Friday, July 29, 2005

Mysteries of the Day

Mystery #1:
Why does everyone in Mississippi think I'm fourteen?
Last week, when I went with my roommates to sign up for utilities, the woman asked if I was 18. Later in the week, when I went to get my library card, the librarian asked if I was 18. That same day, when I went to get an iced coffee at the only coffee shop/gift store in Clarksdale, the woman suggested milk as an alternative (who does that?) and then asked how old I was. I had to show her my license to get her to believe that I was 22. She guessed 14. Then, one of the assistant teachers at my elementary school, who was talking to the secretary in the office, thought I was another teacher's daughter. I've seen the daughter -- she is definitely under 16. I know I look young, but 14? Really?

Mystery #2:
Why do people keep flashing their lights at me?
My brights aren't on by mistake. There are no cops on the side of the road ahead. There is not smoke pouring from my engine, my car is are not on fire, and I am not dragging the hose from the gas station. My car is not strange, and it's not how I look (they are too far away to worry that I'm a 14 year old driving a car). It seems to defy most normal explanations, and there is no pattern. One day, no one flashes their lights. The next day, everyone going the other direction is flashing. And it's not just me -- this has happened to most people in my corps. I have two hypotheses: they're being friendly; or, there is a cop car ahead, but driving in the same direction as me, not parked or in hiding.

Mystery #3:
Why does my phone only work sometimes?
This is not actually a mystery. Cingular gets the best service of the nationwide cell phone providers, but it leeches off Unicell's towers, so about 50% of the time I get a "welcome to Unicell" message before I am cut off and I just have to try again. It's frustrating, but at least I have cell phone service.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Eyes open for feathered friends

I drove back from Fayetteville today. It was sad to leave my Grandma and Aunt Merry after such a short while, but I'm excited to get back into my classroom. Merry's roommate Jean's daughter Stacie (did you get all that?) is a first grade teacher, and she helped me pick out supplies at the teacher store (I was like a kid in a candy shop). She gave me lots of advice and let me look at her teaching books. Grandma and I played Upwards and she gave me stickers and books and a tape recorder and a tote bag. Her new house is lovely. My family (and all of its extensions) are fantastic.

As I drove southeast towards the Delta, the land flattened out. I thought I would be sad to leave the Ozarks, because I'm much more accustomed to hilly territory, but I wasn't. When I got on Rt. 49, and the fields of the Delta were spread out in every direction as far as I could see, and the sky opened up around me (the sky is around out here, not just above), I got this wave of happiness. This is my new home, and it's gorgeous, I thought. Not Ithaca gorgeous/gorges--it's a less spectacular vista--it's simple and... big... And as I was thinking about just how nice it looked, and how things were going well, a bird swooped across the road in front of my car, slammed into the grill, and burst. Blood and feathers spattered my windshield.

I felt awful. I cried. And then I felt guilty for indulging in my own sadness when I was so much better off than the bird. I drove the rest of the way slowing down for birds near the road and thinking that even when things are going really well, there will always be something that you don't expect that flies in your face or explodes in your grill and brings you back down to reality. I stopped at a do-it-yourself carwash in Clarksdale and super-sprayed the rest of the carcass off my car. Poor bird...

Tomorrow I go back in to school, to try and clear the remaining junk out of my classroom, laminate everything, and hang some things up. Saturday I begin new teacher orientation. Sunday I paint my room.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I have not abandoned you

Why, howdy, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, my new home! I signed a lease yesterday with the three TFA'ers who will be teaching in Shelby and we hope to move in this coming weekend if not sooner (and hopefully get internet by then as well.) I don't have much time to post now, but I've been writing them on my computer and as soon as I can get that hooked up to internet, I'll post what all I've been doing and what all I'm fixin' to do down here in the South, yes ma'am I will.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Fun Times at Eric's

Thursday, my full teaching day, ended at Eric's with the Robinson (my school) Social. It was also only a few nights before my CMA (read: teacher)'s birthday, so the paper you see taped to people's shirts is a picture of her that we were all supposed to color in. Here are some pictures.

Quite a few of the Robinson Crew, none of whom are in the Delta (which is sad because I like them)

Me, my CMA Kara, my collab member Colin (who is still in Houston), Jen (who is in Phoenix), and my collab member Joe (who is now in Southern Texas)

Me, Tom, and Jenny (Delta friends from my CMA group)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

One Full Day, One More Day

Thursday was my “full teaching day.” I planned for the day with W--, one of the other teachers-to-be in my CMA group. She is also teaching 4th grade for the summer, and she teaches the same block as I do. When we spoke about planning, she had already written the lesson plans for two of the lessons (math and writing) and had an idea for the third (reading). I felt like a useless moocher for a bit, but she had no idea what to do for science and I love planning science lessons, so it worked out in the end.

I hadn’t done anything with centers yet, but both W—and I were eager to try them out, so we had math centers and reading centers. It was very exciting. It takes more planning (much more) to make the centers, but then it gives the kids a useful activity and lets them have a break from the teacher. When it came down to it, I didn’t leave enough time for the math centers, but they were getting it, at least.

In reading, we used all of the methods we had learned all summer to help us understand a text (finding the main idea and supporting details, making text-to-text, text-to-world, and text-to-self connections) in conjunction. I read a story about a little girl who was worried that her single-parent household would seem “weird” at a class party, but then she found that family can mean many things (we connected it to our class party, our different kinds of families, and a story we had read before, among other things). Then we read a story about a girl who was worried about fitting in at a new school because she only spoke Spanish aloud together and made some connections. Then they went to reading centers. At one, they mapped the main idea and answered some questions on another short story, and at the other they made connections with that story and posted them on an overhead of the story so we could see everyone’s connections.

Then it was time for writing. They have been writing a “personal narrative” all summer, and Thursday was the day that we put it all together and illustrated it, and so I did a lesson on useful illustration. First we looked at the pictures in the book I had read aloud, and then we thought up a useful illustration for my narrative example about going to the space center. Finally, they had time to work on their books.

In math, we learned about congruent and similar shapes. The centers were the fun part, because one had things like similar pill bottles and congruent cans of food (3D kinesthetic, yeah!) and the other had flat shapes they compared to a worksheet. Finally, in science, we played a game to show how energy is lost as it goes down the energy pyramid. Then we made an energy pyramid for the class ecosystem that they created with Ms. B—yesterday, and then they made their own energy pyramids for their person ecosystems from yesterday.

The day went fairly well. However, I did only have four students, who were (as usual) very well behaved and motivated. I adore them. They are nothing like my students will be in the Delta, I’m sure. Or even if they are, there are only four, compared to the twenty-three I will have in the Delta. The best part was reading the comments that people left for me when they observed (other corps members popped in and out to observe all day long, including my IC, who stayed for almost half an hour). I asked observers (in a note on the observation table) to let me know what I was doing well and what I needed to change, and the comments were, on the whole, very helpful.

Later, after classes, the group of TFA'ers teaching at Robinson Elementary went out to Eric’s, a bar at the Hilton Hotel (just around the corner from the dorm) to celebrate before our very last day of classes at Institute. Here are some of the people from Robinson:

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


This past weekend, Lin and Alex and I set off the fireworks Alex got me for my birthday (because I love fireworks!) We had roman candles and sparklers and actual little cannon fireworks that exploded in cascades of color and a bullet-box-thing that had 100 little bullets that whistled up into the sky and exploded in pops of light one right after the other. So cool! We set them off in the darkest open place we could find outside of the city. Here are some pictures:

Lin and Alex setting up the cannon fireworks

Me playing with a sparkler (pretending to be Shiri)

I have a full day of teaching on Thursday, so I'm not teaching this week Mon-Wed. Today I observed other TFA teachers all morning. Highs:
~ Seeing a little boy who couldn't sit up in the morning being an active participant after lunch.
~ Watching one of my CMA group members deal so calmly and yet engagingly with his students, in contrast to my own high-energy style.
~ Being so engaged by a teacher's opening on the topic of forces (3rd grade, using tug-of-war), that I stayed for two oberservation periods because I wished I was one of her students.

~ Watching a collaborative member drop a book and a marker to teach about gravity on Earth in preparation for a lesson on the differences between Earth and the Moon, asking which dropped first, getting "The book," and responding, "That's right, the book hit the floor first because it's heavier."
~ A kindergartener who was disrupting the class and clearly annoying the teacher give a right answer and be completely ignored.
~ A math problem added incorrectly on the board by the teacher, which the students noticed and attempted to alert the teacher, which the teacher ignored.
~ A second-grader hit another second-grader when the teacher wasn't paying attention.
~ The same second-grade teacher listing, "I see M's hand and S's hand. Anyone else know?" while a little girl who was in the back because of behavior issues waved her hand frantically in the air.

My take-aways: pay attention to all of your children. The disruptive ones need and want to learn, too. Listen to your children.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Another new car!

Vroom, vroom... Yes, that is the sound of Ms. Issippi's new car, ready to go! This weekend, Alex, Lin, Paige and I went car shopping. Paige and Lin were along for the ride and to help guide Alex and me. I needed help choosing which was the correct car to buy, and Alex needed help remembering his price range. After a day of searching, I found an absolutely beautiful Honda Civic which I got for less than trade-in value. I'm going to take it to a mechanic when I pick it up tomorrow to see if there is a reason it's so cheap.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Placement Transparency

I made my first parent phone calls ever this evening. And while I didn't exactly tank, I was received with much less enthusiasm than I might have hoped. Oh, well. Yet another skill upon which to improve. Delta folk may be coming to observe in my classroom this week, and I would really like to be excellent when they visit because I will be excellent in the fall. Or so I keep telling myself. But as I feel after every grade-level instructional strategy meeting (I went to my first 1st grade one today), I have so much to learn, and I don't know how I'll learn it all in the month-from-this-Friday before I begin teaching.

On another note, I want to be completely transparent about the requests that I made during my interview process (December) and also in my placement phone call in March. Part of the reason I'm writing this is that I hope it will be a resource to other people considering joining the Teach for America movement, especially in the Delta. So, placement.

Interview day, I ranked age levels: elementary, high, middle school. I added that I strongly preferred elementary, noting that it was all I, as a philosophy major, was qualified to teach. I checked off that I was willing to teach everything but PE and Special Ed. I ranked my highly preferred regions: Mississippi Delta, South Louisiana, Bay Area, New Mexico, North Carolina (or something like that, but the Delta was definetely first). I really wanted rural so that I didn't have to deal with learning to be a teacher AND learning to live in a city. I neglected to think about how moving to Mississippi is probably going to be at least as much as, if not more, of a culture shock than New York City. So far (still haven't been to Mississippi) I don't regret that, though. I love my Delta Corps.

In my phone interview, I expressed a preference for 1st or 5th grade, because 1st grade is so crucial (I mean, I know they all are, but READING), and because 5th grade was my favorite (I remember it as the year in which I learned the most, and that was the most engaging, which is almost certainly completely attributable to the fact that I had an absolutely stellar teacher.) I didn't express any preference for city size or for location in the Delta except that I wanted to be close to Lin. They asked if I was willing to pioneer a school/district and I was very enthusiastic about that opportunity.

I was originally placed as a music teacher, which I got switched when I called and told them that although I was willing to teach music, I wasn't acutally qualified to do so. In the end, I got: Mississippi Delta, 1st grade, tiny town, new school/area, an hour+ from Lin. Except for being close to Lin, I was fortunate to be placed almost exactly where I asked to be placed. Granted, however, that I asked for things most people don't want. Another girl in my town got upper elementary when she wanted lower, departmentalized when she wanted self-contained, a new TFA district when she wanted established. So it can go either way...

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day (commonly referred to as "the Fourth of July") is one of my favorite holidays. I like it because it gives me a chance to celebrate the ideals upon which our great nation was founded without having to support the things that our great nation is currently doing. Honestly, I am proud to be an American. I think that Americans don't always remember how lucky most of us are to have been born here, in a country founded upon the ideals of liberty and justice for all.

To celebrate the holiday, I went to see the fireworks with some Delta friends. We went as a big group but the cars got separated, so I watched them with A- (Marks, high school) and T- (Greenville, 1st grade). They were great! We never found the park we were supposed to be in, but we found another one where a diverse sampling of Houstonites had parked, and we had a great view.


Ever since we got our placements, people have been abuzz, trying to orient themselves not in the whole group, as before, but in their placement areas. Most people are congregated in the Helena, Arkansas area (the farthest north is Hughes, AR, and there are also people in Lee County and Marvell, AR) at the north of the Delta, or in Greenville, Leland, or Indianola, MS, in the middle of the Delta. I'm about half way in between, an hour from either bigger group. Although I'm the only one in my town, there is a good-sized group in Marks (40 min away, or 20 if I live in Clarksdale) and there are, of course, my 3 compatriots in Shelby (6 miles away).

Evidently Delta people are starting to couple up. It has taken us longer than the other regions, since we didn't have an orientation where we met each other. There are two pre-existing (from before TFA) couples in the group but at least one new couple is forming, reports my spy in one of the cars that we were separated from for the fireworks. There was some hand-holding going on. So cute!

Friday, July 01, 2005


I just found out my placement! I am going to be teaching 1st grade in Bolivar County, Mississippi. My school is a K-3 elementary school, enrollment 303, in Duncan, MS (pop. about 550). I take it that the school pulls from surrounding towns, the biggest of which is Shelby (pop. 2,900). I will be the first and only TFA teacher at the school, although there will be three other TFAers in my school district.

Info about my town and school:
Shelby, MS
Brooks Elementary

Yes, I am just South of Alligator and just East of Australia Landing. How funny you should notice...