Thursday, July 27, 2006

Read All About It!

Check out the article about the announcement in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger... It's listed under the "North Bolivar School District" links on the right side of the page.

Exemplary, Baby!

In a "community meeting" tonight in Shelby, the news was announced (finally, after much thanking of people, stories about the difficulties in the district, and clapping): Brooks School (my school) moved from a level 1 priority school to a level 4, exemplary school. Shelby School, the middle school, did the same; and Broad Street, the high school, remained at a level 3. Although the auditorium was only half-full, and only about 20 of those present were parents, the spirit was high and the hearts were in the right place.

We began, as we always do, with a prayer. The head of the school board spoke, highlighting the board's many prayers for the district (3 board members are ministers and the other two are "strong Christians"). She spoke glowingly about our conservator, who entered the community and got into "every crack and crevice; he was like a little roach." Another administrator compared our district to Humpty Dumpty, who had a great fall, except that the "king's men" were the members of the State Board of Education and they did put Humpty back together again. Finally, after the band played a rousing version of the Broad Street high school alma mater, which happens to use the same tune as the Cornell alma mater and thus always throws me off guard at school assemblies, the State Superindendant of Education revealed the ratings and terminated our state control. In closing, the director of some district program mentioned three positive signs in the school community that she had noticed that night: there were so many parents present to show their support and unity with the board (20 parents, out of... over 500?), we are producing stellar graduates (such as the one who won a state contest and gained admission to... Jackson State), and the band director, who was playing with the band, demonstrating strong teacher involvement (without his trumpet bleating the melody, you might have mistaken the band's songs for their warming-up noises.)

I'm happy for the district, I really am, but I felt like there was a lot of smoke blowing tonight. I do have to say, though, that people's hearts are in the right places. There was a spontaneous "G-O-O-D J-O-B, Good Job, Good Job!" after the announcement of the ratings, there were many standing ovations for administrators and state staff, and the mood was very positive. The crowd seems pumped to try hard again this year in order to keep/improve our rating, and I am thus far pleased with my new principal and excited to see how he runs the school.

Setting Up

It was a good day for getting work done in my classroom. I moved out all of my old desks in favor of some 2-seater tables, and I put felt pads on the feet of all the chairs and desks. Hurrah! I am so excited to have tables, although now I have to figure out where we're going to keep all of those things that were originally in the desks (like Reading Books and Journals). I also met one of my students-to-be, who is just cute as a button and was very helpful today.

All of this has conspired to make me a little bit of an insomniac tonight, though. It is almost 2 in the morning and I have been up doing a little set up of my new house, a little thinking about setting up my new classroom. I'm not so good with estimating sizes, but I made an attempt at drawing a setup in Excel of how I think I may want the class to look. I wish I could show it to you all to get feedback, but alas, I don't know how. I'll take a picture once I have it all worked out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fingers Crossed

I went to school today, and a new set of class lists was posted. A set of class lists in which there are not three, but four first grade teachers! I am thrilled, and hoping wildly that it will stay that way -- the fourth teacher has been pulled from kindergarten, and the other three kindergarten teachers are not to pleased to have 21 kids each. This morning, I had 19 kids on my class list, but by this afternoon it had gone down to 16 kids, because the administration moved up all four of the Special Ed repeaters to 2nd grade. I'm not writing names on anything yet, but I did go ahead and switch my 26 desks for the tables I've been coveting (that only seat 22 max).

Also today, the new principal assured me that he didn't want to lose any teachers because of a lack of discipline in the school, so he will be prowling the hallways with his paddle at the ready. He addressed his stature, which is much smaller than that of our previous extremely imposing principal. "I may be small," he told me, "But I am very tough." It is worth noting, I think, that the new principal is also a Reverend.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I've spent the last week packing and moving all of my things to my new apartment in Clarksdale and welcoming/helping/hosting the new Delta corps members. There were three '06 corps members who stayed for a few days with M- and me in Shelby while they found housing. Two of them will be teaching at the middle school, and I'm very pleased about that because I like them both very much. The other one, also a sweet girl, was originally placed in our high school. However, she declined the position in favor of another one more her flavor in Arkansas (math instead of sciences.)

Anyhow, at one of the potlucks (hosted around the Delta the first week the first years are here to introduce them to each other and to the 2nd years who have returned), I happened to mention how many spiders there were at my Shelby house. I'd been swatting or ignoring them, depending on their location, as I'd been packing. My friend E-, a native Mississippian, warned me to be careful. It turns out that spiders in Mississippi, unlike spiders in Massachusetts, can be very poisonous. In fact, northern Mississippi, where I live, is smack dab in the middle of the territory of the brown recluse spider.

The brown recluse spider is one of the two most poisonous spiders in the United States. The other one is the black widow. Brown recluses can be recognized by a violin shape on their back and they like to hide out in dark places. Its poison kills the cells and tissue around the bite. Fortunately, they are not antagonistic and will run away from humans unless put between skin and a hard place, accidentally or not, in which case they bite.

Learning this information freaked me out. So I looked up a picture. And, you guessed it, the plethora of spiders who live in the house in Shelby are almost all brown recluses, nickel- to quarter-sized brown spiders witha violin-shaped spot on their backs. It is an infestation. I must have killed at least a dozen just while I was packing. Luckily, I have not been bitten -- yet. But as the spiders like to hide in dark places, like the insides of boxes, I'm sure I brought a few here to Clarksdale with me.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Since school has not started, and in-service training (pre-school teacher school) has not started, and teachers are not even in their classrooms setting up yet, the only contact I have had with school news has been through the rumor mill.

Some is innocuous:
- The lead teacher for my grade got married over the summer.
- Another white teacher's daughter will not be in my class this year because she has been accepted to the white private school and her mother feels better about sending her there because of the other students, even though she herself works at the school.

Some is exciting:
- Although test scores are on lockdown, I heard 3rd- and 4th-hand rumors about the test scores in my district. The word is that they are good, especially at my school, and that Brooks might go from being a level 1 priority school (the worst) to a level 4 school (a solidly good school, since the rating is 1-5). The middle school evidently did pretty well also, and might move up to a level 3.

And some is disheartening:
- There was one "administrator" at my school last year who did not, in my opinion, do her job. I'm not exactly sure what her job entailed, but it included some watching children (she made them sit silently in front of Teletubbies), some newletter creation (she made a huge fiasco among my students' parents by messing up my class's honor roll because she didn't ask me and another teacher for a simple clarification), and some power of the press. Any time that something at the school could give her an excuse not to watch children, she took it and sent them back to their classrooms, stealing the precious little planning time teachers were afforded. This administrator was going to be moved into a more powerful position at my school for this year, but, according to the rumors, her salary was cut when she was promoted. So she found another job in the area and is now a PRINCIPAL in another elementary school. An unfortunate example of institutionalized mediocrity.

And some is about TFA:
- The new corps is evidently pretty wild. That'll be interesting, I think, and might liven up the social scene in the Delta a little.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

And She's Back!

I have returned to Shelby from my summer vacation, refreshed and (almost) ready to teach again. I came back early in order to move, meet the new corps members, and prepare my classroom.

Today I stopped by my school and saw my class roster. I'm super excited about my class, including the 3 students who will be joining 1C for the second time. Happily, the school took my advice and held back not only the 3 who were just not developmentally ready to move on, but also the 3 who have fairly severe learning disabilities. I really felt that putting them in second grade when they were not reading at all (even though they had made progress) was not appropriate.

Today I also picked up 3 2006 corps members from Delta State, where they have their orientation. They will be staying at my house in Shelby until they find houses of their own. Two of them are placed at the middle school, one in 4th grade Science/Social Studies, and one in Special Ed. The other one was originally placed in the high school but was not offered a position she was comfortable teaching, so TFA is currently trying to find a new placement for her.

I was thrilled when I originally got the list of new corps members because there was one placed in my school, in first grade. It would have been fantastic. I was ecstatic. Someone with the same training as me, who I could really plan with beyond the basics... Unfortunately, he was switched to a position in the middle school, and not replaced at my school. So this year, there will again be 3 first grades and 4 classes in all of the other grades. The third first grade spot, which was open, will be filled by a wonderful woman who has been an assistant at the school for many years while she attempted to pass the PRAXIS exam. Evidently she made it this year. I think that she will make a wonderful first grade teacher (she was a sub two years ago for about half the year after the teacher left and evidently did really well). The teacher who is losing her as an assistant is devastated, though (even though she is of course happy for Mrs. W-.) You can imagine, i'm sure, how much easier it would be to teach with another fully competent, dedicated almost-teacher in the room.

The new corps members seem to be a wonderful group of people. I would expect nothing less from TFA, which is still growing furiously. The optimism and enthusiasm of the first years is reinvigorating. I was a little shocked to find myself part of the jaded corps of second years welcoming the new teachers. Not shocked to be part of the welcoming committee -- I knew I would be, and had been looking forward to it -- but to realize how much my naive optimism has been replaced with positive but slightly less bubbly realism. I had to remind myself to be positive and to truly believe that they may not have the same difficulties I had. It is no good to warn them of things that may not happen (you will want to cry almost day for the first nine weeks), and far better to prepare them for things that certainly will happen (you will have wonderful children who will be rowdy). After all, they will find their own difficulties, but going in full of optimism is a good thing.