Monday, October 31, 2005

Today the Principal, Tomorrow the State

Today I was evaluated by the principal and the educational consultant. Tomorrow, my reading block will be evaluated by someone from the government of the state of Mississippi. GSD Roommate, who was evaluated and passed last week, assures me that I shouldn't be worried. From what I understand, though, if I fail, I'm going to have lots more paperwork (argh, even less time to teach) and more evaluations. My kids behave better when there are people in the room watching them, though, so I usually enjoy the evaluations.

Tomorrow during reading, we are going to be working on sequencing. We are going to read the big book "Peanut Butter and Jelly," and talk about some words in it. Then we are going to stretch out some of those words either by sounds or syllables. Then we are going to read the book again and use our hands to show making the sandwich. Then we are going to break into groups by ability level to sequence the book in order. Some children will use sentence strips, some will use the pictures from the story, and some will use sentence strips with missing words.

We'll move to the carpet and sing the song. Groups will share out. We'll end up back at our desks, where we'll play "Guess the Covered Word."

Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Stats on States

I knew that Mississippi ranked 49th for education, but when I went to look up the website, I found that education was not our only weak point (who would have guessed?) According to the currect rankings done by Morgan Quitno Press, a Lawrence, Kansas-based independent research and publishing company, Mississippi is:

* 49th Smartest State, down from 47th last year (Massachusetts is #3 after two straight years in the #1 spot)

* 50th Most Liveable State, for the seventh year in a row (whoa. Massachusetts is #7) “Our award is unique because it takes into account a broad range of economic, educational, health-oriented, public safety and environmental statistics,” said Morgan. “The Most Livable State Award tells an interesting story about life and government in the 50 United States.”

* 49th Healthiest State, up from 50th last year. (Massachusetts is #3)

* 17th Most Dangerous (Massachusetts is safer at #29)

So it appears that I have moved from one of the best states in the union to one of the worst. Actually, all things considered, the worst, since Mississippi is consistently at the bottom of all rankings. The current best state would probably be Vermont, ranked #1 Smartest and Healthiest, top five in most liveable and least dangerous.

Check out the rankings at

Is Our Children Learning?

This week, the state department team of evaluators will be visiting my school. This will be their second week in the district. The first week, they visited the Middle School, where my three roommates teach. The principal and the teachers were interviewed, observed, and evaluated. The principal and several of the teachers, including one of my roommates, failed to meet expectations. This means that the state will continue to visit and observe those teachers, and changes may be made at the higher levels of the administration.

To prepare for the visit, we had several speakers. The speakers told us how to prepare for the visit, down to giving us the correct answers to the interview questions. Everyone except first year teachers had to prepare a portfolio to turn in to the state, giving evidence of student progress under their teaching, professional development, and taking initiative to improve the school. We will all be visited twice in the classroom. They will be looking for how well we follow state standards, whether our children are engaged, how we respond to misbehavior, etc. Then we will have an interview about how we assess the kids, how we diagnosed them, etc. We aren't jsut being evaluated on the answers we give, though. We will also be evaluated on how well we communicate orally and in written documents. I don't think that will be a problem for me, but for some of the teachers in my school, it may be. (Conjugation, what?)

GSD Roommate, who teaches fifth grade math and passed even though the interviewer didn't like him, says I have nothing to worry about. "Mississippi would be the state that gets picked last for everything," he told me. "Imagine a baseball game. California and Texas are the captains. I'll take... New York. Let's go, Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado... Virginia, Pennsylvania... And last to be picked? Mississippi. Stick him out in left field and pray no balls go that way. Louisiana, right. You take that back, back, back, spot, over there. Try not to throw up on yourself. And that's who's coming to evaluate you."

More information about the evaluation and the problem (that we are one of the eight lowest performing schools in the second to lowest performing state) can be found by clicking on the following links:

From the Mississippi Department of Education:
Priority School Designation
Student Acheivement Model Information

From the Clarion-Ledger:
State Mulls Taking Over District

About the Ratings in General

A Dissenting Opinion on teaching to the Test:
Misguided Push Towards Testable Education

As our esteemed president pondered, "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" Well, now we are asking it in my School District. Hurrah. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New News Article

A new (nice and positive) article on Teach for America in the Boston Globe. Read it on Josh's blog.


My assistant came today, but she didn't come Monday or Tuesday and she's not coming tomorrow. I arrive at school at 6:40 am for the Sunrise Reading Program, have cafeteria duty this week (from the end of the reading program to the time I have a line of kids outside my door), teach/manage/crowd control/damage control/talk over voices/fail to do anything worthwhile with their time, take them to lunch, teach/manage/crowd control/damage control/talk over voices/Fail to do anything worthwhile/yell a bit, have meetings until 4 (since the state is coming next week), itch to go home while I try to do a little planning or cleaning in my classroom until M-- comes to pick me up between 5 and 6. I typically have a 10-11 hour day in the classroom and then at least another hour or two at home. I'm wiped out again. As soon as I get tomorrow's activities in line, I'm going to bed (probably around 9:30).

Monday, October 24, 2005


A new coping strategy is to pick out moments in the day that made me smile. Maybe you've noticed? Today my high points were:
* In line for the cafeteria when a little girl told me, "I like your shirt, Mi' Hay'," and another little girl chimed in, "I like everything on your body!"
* During the otherwise disasterous math time, Z--, who had horrible trouble with addition, was the first one done with her place value work, so she got to work on addition puzzles on the carpet. Other kids got to join her when they finished, and for a while, 2/3 of my class was working fairly quietly and collaboratively on the carpet putting together addition puzzles.
* I made an omelette for dinner and it was good.

It is good to focus on the positive, but I would be painting a rosy picture if I didn't also mention how the majority of my day went...

This morning, the alarm didn't go off, the microwave didn't work, the car radio didn't work, and I was late to work. Then, my assistant didn't show up, my lesson plans didn't get turned in, and I got an administrative warning. I feel as though a solid week in my classroom with no children and no meetings would fix a lot of my problems. Unfortunately, as the TMBG song says, "Time is marching on / And time is still marching on."

Today R-- bit S-- when Mr. H-- was watching the class because I was out of the room taking T-- and J-- to the office because they got in an actual fight. I gave out THREE band-aids today, and only one wasn't violence related. I'm really almost at my wit's end in terms of getting them to care about each other just a little bit. They step on each other and run into each other and E-- just sits there and cries all day and NONE of them even ask her what's wrong. I don't know how to teach it. I don't even do a good job modelling nice behavior because I feel like I snap at them all day long.

I'm losing my smart kids because I'm not scaffolding up, I'm losing my low kids because I feel like it's impossible to remediate them up to where they need to be because they don't have the prerequisite skills. I'm drowning in paperwork and all of it is so overwhelming that when I have time and I should be working on stuff my thoughts are scattered and I just don't know where to begin so I don't do anything.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The fun, the funny, and the bad

Today we filled up our behavior management marble jar and got to "make a wish." To quell wishes for motorcycles and millions of dollars, I reminded the class that everything we wished for had to be for the whole class. One of the things a student suggested was a superhero. "How would a superhero help the whole class or be fun for the whole class?" I asked. A-- raised his hand. "He could save the day," he suggested.

We voted and settled on a Halloween party. Luckily, my principal has said that we may have a Halloween party if we can write a lesson plan for it. I think it will fit in with my Social Studies objectives because we voted for the party and we can discuss the responsibilities and dangers that come with trick-or-treating:
2a: Demonstrate the voting process (e.g., by a show of hands, secret ballot, etc.).
2d: Recognize responsibilities of the individual ( e.g., respect for the rights and property of others, tolerance, honesty, compassion, self-control, participation in the democratic process, work for the common good, etc.).


At the end of last week, we finished writing about all of the students in the class. So today we wrote about me and on Monday, we'll write about Mrs. B-- (my assistant teacher). The first thing we do is "cheer spell" the name. So Ms. Hayes was:

Ms. Hayes: "Gimme an M!"
Class: "You got your M, you got your M, M!"

Ms. Hayes: "Gimme an S!"
Class: "You got your S, you got your S, S!"

Ms. Hayes: "Gimme a period!"
Class: "You got your period, you got your period, period!"

Happily, I'm the only one who found this funny/embarrassing.

One of the questions that a student asked was, "How old are you?" I let them guess before I answered, "I'm old enough to be your teacher." The guesses included 20, 6, 90, 53, 43, 30, 27, 26, 24, and 22. The consensus seemed to be that I am 24. So even though everyone else in the Delta thinks I'm 14, my kids think I'm 24 (and I'm really 22).


In other news, my school may get taken over by the state. I'm not going to comment (if you would like comments, you may ask our school librarian/media specialist, Ms. Coleman, as she is the official voice of the school.) We were informed of that today because there's an article in the Jackson paper, the Clarion-Ledger. You can read about it here: State mulls taking over school district.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Parent conferences

We had parent conferences all day today, and it went pretty well. Fourteen parents/aunties/grandmas showed up out of my class of 24 to pick up their child's report card. Of course, it was all the parents I've been able to get on the phone and none of the ones I have never been able to speak to. In a way, I was glad the mother of my pitiful little E-- didn't come in. How would I have respected her? But I was sad that Z--'s parents didn't show up. Z-- needs serious help with reading...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


J--: "Look, I can make U-- laugh! (Points pencil at U--) Pow, pow! Pow, pow, pow! (U-- dissolves in giggles.) It works on M--, too... Pow, pow! Pow!"


E--, crying on my stomach while I tried to type in grades: "My tummy hurts, Mi'Hay'... My tummy huuuurrrrtssss...." She didn't want to go home, which is fine, since her phone is disconnected anyhow. But she couldn't stop sobbing and she's so small and pitiful...


The pseudonymic Kivianna: "J-- said he'd go with me, Mi'Hay'!" (Get your head on your work, girl! And, go where?)


The pseudonymic Jerome: "Guess who still likes me? I'll give you a hint. She starts with --." (Yay decoding clues!)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Bad Day for a Good Person

Sometimes bad days happen to good people. One such bad day happened on Friday to my friend Lin. Lin is the other Cornell alum in the '05 TFA Corps and one of my best friends. Before Friday, Lin had endured difficulties in his tenure with TFA and the Helena Public School District such as:

1. Getting in a horrible car crash with me on the way to Houston.
2. Getting prepared to teach Algebra I and then, three days before school, switching to teach Pre-Calc, Algebra II, and Geometry.
3. The school district being scrutinized by the state for writing bad checks and generally poor financial management of public funds.
4. Racial slurs from his students.

Then there was this past Friday, when a student or students took his bag out of his classroom, destroyed his materials, stole his calculator and USB key. Read what happened on his blog: WildThangYang.

And that was just the morning. In the evening, he came to a party at my house and parked on the street in front of my house. My strange across-the-street neighbors (the ones who watch my house from their porch) got angry that someone was parked too close to their driveway (it was my car, and it was parked well away from the edge of their driveway) and so they backed out quickly and straight across the street, right into Lin's car.

It was about one o'clock in the morning. Our party was bumpin'. Lin was on the phone with Shiri, telling her about his bad day, and I had to come back upstairs to tell him that it had gotten worse.

The brother-in-law of the neighbor (the man who had backed into Lin's car) had to go to another town to get his insurance information while Lin, Runner Roommate, GSD Roommate, the people who had seen the accident, and our large and imposing fellow teacher Mr. G-- dealt with the rather belligerent neighbor. Lin should get the money to fix the car from the insurance company (it was clearly entirely the fault of the man who backed ACROSS the deserted street into his car) but it's just another hassle that he certainly doesn't need right now.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Had and Heard

(Big drama today, all names except mine have been changed):

Zaktary: Mi’Hay, Darnel called me ugly.
Mi’Hay: Are you ugly, Zaktary?
Zaktary: No.
Mi’Hay: Then you don't need to listen to Darnel, do you?
Zaktary: No. I'm pretty!

Mi'Hay': Kivianna, you are leaning on Jerome. Please make your back straight and tall.
Jerome: I like it, Mi'Hay'. Me and Kivianna going together.
Kivianna: We boyfriend-girlfriend.
Mi'Hay': You still need to sit correctly in the meeting area.


Kivianna: Mi’Hay, Rondraniqua is trying to steal my man away from me!
Mi'Hay': What?
Kivianna: She say she like him. She trying to steal him away! Can I go talk to Jerome and tell him stay away from that girl?
Mi'Hay': No. Kivianna, you need to go back to your seat. You can talk to Jerome at lunch. I think you should talk to Rondraniqua about how you are feeling.


Kivianna: Me and Rondraniqua are going to share Jerome.
Mi’Hay’: ...Well, sharing is good…


Jerome: Rondraniqua likes me.
Mi’Hay’: So I hear.
Jerome: I don't like Kivianna anymore.
Mi’Hay’: You know, you can be friends with both of them. That's the good thing about friends. You can have lots of them.
Jerome: Yeah, so I'm going to go with Rondraniqua and not Kivianna.


Kivianna: Mi’Hay’, Jerome says he wants to break up with me.
Mi’Hay’: Bummer. Lucky you still have so many other friends.
Kivianna: But I don't have other boyfriends!
Mi’Hay’: Well, Demetrious is a boy and he is your friend. And Lequadrius is a boy and he is your friend.
Kivianna: I'm going to ask Demetrious to go with me.


Ms. Maxwell: Demarcus Cooper!
Demarcus: Ms. Maxwell Cooper!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sleep Rocks My World

Someone told me this Irish proverb today:

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book.

It is totally true. The kids aren't behaved any better this week but I can deal with it without a breakdown (or even feeling upset) because I am getting an appropriate amount of sleep. AMAZING. One of the things TFA has told us is that it takes two weeks to change anything in your classroom. So if you don't like your literacy centers, devote the next two weeks to getting better literacy centers. I think the same is true in personal life. I can change one thing at a time. Last Friday to next Thursday I am reforming my sleep habits. I am giving myself a six hour minimum. Maybe next Friday I can fix the food situation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

If I had a million dollars...

Journal prompt of the day: "Today is Tuesday, October 11, 2005. If I had $1,000,000, I would buy ___________."

The responses:

a bookbag
bags of chips
motorcycle (popular answer)
some toys
job (???)
a race car
shoes (some special kind)

and my favorite:


Monday, October 10, 2005


This evening, just after sunset, I arrived home from school. I was unpacking the car (Walmart supplies for an upcoming bash) and noticed a cloud of birds or bats or something swarming above the roof of my house. I stood there staring long enough, thinking, "Is it just me, or are they really circling my house? No, they are circling. Why are they circling? They'll fly on soon... No, they're still circling..." that my across-the-street neighbors called out to me.

"They do that every day," they told me, without having to ask what had struck me dumb. "We like to watch them. Eventually they'll start swooping into your chimney -- the other night we counted over a hundred, but those little buggers are too fast for our eyes."

And they do -- the neighbors (watch my house all the time from their front porch) and what I assume (after some Google research) are chimney swifts (swoop into the chimney and swarm around it). One of the men repeated several times that we should "smoke 'em out and roast those little buggers up." The woman added, "Yeah, they just keep flying around your house every evening. Kind of creepy."

Yeah, it's all kind of creepy.

Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this. I think you’re evil! EVIL!
-- Mother in Diner, The Birds, 1963


On Friday, instead of enduring another day of horribleness because I am a bad teacher, I skipped school. I sent in some awesome and easily done lesson plans for my assistant (she says they did everything and the day went well). I got up at the normal time (5:30 am) to write them and send them in, graded some papers, and climbed back in bed at 7:30 am. I slept straight through until 3 pm. It's strange because it feels like a day is missing from my memory. Blank. I felt so much better afterwards!

Today I went in tired and not fully prepared, but I had three absentees, only one majorly misbehaving kid, and my almost full store of patience. It went pretty well. Tomorrow, well, we'll see. It's back into test formation for another day of craziness in the form of 9-weeks pretests.

Cuteness today: R-- came up to me when we were doing our writing about a student (what am I going to do when we've written about them all?) and said, blushing, "I have a crush on F--" (the girl we were writing about). I said, "Really? You should write about that." He did, and showed me their wedding drawing excitedly. "I don't want to share with the class, though," he said.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Entering Disillusionment

I sent a child who is not allowed to be paddled to the office today. I thought he'd just get a stern talking to. He got a one-day suspension. Another child, who is normally happy and loving, wrote about how she has no friends.

And finally, my hungriest-looking, easily weepy, overly sleepy little girl stole a dollar from another student and showed it to me, glowingly happy. "Look Mi' Hay', I can go to the snack machine!" Having been put on alert by the SpEd teacher, I knew it wasn't hers and I called her on it and made her sob and made her give it back to the other child and apologize and she just cried all afternoon. I adore this little girl. I was furious when she stole, but not at her -- at the school, that has a store when these children are DIRT POOR and not all of them can afford to go, at the other children, who wave their money around (if I see it, I take it, and they get it back after school), at the life she was born into where she DOESN'T have snack money and where she NEEDS more food.

I have a five-color consqeuence chart. Three children finished up off the chart. If I were to assign points for behavior, a 120 would be a perfect day for the whole class. The best I have had in the past month is a 100 (that means only 20 times in the day I said "You need to go flip your card.") Today would be my lowest day, at a 77. That means I said "You need to go flip your card," 43 times. Or rather, I said, "You need to go flip your card," 39 times, and "Since you have decided not to flip your card, I am going to flip it for you two times," twice. Since actual class time is about 6 hours, that is 7 times per hour.

I am tired and unhappy. There is so much I want to fix and change and I don't know where to begin and so I keep pushing it off and focusing on day-to-day survival.

According to other Delta teachers, the October is the worst month. Four days in I have to agree so far. I knew October wouldn't be great, but I am going to be a total wreck if it stays like this week. I have not had a good day this week and I don't think tomorrow will be that day.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

One at a time

I try not to focus on the negative when I write here, but I just want to say that most of the time when I finish a day, I don't like teaching. Most of my children are wonderful and I would be happy tutoring them all day long. But teaching them is not working out as well.

My hair is falling out and I have lost 7 or 8 pounds. Today I actually yelled in class and felt so awful for being mad at them when they are 6 and they had syrup at breakfast and tests all morning and it's really only 4 or 5 who were just toally misbehaving and the rest were basically on task that I cried. In class. In front of my six and seven year olds. Who are mostly absolutely wonderful.

There's E--, who, in the face of problems at home, has become shy and clingy. He is considered almost unteachable. But during library yesterday, we sat down with one of the wonderful donated LeapPads. He snuggled onto my lap. He was able to point out many of the letters as we played a letter game, when he couldn't at all at the beginning of the year.

There's S--, who is the only one who asked me, "Are you okay, Mi' Hay'?"

There's J--, who is a huge behavior issue because she SMILES whenever she gets in trouble and it drives me batty. She won't sit still in timeout. But after school, when the other kids have left, she loves to count the hundreds board or say the letters and their sounds.

But in class, with everyone there, in my small room, with no where to send them out, I can't make them all sit and behave. And while I hold J--'s hand half of the afternoon so he doesn't spread himself all over the floor and the walls and the feet of the other children, I can't hold everyone's hand.

We have a marble jar, and we're almost to the party, but we only got 2 marbles today because people wouldn't be quiet. They're not getting marbles because they are making me lose mine.

Monday, October 03, 2005

"I am done!" announced S-- this afternoon, triumphantly pushing her pencil into the groove in her desk. "D-O-N, done!"

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Postcollege do-good program with buzz

A news article in today's New York Times about Teach for America (click title below to open link):

Options Open, Top Graduates Line Up to Teach to the Poor

This is an interesting article about the people who sign up to join TFA. It approaches it mostly from the application side, but it is still worth reading. After all, you get the in-the-classroom side from reading this blog.

What is TFA? The article says: "It is the postcollege do-good program with buzz, drawing those who want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open, building an ever-more impressive résumé and delaying long-term career decisions."

What is TFA? I say: "It is the postcollege do-good program with buzz, sapping the spirit out of idealistic overacheivers as they realize that the acheivement gap is only partially caused by bad teaching, that spirit doesn't compensate for actual ability to teach and experience in the classroom, and that their most valient efforts only bring them to the bare minimum of effectiveness."