Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 12 2009

first week

I just finished my first week of teaching, so here are some notable parts of my week:

1. My school decided it was a good idea to hold two four-hour homeroom periods on the first and second days of school.  Not the greatest idea ever conceived, though it really wasn’t so bad and provided a lot of great opportunities.  The days were supposed to be for team-building and getting students acclimated to the school year.  This gave me a great chance to build relationships, but was also somewhat torturous for the kids, since they had to be in the same room for four hours on back-to-back days.  Hopefully I didn’t torture them too much.

2. On Wednesday, I showed my class the Obama speech directed at students.  My school never came out with a formal policy on this, so I went ahead and showed it.  In my limited experience teaching, I have never seen a group so engaged and inspired, so thank you Barack Obama.  Immediately following the speech, I had my kids fill out personal goal sheets, which they asked that I keep in their portfolios (homeroom teachers have to review portfolios with students and reflect on their work).  I told the class that when things get hard to look back at this speech and this moment.  Looking over the goal sheets they wrote and their answers to the worksheet questions I gave them, the speech had at least an initial impact.  One student said, “I think this speech will really give me a boost.”  I’d like to take this moment to bash anyone who thought this speech was a bad idea.  I have no idea what you could have been thinking before and I certainly don’t now.
3. On the same day that I showed the Obama speech, I discussed the attributes of a good goal and why goal-setting is so important.  I used the word “ambitious” as one of the attributes before quickly realizing that no one knew what I was talking about.  I asked my kids if anyone knew what “ambitious” meant.  Silence.  Not one 10th grader knew the word.  I taught them the word and used it in several sentences, all while silently noting the sad irony of the situation.  Not knowing the word ambitious made me wonder whether they’ve seen the word in action in any part of their own lives.  Do they know someone close to them who is ambitious? Do they have ambition themselves?  I told them that to succeed in my class, not only would they need to know the word, but they’d need to become what that word represents.

4. On September 11th, we had a 1 hour homeroom, so I wanted to at least acknowledge the day and engage my kids in a brief discussion.  I gave them some eye-opening statistics from an article a co-worker copied for me and then asked them about their own experience that day/what they remember.  Most of them were around 7 on that day and some had vivid memories about it.  They wanted to know where I was that day.  It’s incredible to me that on September 11, 2001, I was sitting in the seats of my students and that now, I was the teacher.  This made me feel old and strangely emotional as well.

5. On Thursday and Friday, I finally met my actual classes, albeit for 43 minutes (it’s usually 90).  I gave my students a getting-to-know-you survey and went over my rules, expectations, and syllabus.  We also did a quick post-it note exercise where students had to think of a class where they learned and a class where they didn’t learn and had to note a characteristic of each class.  Students then got up and stuck their post-its on a piece of chart paper on the board.  Here are some of their responses on the post-it for the class where they didn’t learn, which are heartbreaking and humorous all at once:

-”It just never go well and I didn’t learn much and that probly why I have to take it again”

-”The teacher didn’t know what he was talking about. He wasn’t teaching Spanish.”

-”Science. I can’t learn nothing for nothing.”

-”She was boring, had the same tone of voice, she didn’t seem like she liked us or wanted 2 be there.”

-”Teacher was too moody and impatient and I think that got in the way of our communication.”

“The teacher was their for the money and didn’t care if we passed or not.”

“Teacher didn’t know what he was talking about. He didn’t teach”
Hopefully I can avoid those.

6. I gave a short powerpoint about myself on the first day (to my homeroom).  Showed them a picture of me at the Phillies World Series parade (which they thought was hilarious…I’m pretty sure one student accused me of being drunk in the picture, but I pretended not to hear that one).  Then I told them what I was all about and the things that I value.  Went into a brief discussion of my last name.  I told them that I didn’t mind them ragging on my name, provided they do two things: 1) do it at the appropriate time (not in class) and 2) make it original.  They seemed to get the message and I haven’t had one issue yet.  They asked me how old I was.  I told them I was somewhere between 20-45.  They were not happy with that answer, so I told them I’d reveal my age at some point during the year, but that they’d have to be at school every day in case that was the day I revealed it.  They asked me if I was married or had a girlfriend.  I said I wasn’t married and refused to answer the girlfriend question.  Not a good precedent to talk about that stuff, I don’t think.

Hopefully I can find time to keep posting, obviously things are starting to get really busy.

One Response

  1. mariagarnett

    (I’m sorry if my comment already posted!)

    I take it you’ve read the Freedom Writers Diary and I’m encouraged to see a first-year corps member creating a unit like this, because that’s exactly what I hope to do once I get in the classroom in August. Good luck!! Your students have a lot to look forward to, and they don’t even know it yet.

    Maria Garnett
    Bay Area 2010

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