Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hump Day, or "TFA"

Today is exactly the midpoint of my Insitute experience. I can now start counting down the days until I no longer have to eat food from Horizons, the horrible dining hall. The breakfasts and lunches are not too bad, but the dinner lacks variety and embraces salt, sugar, and oil.

Instead of calling it hump day, TFA calls the midpoint "TFA" Day, which is short for "Totally Free Afternoon." As a special prize for making it thus far, we all got popsicles and the afternoon off (instead of the buses coming at 4 to bring us home, they came at 1:30). I took a nap, intending to sleep for an hour, and slept for five hours.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Countdown Already

Today I was very tired since the past two nights I have gotten fewer than 6 hours of sleep combined. I know it's just barely Wednesday, but I'm already looking forward to the end of the week for three reasons:

1. Time to sleep. (Hello, three day weekend!)
2. I am going to find out my placement.*
3. Independence Day (really just the fireworks part)

I do adore my students, though. Even when I have to dicipline them. They're good kids. I got two hugs today, and at the end of the day one of the students who is very smart but often gets punished for not paying attention ended the day onthe top of the behavior chart and was very proud. I love seeing them invested in the management plan!

* Placement: finding out where I will be living and teaching in August. Some people have already found out. One friend is going to be a kindergarten teacher in Greenville (perfect for her), and the Delta girl in my collaborative got a call asking if she'd be interested in working at the KIPP Academy in Helena. KIPP is a type of charter school started by TFA alums that pushes kids even harder to succeed. KIPP Students and parents sign a pledge that they will do all their work, the day is extended, and there is school on Saturdays. It means extra work time for the teacher, so Rachel is weighing the benefits of being in a acheivement-oriented, well-run school with invested kids against having at least a little free time.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Diversity, Creativity, and my Bouch

One thing that I've noticed at Institute is that diversity comes in many shapes and forms. I was worried about my color and my political tendencies going into the Delta. But being here, I've realized that even we white liberals come in a myriad of forms. I'm used to being around people who think and speak like me. To my surprise (honestly) most of the people here don't. I have come across many more religious people and Southerners than I did at Cornell.

Teach for America, in their relentless drive for diversity awareness and sensitivity, created "Affinity Groups" -- basically support groups of like-minded people that corps members could choose to attend. I really considered going to the "Agnostic" one. The other groups I fit in (women and Caucasians) just didn't feel as minority, seeing as the majority of people here (although not by much) are women, and white. As a note, there is a "Jewish" group, a "Non-Western faith" group, and a "Christian" group. I guess just about anyone can feel like a minority. To use a $10 TFA word, it all depends on your schema.

I don't have a problem with people who take their faith seriously, nor do I have a problem with Southerners. I am just not used to either group. I'm the one who talks funny here. I'm the one without minister parents. I'm the one who doesn't go to church on Sunday. Every Sunday morning, I still wonder in my sleep-fogged brain: why are Andrew and Lawton dressed up? Why did Elizabeth set her alarm so early? As it says in one of my pre-made lesson plans, the first step to learning is to know what you know and know what you don't know. And I'm learning I don't know more than I thought I didn't know.

It's even worse with the whole creativity thing. I am quoted on the quote list my roommates and I kept (by the way, what happened to that?) as saying "I'm itchy for a craft project." I used to think of myself as fairly creative and crafty. But tonight I went to Institute Learning Team, which is basically where we break into little groups and go around the room to hear veteran TFA teachers give us their best ideas on whatever topics. They taught us math songs and calendar math systems and diagnostic ideas I never would have come up with, and it seemed so natural.

All of the veteran teacher that are here try so hard to give us ideas to use in our own classrooms in the fall, and to save us from some of the pitfalls that they made. In that way, they remind me of my father, who tries to help me avoid the mistakes he feels he made or nearly made as he entered adulthood. Although I try to soak up as much of what they say as I can (we go at breakneck speed, so it's very difficult), I think it will behoove me to remember that to truly become the best that I can be, I have to try all of my ideas as well, even those that have not been reccommended to me. After all, you have to take the risk to win big.

Classroom stories of the day:
K-- came into class today with a big smile. "Ms. H--," she said, with a big smile, "I passed my reading TAKS!" (The standardized test she needed to pass to get into 5th grade). I can't take any credit, but I loved seeing how proud she was. She showed off her pride in her accomplishments later in the day again when my collaborative handed out our week 1 progress reports. "Look Ms. D--," she said to her regular classroom teacher, "I got one good and four excellents!" (for conduct throughout the week.)
M--, who is very difficult to get to participate or even engage, gave me a sly grin in Math/Lit hour (small group guided practice) when I asked what he did over the weekend. He claimed that he drove his mother's car 10 miles, with his friend in the front seat and his mother in the back, almost hitting a cop car.
Mr. P--, one of my collaborative members, taught writing today. He was covering the structure of a sentence. Evidently, there are 5 important parts (subject, verb, makes sense, capital letter, punctuation), and he made up a rap, put on some rad sunglasses, and got the class clapping and rapping along.

I'm teaching reading this week. It is much harder than science! I'm teaching the main idea and supporting details all week long. Tomorrow we are doing "Fourth of July Day," because I found some good reproducibles about main points. I'm going to try to incorporate scaffolded questions and a song, since that seems to go over well... My faculty advisor recommended mapping the parts of the main point on a hand, so we'll try that. Woo hoo!

The highlight of my day wasn't in the classroom. It was getting home and getting my mail -- cookies, a letter, and bills that I've already paid online. The cookies were perfect. Last night, late late late, I went downstairs to buy myself a pick-me-up candy bar and the vending machine was OUT. I have been chocolate starved. These cookies are a mixture of magic cookie bars (SO good) and chocolate-dipped chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmmmm. I made several friends in the elevator on the way to my room -- people peered into my box, flashed me huge smiles, and introduced themselves. So the mail was good. Unfortunately, I didn't get the title to my car. The MA government still needs to send that to me so that I can send it to the insurance company so that they can sue the other insurance company so that they will pay me so that I can buy a new car. Hopefully, this will all happen soon. I'm 100% healed, though!

Although I'm totally healed from the accident, I may be getting sick again. I haven't been getting enough sleep (clearly) and the sleep I do get is rather poor due to the uncomfortableness of my bouch (rhymes with couch, means matress that pulls in and out of the wall about a foot so it's a couch during the day and a bed at night.)

Here it is:

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What Teachers Make

Tonight I was writing lesson plans for next week in a friend's room. He said, "Do you know what teachers make?"

Before I responded, I thought about how I'll probably have a much lower salary than most, if not all, of my employed friends. I thought about how I've been pulling 9 hour days at school supplemented by 3 to 5 hours of preparation (lesson planning, grading, studying, rubricking, researching) every day. I thought about how a CMA (Corps Member Advisor) told another friend of mine that no, the hours don't really go down in that first year of teaching. And I thought he was going to divide it all out for me, and frankly, I didn't want to hear, not only because I'm clearly not in this for the money, but also because even so, it would have been disheartening.

Instead of pulling out a calculator, he pulled out a poem someone had given him. It made me smile. I would like to become the teacher in the middle, without the bitterness at the beginning and end. You can read it here: What Teachers Make.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Exhaust (from the Spaceship)

I made a little girl cry today. It has been my most difficult day so far (except possibly last Thursday, when I was even more exhausted). I woke up and didn't have enough time for real breakfast, so I had a croissant on the way out the door. School was taxing and the kids weren't even really bad.

I had a strong hunch that two girls cheated on one question on my science diagnostic but I didn't have proof. So I took them aside, one at a time, on the advice of my CMA, holding their tests, and said, "K---, I just want you to know that just because I don't say something every time, I know exactly what goes on in this classroom. Everyone in this class needs to be working hard every day and not taking any shortcuts, and I really hope that you try harder to make sure that is what happens." They both nodded and looked serious.

Later in the day I had to tell 4 girls to pull their cards (switch to green) because they weren't in their seats after I counted down from 10. I had another girl pull her card for talking out of turn and a boy pull his for shouting out an answer. Then a little girl made a face as I put her into a group with an unpopular girl. I pulled her aside for a stern talking to about respect, and then she cried. I told her to take a moment and I walked away, and the next time I looked, she was in her group working. She wouldn't make eye contact with me, though. But at the end of the day, she waved goodbye and I smiled at her, so I think we're okay and hopefully she was upset because she realized that she wasn't showing respect?

I have lots of work to do to tighten up my lesson for tomorrow because I didn't think my lesson worked really well today. But I got a hermit crab at the pet store and another little girl is bringing in her pet turtle.

We had Insitute Learning Teams (I had 3rd/4th grade team) today and while it was great information, another person described it as a firehose on a teacup, and I agree. I'm just a little overloaded right now. Deep breath. Sleep. Right...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Collaborative Classroom

My first day of teaching! My collaborative left the dorms at 6:15 in order to spend some time preparing the classroom before the students arrived. We have now prepped the room for 4 or 5 total hours, and it sure looked nice. When we went to pick up our kids, we learned that our roster had been incorrect and that we had 11 children (better than 19, I think, for beginners), some of whom we had known about and some of whom we had not. So everything we had labelled with names in the room had to be completely redone.

Other than that, everything went smoothly. The kids said, "Science? I love science!" when I told them our next subject -- and not sarcastically, either. It was great. Then they took the diagnostic really fast, which meant that we had time for me to read them a book (Ms. Frizzle/Magic School Bus), which they were also really excited about. I say, hurrah!

My Collaborative

Our Rocket Ship (the class theme is "Blast Off to Fifth Grade," and the rocket shows our consequence ladder)

Our Mission, Rules, and Behavior Card Chart (they switch the color of their card if they misbehave)

Tomorrow we will see what a real teaching session is like. I know that I am in the "honeymoon" period right now...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Tomorrow's the Day

Tomorrow morning, at 6 am Eastern Time, 7 am Central Time, I become a fourth grade summer school teacher. I've gotten everything done I need to have done for tomorrow, so now that I have mastered the teaching equivalent of the doggy-paddle-in-the-air, it's time to jump into the deep end of the pool. There are some lifeguards, but they have been instructed that we're good kickers and we'll thrash up to the surface somehow even if it looks like we're drowning initially. In spite of what you might infer from this lovely analogy, I am in good spirits, I'm excited to begin teaching, and I'm not nervous yet. I think I'm too tired to be nervous.

I had a lovely weekend, in which I got much more sleep than I have been getting and not nearly as much as I would have liked. Friday night I went to see "Batman Begins" with my friends Jaime and Elizabeth. We identified several TFA messages while watching the movie (can't remember which ones they were, but definetely the not giving up messages.) I feel like there were some that really stood out to me and I wish I could remember the exact moments. Saturday I went to Target and Quizno's with Elizabeth and Tina, then I had my final diagnostic, which was harder than I expected. (But passing is 135/200, which I think I pulled.) Saturday evening I went to an outdoor symphony with two of the Delta corps members who made up the chants that first day. It was a wonderful evening. We arrived at the park as the sun was setting. Jason had brought a blanket and pink champagne, so we sat with some other Delta people and drank champagne and listened to the symphony. The music was great and it was very relaxing. I could even see some stars. When the concert was over, we drove around Houston for a bit and then returned to campus and met up with another huge group of Delta corps members at a bar near our dorm.

Before I go to bed tonight, I'm going to review my lesson plans for tomorrow (basically: administer a diagnostic test, teach rules). My classroom looks fantastic (my collaborative spent about 3 hours more on it today), my outfit will be teacherly, and first impressions are 1/20 of the battle?

Friday, June 17, 2005

My Space Shuttle Is Leaking

I don't think I'm going to make it to bed before two this morning. And yes, I will still be waking up at 5:30. Today I crashed at about 3 pm. I could not focus on what we were learning at all and I moved as if in a daze. Tomorrow morning, we have lots and lots of things due. I am now working on my final lesson plan. Tomorrow morning, I need to copy two things, which is basically impossible to do in the morning because the copy center opens after I have to leave for Robinson. But because I was so tired, I took a nap as soon as I got home (basically from 5 until 6) instead of doing work. I don't understand how most other people are done. I think it is a result of my collaborative's style. We take a while to talk everything out... Our ideas are better for it, and I don't want to compromise that, but MAN OH MAN I need more sleep.

On the flip side of health, my bruises are basically gone, as are my scrapes. My jaw still hurts a little when I open it all the way, but overall, I'd put myself at 95% healed. Ta da!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Preparing for Blast Off

Tonight I actually had no scheduled appointments for TFA (classes, learning groups, tours, etc.) after school. So you'd think I would have taken the afternoon and slept, as I desperately need to do after my third night of fewer than 6 hours. You would be wrong. Instead, I did errands and teaching work all afternoon and evening.

I came back from school really pumped because our instruction is getting more practical and less theoretical and my collaborative group is AWESOME. Let me review. I will be teaching 4th grade summer school with 3 other TFA trainees: one girl and two boys, one Delta, one Houston, and one Rio Grande Valley. We rotate teaching the subjects, but we all teach math/literacy hour in the mornings. This starts on MONDAY. We have to develop the goals, rules, procedures, incentives, lessons, decorations, etc, for our classroom, and the lessons we had today focused on helping us do just that. We wrote parent letters, we learned about rules and expectations and practiced them. There is so much to think about. What will the bathroom policy be? What if one student talks out of turn all the time? What if they refuse to follow directions?

Anyhow, my collaborative has been working really well together, which I won't say is rare for TFA collaboratives (everyone is in one, even teachers who will be teaching a self-contained summer school course), but it certainly isn't the norm, from what I've heard. Mine has been barrelling along building on each other's ideas, and we've decided our consequences pyramid will be steps on a big spaceship. Our theme is "blasting off to 5th grade" and our big goal (not yet totally worked out) is to have all of our students pass the Texas state assessments and be prepared to succeed in 5th grade. Maybe I'll put more of the whole plan up soon, but suffice it to say that it's all around this spaceship theme, and I'm super excited about it. Our CMA (Corps Member Advisor, or teacher, basically) seemed impressed and pleased.

To bring us back to the "free afternoon" thing: a free afternoon at institute is not really free. I have so much to do! I spent about an hour doing some things I needed to get done for me (bills, emails, laundry). Then we tried to get books for literacy next week, but the book we picked out as the right grade level was about a boy who stays back a year in school and doesn't fit in, so we are NOT using that. I had dinner with Lin and Elizabeth (my roommate) and a bunch of other Delta people (everyone in the Delta is great!) and then I typed up our parent letter, had a meeting with my CMA, and then met with my collaborative from about 9 to 11. We hashed out some of our math/lit lesson plans a bit more, reviewed the parent letter and student survey, and figured out our attendance and homework incentives.

I still am behind, though. Friday morning we have a zillion things due: lesson plans for math/lit hour all next week, lesson plans for my science class for Monday (and Tuesday?), the parent letter, the classroom management plan... There's probably even more that I don't remember off the top of my head. Beyond that, I should re-read the chapters of "Instructional Planning and Delivery" and "Classroom Management and Culture" that we will be working from tomorrow in my classes. Oh! And our science diagnostic test, while it is practically perfect in every way, is not completely perfect in every way, so I need to tweak that. Wow. I will be busy busy busy tomorrow, because we do not have a free evening.

To sum up: life is hectic, my collaborative summer class will be awesome and rocketship themed, I am tired but happy. Hopefully in an upcoming post I can be a little more analytical (a higher stage of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning) and a little less expository. But if you need that now, read Lin's blog (linked on the right). Well, probably not today, because he hasn't had time to write for a few days, either.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Teacher Boot Camp

I am completely overwhelmed by this experience. Last night I went to bed at about 1 in the morning, trying to read everything for the next day. I woke up in anticipation of my alarm at about 5 (yes, 4 hours of sleep), showered, ate breakfast, dressed up, and left for my first day of school at Robinson Elementary School in Houston at 7:15.

There are 91 Delta Corps members this year. I met most of them last night at the welcome barbeque, where we all sat together. I also saw two other people from Cornell, Lori (my COM301 TA) and Ian A. In the Delta Corps, two people are from Masco (me and Dave Nelson) and two from Cornell (me and Lin). Way to represent! There are 59 2nd year corps members who will be returning to teach in the Delta and about 50 who have kept returning from previous years. That makes about 200 Teach for America teachers in the Mississippi Delta this coming year. To round out the numbers, there are 900 people at Houston Institute, and approximately 2500 total 2005 corps members between Houston, LA, and Philly. Over 17,000 people applied. For those of you who like statistics, that's an acceptance rate of 14.7%, approximately as selective as Brown and more selective than Cornell and Dartmouth.

The principal of Robinson is a Houston Teach for America alumni, and she seems like a wonderful woman. She and our site director, who also seems amazing, welcomed us to the school, and then we broke down into the groups we will be working with all week. My group has 16 teachers-to-be-in-a-week. We did introductory and logistical things, received lots of information, had a curriculum meeting on Teaching as Leadership, and started to look over our curriculum for the summer school. I will be team-teaching a fourth grade class for 4 weeks, starting next week. My group has one other girl who will be in the Delta and two boys and everyone seems very competent and I think that we will get along well. There are four areas we will be working on: writing, reading, science, and math. Each of us will teach one of those competencies for a whole week, in addition to small-group tutoring "math and literacy hour" every day. Then, the last week, each of us will teach for one entire day. Sink or swim, baby.

Everyone here is very nice and you can see that they are trying so hard and that they are committed to continuing to try so hard. I'm trying to focus on meeting the people from the Delta corps, which actually isn't too hard because I think we are the first or second biggest corps here, and we all live on the same floors in this musty, mildewy, tall, ugly dormitory. Also, the Delta regional staff have told us that Delta corps is traditionally one of the most close-knit corps despote our size and geographic dispersement, and I think we're all trying to live up to that standard.

Tonight was our induction ceremony, and I have to say that I really needed it. I feel closer to the Teach for America mission now as well as my Delta corps. Before the induction, we had dinner together at one of the dining halls and practiced some Delta cheers for the ceremony that a committee made up last night.

Cheer One (to the tune of "C is for Cookie"): D is for Delta, that's good enough for me. Oh, D is for Delta, that's good enough for me. D is for Delta, that's good enough for me, oh, Delta Delta Delta starts with D. Robot! (Everyone starts dancing like a robot.)

Cheer Two (to the tune of something I don't know): Da da da da da FRIED CHICKEN! (rubbing tummy) Da da da da da MOSQUITOS! (slapping arms) Da da da da da RANCH DRESSING! (miming drinking it like water) Da da da da da THE RIVER! (making arm waves) DELTA! (making a Delta hand symbol.) (The da da das were accompanied by mimed conga lines.)

Cheer Three (call and response): When I say Delta, you say WHAT. Delta (WHAT). Delta (WHAT). When I say Delta, you say CORPS. Delta (CORPS). Delta (CORPS). When I say Delta, you say CHICKEN. Delta (CHICKEN). Delta (CHICKEN). When I say Delta, you say RIVER. Delta (RIVER). Delta (RIVER). (and so on)


As you can see, they weren't the most sophisticated cheers. But when we got to the induction, in an auditorium here on campus, everyone was cheering in their regional groups. And it was earshatteringly loud. But also really invigorating. And after an 8-4 day of non-stop information and learning and discussing (I mean non-stop. NO breaks. We didn't even stop learning for lunch, we worked right through it), we really needed to be invigorated.

One of the girls in my 16-member group was already talking about dropping out. People were tired and overwhelmed and there is so much that we need to know, it's very daunting. And the people who are running the institute really believe in TFA's mission and they keep brining it up. So much so that a part of me wanted to slack off, to rebel against this system which is really being force-fed to us. Yes, we want to stop educational inequality. Yes, we want every child to have acceess to a high-quality education. But hearing it over and over kicks in my internal teenager who says, "Don't tell ME what to do and think and how to behave."

The induction ceremony brought everyone back. A TFA alum who won the 2005 best teacher award (for the United States) gave a talk, and then 5 members of different 2003 corps talked. They stood in a line and each read three journal entries, taking turns, from parts of their first or second year of teaching. All of the stories focused on the teacher's struggle to help one particular student who was behind really acheive and all of them ended with success and with the phrase, "and that is why I teach for America." Hearing the name of the program used in that slightly different way is something that really impacts me every time I hear it, and reminds me what I am here to do. I'm here to teach, and I'm doing it for America. I want to improve this country by improving the opportunities my class of students will have.

Afterwards, as everyone herded back to Moody Towers, the tone had really changed. Lin came up to my room and he and my roommate Elizabeth and I had a really frank discussion of why we were doing TFA and what we hoped to gain and to impart. We also talked a bit about our families and backgrounds and the Delta. It was really inspiring. Now what I really want is to find out my placement in the Delta, which will happen on July 1st.

Tomorrow looks like it will be just as busy. I have to get the bus at 7:15 again, we will be in intense sessions at school until 4, take the bus back (about 1/2 an hour), have dinner, and then have a "math and literacy hour" information/learning session and a campus tour until 10pm. It's 11 now, so I'm going to go to bed after I review some reading...

Friday, June 10, 2005


We made it safely to the Houston area at about 8 pm tonight. Woo hoo! Some flash observations about Texas/travelling:

1. Everything IS bigger in Texas, at least from a road standpoint. Bigger cars, 8 lane highways, taller bridges.
2. Truckers look at everyone who passes them. Regular drivers don't. Sitting in the passenger seat, I looked at everyone we passed and made eye contact with every trucker except for two. The whole way.
3. The Texas star, painted red, in a circle, looks vaguely communist. Lin noticed this. Also, the star is EVERYWHERE.

My mother's coworker Kay and her family are putting us up. They have been extremely nice. The greeted us, gave us food and free reign, and let me play with their kids (I love kids!). They've never met us before. If these are typical Texans, then I love Texans. A sign on the way said "Drive Friendly -- the Texas Way" and Lin and I laughed, thinking of a very unfriendly Texan who is currently running the country. Hopefully the rest of the people we meet while we are here are like Kay and Steve.

Tomorrow morning we are waking up really early to go into the city for standardized testing. Lin is taking a math test which looks like it's going to be really hard. I'm taking the Praxis I, which looks like it's going to be really easy. Lin is studying right now. Lin has been having just as rough a time of it as me, if not worse. He got whiplash in the crash, and since he was driving he had to see the whole thing. Then, on our rest day, he ran around with Aunt Merry and bought a car while I took a nap. And now he has to take a really difficult test... He's been holding up really well. If you know Lin, you should give him some kudos.

Naked Picture of Me

Lin got a car today. We're off tomorrow for our last day of driving until after Institute, thank goodness.

The two big things weighing on my mind right now are finishing up the work I was supposed to do before Institute and the insurance. Honestly, I'm more worried about the insurance, though. I'm really worried about what it will pay for. Lin was driving. Is that a problem? The rental car is in his name. Is that a problem? The person in the green car that spun out in front of us doesn't have insurance. Is that a problem? Will I get the salvage value for my car or will I get the Kelley Blue Book dealer value? I really just wish the insurance company would call me back. I called them this morning and they were supposed to call me back. I was going to call them again but I fell asleep until after business hours on the East Coast.

I updated the post about the crash with more details. Below are my injuries -- scrapes on my neck, bruises on my face and breast. I took the picture tonight (about 28 hour of healing time). As you can see, the worst part is the big bruise. I also have a big bruise on my knee, bruises on my ribs further down, and scrapes on my right forarem...
Accident Injuries

Tomorrow we leave Fayetteville for Houston. We'll be staying with my mother's friend Kay from work. My mom sent Kay a long email asking what safe neighborhoods were where we could get a hotel or a hostel, etc., and Kay responded "Of course they can stay with me," which was so nice of her.

We had a lot of reading that we were supposed to complete before arriving at the Insitute. I believe it was divided into 12 "lessons" of about 40 pages each. I'm on the second one. They sent me a whole box of books a couple months ago, but I had finals and papers and projects and figured I'd do it once school was over. But then I was visiting Philadelphia and then I got sick, and then the dog ate my homework (no, not really, Mom). Maybe I'll be able to get some more of it done before Monday when our classes start.

My Aunt Merry, who taught 6th grade for 7 years, gave me some really good advice tonight. She said that when she was teaching, she made it her job to make sure the students wanted to come to school the next day. Sometimes it was to hear the next chapter in a really good book she was reading, sometimes it was for a project or for an adventure-type thing (a hike, and experiment.) I think it's a really good idea. Motivation, however, is the hardest thing to give someone.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Northern Arkansas

Lin and my Aunt Merry are out looking for a car for Lin right now. We just had a nice Thai lunch in Fayetteville, which is only about the size of Ithaca. This is the first time I've been to Arkansas, my potential new home state, since I was about nine. We got to see my grandmother's new house, too, which is just down the street from Aunt Merry and Jean's house. It's very light and has a good amount of room -- she can have an office and a guest room. Everyone seems to agree that she will be happier here than in Missouri or Indiana. The town is really nice and it seems to have a lot of construction/development going on. Merry told me that northern Arkansas has one of the highest concentrations of millionaires per capita (Walmart, Tyson, JB Hunt). She also said that the state is divided diagonally, with the richest people in the Northwest and the poorest people in the Southeast.

The poor part is the Delta part of Arkansas, where I might be. I could also be in Mississippi, which is even poorer. In Northern Arkansas, unemployment is at 2% and they pay people $9/hour to work at McDonald's. In Southern Arkansas, unemployment was over 11% in some counties last August.

Let's Hope the Worst is Over

Lin and I made it to Arkansas safely. We have had an interesting trip so far. Yesterday, we drove 15 hours to Indiana and stayed with Aunt Kathryn and Uncle Daniel. Today, on the way to Arkansas, we got in a big crash just outside of St. Louis. A green Mitsubishi swerved across the road (stories differ, they say they were sideswiped by a truck, the truck says they hit him), and into our lane, and we crashed. My car is completely wrecked. The front end is crumpled beyond repair all the way up to the windshield.

Both of the front airbags went off. Airbags smell HORRIBLE. I was resting. We had just gotten back in the car after lunch at Long John Silver's, it was about 3 pm, and I had my eyes closed but I wasn't asleep. Lin said something ("Oh Shit" or something like that) and I opened my eyes and there was a green car sideways on the highway in front of us. Lin slammed on the brakes and then we slammed into the car and then the airbags slammed into us.

A man in a truck pulled over and called 911. Nobody was seriously injured. The police arrived and blocked off two lanes of traffic and took statements. Then they towed our cars and brought us all back to the police station. We weren't really sure what we were supposed to be doing there, but we helped the officer write his report and we got the information on the other two cars. Then we called Enterprise, at the officer's suggestion, but when they finally arrived to pick us up, they told us that they only do round-trip rentals. So we had to call other rental companies. The first three we called had no cars available. The fourth wouldn't rent to people under 21. Finally National rented us an SUV (so all our stuff would fit) for about $300.

Even though we had called a taxi while we were still on the way to Enterprise, it took over half an hour to arrive, and by the time it did, it was already 5 pm. The traffic was horrible, and Lin called Terry's Towing to see when they closed (6 pm) and if they could stay open later (no). The taxi driver suggested that we should go there first and fill up the taxi with our stuff and then go and rent the car, so that's what we did. By then it was raining and the towing company had to clip something in the crunched part of the car so that we could put it in neutral and push it so that we could get in the trunk. The whole endeavor with the taxi took about two hours. The driver actually offered to drive us all the way to Fayetteville for the price of the rental car but I was in the front middle without a seatbelt and he was hesitant about the hour. We finally got everything loaded in our SUV at about 7:15 and left for Fayettville. Lin drove fairly slowly. We were both still pretty shaken up.

Lin and I are now at my Aunt Merry's house, relatively unscathed, with all of our stuff. She made us some food and some beds, which is what we needed the most. We'll see how my jaw and my bruises are tomorrow. Hopefully not too bad, so I can go help Lin find a car, since I no longer have one...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Two Days to Go!

In lieu of repeating everything about settling into Houston/the Delta/Training/Teaching in a zillion emails, I figured I would put it here so that people can keep track of me when/if they have the time and desire. (My prediction is that my Grandmas will be my most avid readers). For anyone out of the loop, I just graduated from college (exactly one week ago today!) and I am moving to somewhere in the Mississippi Delta for the next two years to teach elementary school for Teach for America. Not sure exactly where or what grade, yet. I'll find that out sometime in late June part way through my training in Houston, for which I'm leaving on Monday.

My Dad reminded me this morning that if I don't like Mississippi or teaching, I can quit. Even with all of the pressure from Teach for America to stick with it and to succeed, it's just a job. I know he's not happy I'm doing TFA, so it makes sense that he wouldn't mind if I quit after a semester or a year. I don't want to think about escape options now though, before I even begin. It goes against the whole point of the program. Also, it's only two years. A long time, but not an interminable amount of time by any means (especially in retrospect -- two years ago was when I left for Paris -- so recent!). Still though, I guess it's good to remember. Especially considering the stress that I feel just preparing to leave!

Yesterday, I bought a car with A/C (my main requirement). I don't actually "get" the car until Monday, though, after I transfer over the insurance and register it and everything. That means in one day (Monday), I have to insure, register, procure, re-tire, inspect, and load my car. I'm really worried about fitting stuff. Lin wasn't able to get a car because he can't insure it with Geico in Massachusetts, so he and his stuff are coming with me, too. I think that means the microwave and the TV were pipe dreams. Anything that doesn't fit will need to be shipped. We're moving to a new city and the only furniture we have is a beanbag chair and an inflatable bed (both Lin's).

So much to do, so little time!