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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 27 2011

INSTITUTE: yes it is as intense as they say.

On the first day of institute in MIssissippi, a wise CMA (Corps member adviser) told me, “Institute is like standing under a waterfall with a dixie cup.” After 2 weeks, I can admit that’s the perfect analogy for how this place works. The first week of institute was intense in the sense that we were up early, in sessions all day, and I can’t remember anymore what we did in the evenings but it certainly wasn’t go to sleep early. Oh, right…it was start lesson planning, management planning, investment planning, and learning how to give diagnostic tests. NBD.

All of the first week, we were eager to get into our classrooms and meet our kids and start teaching. Present-me would tell past-me to suck it up and pay attention, because when you get in the classroom you’re going to wish you had even MORE training. Needless to say, my first week in the classroom was rough. There are 3 of us in a collab (collaborative group) that teach math and reading to the same kindergarten class. This week and next I’m teaching reading and word study. Initially, I had no idea what to expect from kindergartners: can they read? Can they write? Can they sit still for more than 5 minutes? How do I motivate them?
The answers after one week are, respectfully: some can, most can’t independently, no, and bribery. My class started out with 12 students. 3 never showed up, and on Friday, 2 dropped out (I’ll get there). I have 2 kids who can barely read sight-words (a, at, the, is, it) and can’t write at all. I have 2 who have A LOT of trouble focusing on what they’re supposed to be doing (i.e. we was “what color is this circle” and the response is either “My momma got a bulldog” or “Where you from?”). One of this little girls cried for 3 straight hours everyday, regardless of what she was doing. Her twin brother was the sweetest boy I’ve ever met. He was all about comforting and protecting his sister, mopping up her tears, and trying to convince her to stop crying and pay attention. Despite everyone’s efforts, the twins un-enrolled on Friday :( That means I’m left with 7.

My other 3 are pretty advanced in our class and are in summer school for enrichment. One of them looks like a young Troy Polamalu and has a French name with an English pronunciation which confuses everyone. He also has really long hair and people always address him as “Young Lady.” I wonder if Troy went through the same thing as a kid.
Another boy has the CUTEST accent EVER. We were talking about fireflies once and I told him that was our state bug in PA. He started asking me about ‘the animal that comes up outta the ground to say stuff…yeah, that animal..he comes up at Christmas or Easter or something.” Me; OMG! Punxsutawney Phil!!! I still have no clue how he made that connection, but it was adorable. The other student here for enrichment reminds me a lot of myself, in the respect that he tries really hard but gets disappointed at himself easily. On my second day of teaching, I was really serious about keeping with our discipline chart since we had had a kid get sent to the office the day before. This boy (let’s call him James), reached out and grabbed his buddy when he was coming back to his seat from the bathroom. One of our rules is “keep hands and feet to ourselves at all times” and so I had to move him down on our chart. He totally shut down and his eyes started welling up. I knew that feeling. That was how I felt when I had to write my name on the board in first grade. I don’t know what I did, but I still remember feeling like the worst kid ever. He was the third kid to cry that day and I left feeling like complete crap. This is kindergarten!!! I shouldn’t be making kids cry!

The rest of the week didn’t go much better. We had a biting incident, a crayon-eating problem, another 2 office visits, and hardly any assessments getting completed because I spent so much time during my lessons correcting behavior. After some good sessions on how to do guided reading and word study, and finally being able to identify the reading level of my two lowest kids (let’s call them Oscar and Kenneth), I have really high hopes for this week…

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