lamenting the atrocious state of affairs, when he mentioned, "Man, I need a drink. Bad. I don't know what you do when shit gets this bad."
"Yea, I need a drink too," I responded.

But I did not go get a drink. Nope. I basically did the college kid inverse, or the norm for a crazed person such as myself; I went home, ate some chips, and then in lieu of a real dinner, went to Borders and read a book for the next 4 hours.

Then I bought a bunch of stuff that was way on sale, left the book I was reading at Borders, and returned to my apartment. Now I plan on eating my nachos and playing video games.

I'll read the rest of the book tomorrow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

More TFA Stuff

A brief preface:

A week or two ago I yammered about data. It was exceedingly boring, and after reading it over before posting it, knew that it did not convey what I wanted it to convey. It was sloppy. This will hopefully be a bit more streamlined. No promises.

The real thing:

On Friday I had my Round 2 debrief. For those scoring at home, this was my third one-on-one discussion with my program director. Round 0 occurred before school began, Round 1 went down in September, and now Round 2.

For the actual observation, my PD sat in on about 30 minutes of class and recorded the whole ordeal. The Round 2 was a discussion on what she saw.

When I show up, I'm exhausted. I have gradually become sicker and sicker as the day wore on; so much so that by fourth period I barely left my seat. I arrived unprepared; I left the two items that I was supposed to bring at school in a cold, headache, exhaustion infused-haze.

Brooke starts out with the normal kind of stuff. Brooke's my PD.
Oh you are working really hard.
I can tell you are planning.
I was surprised at your self-grading, I think you are higher than this.

You know, buttering me up so that she can lay on the hard stuff.
And lay she does. She shows me the following cycle, saying "This is what I observed in your classroom. You are the expert there, but going from what you wrote in your reflection and the things I saw, I think it is fairly accurate."

The Cycle:

Looking at the cycle, I was faced with thoughts I had been avoiding since Thanksgiving; I think that I am failing my 7th grade students. I feel like I have tried everything I can think of to try to get my students to be engaged and learn the things that I *know* they can learn. So yea, there is definitely some low teacher motivation in regards to trying to get my students to succeed; everything I have tried hasn't worked! And, when I have asked other teachers at my school about it, they basically answer with "You should have lower expectations."

I wanted to cry. I almost did. I feel overwhelmed by my desire to succeed and the apparent futility of that desire. And the futility is purely born from my student's nonchalance! It is *not* that they cannot learn the material. It *is* that they choose to stare at the wall instead of watch how to do the things they are supposed to know how to do.

But, somehow, the conversations shifted to have a positive ending.

First, I took a walk. For five minutes.

When I returned, we talked about things that contribute towards the depression I feel every time I see/taste/touch/hear/smell or think about my big goal (80% mastery of all grade objectives). We talked about how this number is only that, a number. It is *not* a big goal.

A big goal must inspire. It must be a vision. And for me, 80% is not a vision. It is a big bold red line that I am woefully short of.

So I am going to form a new big goal. One that moves me. Because once I am moved, I can move my students (in theory).

I am also going to look into dealing with my frustration. I get extremely frustrated when my students ask questions saying "I don't get it", when I have seen them asleep at their desks or goofing off. So I am going to read a book that I think will help deal with these situations in a more productive manner.

I guess the point of all this is to say that teaching is really difficult. I am struggling constantly, and feel like a failure a large amount of the time. But the reality is that I am capable of improving and I am capable of reaching my kids (I AM THE INSTRUCTIONAL LEADER OF MY CLASSROOM!), and that will only happen if I am willing to *try* to improve.

I pray that in whatever situation we find ourselves, we would remember these moments, when we have tried and failed. I pray that we would have strength in these moments. And I pray that we might persevere, be picked up (through the help of our friends and God), and end up succeeding.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Target (via Bed Bath and Beyond)

On Sunday I made plans to go to Bed Bath and Beyond.

I guess 'plans' isn't correct, because there was no real planning involved.

I woke up from a nap at about 6. I couldn't move. Really, I didn't want to move. I didn't want to get out of bed. There was no reason to.

I laid there, in my bed, for about 35 minutes. Then I crawled out (my bed is just a mattress on the floor) of my bed into the living room. Mr. Shisler was playing xbox.

Mr. Shisler and I talked about xbox and the nfl playoff scenario for a little while. We're pretty good at having real firm opinions on stuff like that. Real high-class and all. Yea, I thought that the Patriots were pretty good. Tom Brady sure is a good quarterback. The Colts will get killed by the Chargers if they play. We were regular nfl analysts.

So I sit on the floor in my boxers for about an hour (I am not usually in the habit of doing this, but I feel it is important to this story), when the following exchange occurs:
Me: So, I'm going to go to bed bath and beyond.
Shisler: Yea?
Me: Yea, I'm gonna get a luffa.
Shisler: What? A luffa?
Me: Yea, I'm fed up.
Shisler: Why are you going to Bed bath and beyond? they have luffas at kroger.
Me: I don't know. I looked for one and I couldn't find one. No, I found it, but it looked all tiny and like it was going to fall apart.
Shisler: Oh. So you need a monster luffa?

Ten minutes pass when Ms. Peck calls up. She wants to come over but is tired of driving. Mr. Shisler doesn't want to drive over and get her, but promises to drive the rest of the night.
Me: Dude, just tell her i'll pick her up. I have to get a luffa anyway.
Shisler: (ignoring me and laughing) Yea i'll see you in a little bit (to Peck). No, I'm laughing cuz Jacob is talking about getting a luffa after sitting on the floor for like 2 hours.

So I went to best buy. It was closed. It was 8 pm on sunday.
In protest I drove to target. I bought 2 different kinds of luffas. One is this ball one and the other is this like tower coral thing. I also bought dove soap, cheezit crackers, a cd by the Fray, and the book Eragon.

Don't read Eragon. The writing sucks. Well, maybe read it if you want an easy read with an exciting plot. But not too exciting.

I never went to bed bath and beyond.

But I did get two luffas.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Tonight for dinner
i made bison burgers
that sizzle popped grease
and hearty goodness

and somehow
tied me to an earlier time
when grain and wind and sleet and storm
of shaggy dim-eyed majesty
owned the plains

when green-boxed, prevervative free
and organic
steamed broccoli
empassioned my blood.

so wild am i.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

TFA and a Happy New Year to you

It is January.

In case you haven't checked.

I think resolutions are lame. But if forced to make one, mine would be to blog at a regular rate. I was chastised by countless (2) friends for not updating my blog often enough. Apparently waiting a month between posts is just unacceptable.

My goal will be two a week.

I want to decompress my vacation on here but I am not yet in the mood for that. Instead, here comes some TFA brilliance.

TFA is a data driven organization. Following their mission of making a service organization that is attractive to the top college graduates and can compete with wall street type companies, TFA adopted the business model of these same wall street firms in terms of their goals, operation, processes etc.

What this means for me, as a corps member, is that I have regular performance reviews (called Round X observation) by my program director. Between these reviews, I am continually planning, teaching, assessing, reflecting and improving in a endless cycle.

The data comes from assessments. A master teacher ought to assess students knowledge before a unit/lesson to see what basic knowledge or gaps already exist, during the unit to see how the students are progressing and after the unit to see if the students did indeed learn what they were supposed to learn and to find what areas need to be retaught.

So. I have all of these tests that I have written or acquired or whatever. And I give them to my students, when they have finished a unit. They take the tests, and I record their 'mastery' in this giant excel file that I am somewhat ashamed to say excites me. And I am supposed to use this data to "inform my instruction".

I am good at collecting data. I enjoy it even. I like seeing the progress my students have made, what areas they have done well in, and those that need more work.

What I suck at, is the dissecting of this data. I am supposed to be looking for 'trends'. Do all the students failing sit in one area of the class? Are they all males? Are they all females? Are they all black? Are they all Hispanic? Do they all skip homework? Do they all write left handed?

I am supposed to look at this spreadsheet of numbers and figure this out.

And I can't.

Not only that, but my goal as a teacher (in Teach for America) is to make "Significant Gains" for my students. We are trying to put our students on a different life path, one that is dominated by education and opportunity and not by minimum wage/lack of choice. Because TFA wants this to be a measurable accomplishment (that way we can publish pretty statistics...and we can improve ourselves) there are two choices for achieving these gains: 80% of students master grade objectives (as determined by the state) or 2 years of growth in a specific subject.

And for me, significant gains is impossible.

Rather, *showing* that I have significant gains is impossible.

My school system has no way of assessing years of growth. So I have to use 80% mastery as my significant gains measure.

My students still add with their fingers.

My 7th grade mastery numbers are 29% and 35%.