Teach for America: Weeks 2 & 3

Caution: this is a long post…hope you’re in it for the long haul.

Institute is by far one of the hardest things I have ever done. Whoever thought of cramming 4 years of training into 4 ½ weeks, was nothing but crazy. Having completed my first full week of teaching, I feel mostly exhausted with a combination excited but overwhelmed and sad.

My days here are absolutely draining.
4:30 am- wake up to shower & get ready before heading to breakfast
5:20- I eat breakfast, pack lunch
6:10- get on the bus to Bethune Elementary
6:30- a session about how to make my lessons better- assessment, analyzing student data, etc. (I value these, but at 6:30, seriously!?)
7:30- make sure everything is in my classroom ready to go
8:00- another session about lesson planning/teaching
9:30- finish prepping to teach/power nap
9:55- teach (or at least attempt to) my precious 4th graders about reading
11:25- take my kiddies to lunch & get to know them (my favorite part of the day)
11:55- observe my co-teacher & help out as needed
12:30- insert data/eat what’s left of my lunch (usually it’s gone in the 8:00 session)
1:00- more sessions about teaching, competencies, and so on
2:45- school meeting/meeting with my advisor/meeting with my collab
3:20- get on the bus & head back to GT
3:45- unpack & powernap
4:15- run & work out
5:30- dinner
6:15- Lesson Planning Clinic
8:00- Lesson plan/meet with my advisor/get ready for the next day
10:30 or 11:30- Bedtime

I would have a lot more time if I didn’t put as much effort into my lesson plans, but I refuse to be anything excellent for my kids. The days are long, but my kids are so worth it.

So much learning!
I am so excited to finally be in the classroom. Teaching is so so so much fun. The week before last was spent in sessions about things related to teaching, lesson planning, setting your summer & class vision and goals, behavior management, and diversity. Although they started to get boring, these sessions were incredibly valuable. I love learning how to become the teacher that my kids deserve, and as I learn, I love watching my lessons & teaching improve. I absolutely love what I’m doing, even if it is far from easy. For the summer, I’m teaching 4th grade ELA. I got lucky, because my summer teaching assignment is great preparation for the fall-when I begin teaching 6th grade ELA. So much of what I’m learning I can directly apply to my classroom for the fall–especially as far as management & vision/goals go.

Thinking about how much more I have to learn before I’m flying solo in the fall is incredibly overwhelming (and I know I shouldn’t be thinking too much about that, and just focusing on making it day by day). All day, every day, there is a fire hose of information coming at me, without much time to process or apply it before moving onto the next thing. There is always something that needs to be done, something to be improved, something to learn, and feedback to receive, but my kids are so worth it.

Fun Fact: I now have a super effective teacher voice that works even outside of the classroom whenever I’m not getting my way or I’m trying to make a point.

Life isn’t fair.
I absolutely love my students. I would do almost anything for them. Their smiles and love of learning is literally what gets me out of bed in the morning. But at the same time, thinking about them makes me so sad. Out of my 15 students, only 7 of them are on/above grade level in reading; 8 of them do/have lived in a homeless shelter; 3 of them live with neither parent; only 1 has 2 parents in the home. It simply isn’t fair that they receive such a sub-par education, simply because of their zip code. I’ve talked to several of their parents, and they are incredibly invested in their kid’s learning–they just don’t have the finances to send them to a different school, and a lot of them can barely read themselves.

Getting their attention isn’t hard…keeping it, that’s a whole different story.  But seriously, what 9 year old wants to be in school on summer break? I am so proud of them though. This week we had 88% mastery of the objective! These kids love learning; I often have them ask to do work during work or the weekend. They cannot get enough.

 Here’s a little bit about some of my favorites:
Demarcus: this kid does not stop moving or talking. He is so smart, but for some reason has a dislike of being labeled as smart. He had the option of taking a test to be placed in advanced classes/being eligible for a charter school, but he refused. Demarcus has 4 other siblings, and it is evident in the way he talks about them and life in general that often he is the one taking care of them–he is incredibly defensive of all of them, and knows  much more about the realities of life than any 9-year old should.
Willie: he is also really smart, but is usually too upset to do work in class or focus. He hasn’t seen his mother in 3 weeks, and is currently living from friend to friend. He has a younger sister that he is often too worried about to focus on his classwork. Willie has 3 rotten teeth, that make it difficult to eat, but when his mother was asked about it, her response was: that’s not my problem. I would adopt this kid tomorrow, if I could.
Binta: she reminds me so much of myself as a child. Binta cannot get enough reading. She reads all of her assignments in record time, and always reads the extras I give her.  She is incredibly sweet and always smiles her beautiful, genuine smile (always accompanied by a hug) as soon as she sees me…I think I was wrapped around her finger the very first day.

The thing about these kids that breaks my heart is that so many of them come from broken backgrounds and it just breaks my heart. It’s not fair that for several of my kids, the only thing they eat all day is the breakfast & lunch they get at school. It’s not fair that they have teachers who just push them through the system without ever getting to know them or actually teach them something. At the end of the day though, there is little I can do about some of those things. What I can do, is make sure that they leave summer school knowing that they can be anything they set their mind to. They are smart, they are leaders, they are the future, and they will change the world.

Highlight of the week: Willie gave me a hug on Friday before he left for the weekend.

“Keep dreaming, taking risks, and choosing hope. Keep listening to that small voice telling you that life can be big and beautiful. Please remember it is the messy, silly, and ridiculous ones who change things. We are light that gives heat and we’ve learned that hope is always a choice.”

P.S.- I didn’t proofread this, so be graceful 🙂

2 thoughts on “Teach for America: Weeks 2 & 3

  1. Ruth Fisher says:

    Sweetheart, you are making me so proud to be your mother. I am so glad that you are investing in the lives of children who wouldn’t maybe have a chance otherwise. That has been my heart from the beginning and still is and to see my daughter giving of herself to these kids to make their lives better at least for today, so thrills my heart to see. I love you hun and am praying that God will help you to be the blessing to these kids that you desire to be.

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