Friday, February 11, 2011


I have lots of things to catch y'all up on! I'm going to make a list. 1. because I enjoy them and 2. because they are a helpful organizational tool and type A's like myself loooooveeee color coding, direct responses AND organization.

Things to update on in this monster post:
1. becoming a "real" teacher / nightmares of testing in Arkansas
2. Fights
3. SNOW!
4. Life plans / thoughts
5. Other thoughts

#1 I finally feel like I am not constantly squirming and I juuuuust might have acquired some "real teacher" habits and instincts. These things are difficult to put into words (also why i was never taught them in training) because they come with classroom time. Behavior Management is simply an issue I no longer sweat in my classroom. Students know what is expected at what time and if they are out of line they know the consequences and my reactions, which is generally a deterrent. I also have found that I am far better at the lesson planning, unit assessment writing, daily execution aspects of teaching than I, frankly, ever though I would be. This is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I am happy that I am much better than I was, but am also frustrated that I wasn't giving the best to my student in the fall. There is nothing I can do and regret and guilt are useless emotions, at least regarding this issue, so I am framing my thinking around the positive and leaving it at that.

#1B The nightmares of testing in Arkansas are many for a first year teaching two grade levels that are tested in high-stakes Literacy tests. I grew up in a state that tested students for on-track grade level proficiency every three years: 3rd, 6th, and 9th grade. I now work in a state that tests at what seems random years 6th, 7th, 8th, and 11th (not sure about elementary). In addition to this testing at the end of the year, students are required by Arkansas State Law to take "Target Tests" every quarter of the year that are the same length and format as the end of year test. My students are tested 6 times a year from 6th grade through 8th grade. This is a nightmare for investing students in the test, education, the purpose of the test, and general "why am I forced to be here?" angst that all pre-teens and teens naturally carry. This is also a nightmare because schools that are struggling feel the need to force teachers to teach to the test and authentic learning and skills development is pushed to the wayside. I understand the rationale for this--schools are given funding and placed on AYP plans based on student test scores, so lifting test scores is essential often, to a school sinking or swimming--but I don't have to be happy about it. Alas, I will do the job I am given and try my best to balance teaching to / for the test and teaching for education and life lessons.

#2 Fights. I have to keep this short and here is why. I wake up and go to work everyday for my students. Often I don't want to deal with other things that are challenging or frustrating waiting for me at school, but my students are my reason for not quitting and waking up for work. So, nothing in this world infuriates me more than when they get into stupid, senseless, and extremely violent fights in school. I get very mad at them for 1. violence in the first much in this world is against them as young, black, delta kids in one of the most impoverished districts in the whole state that I hate seeing them against each other 2. They are suspended and miss out on class time 3. school rules mandate that I cannot let them make up work...which means making up lessons is even more difficult for them and myself. Nothing good has ever come from violence. Nothing. I sometimes consider doing a unit on the history of non-violent protests around the world even thouuughhh I'm supposed to be teaching English. Before I start into a lengthy rant I'll stop here. Fights, I loathe them.

#3 SNOW. IT SNOWS HERE! Oh my goose, I have never had so many snow days in my life. 4.5 this year. That is more than I ever had throughout my entire childhood and 4 years at THE snowiest university (Syracuse) ever combined! I also realized that as a kid i never thought about the fact that my teachers might be not-so-secretly wishing for snow days too. No matter where I move I think snow will follow me. It makes sense, the newspaper I used to sneak out of my dad's closet with his collection of neat stuff about my sister and my earliest moments form birth (shhh! don't tell!) said I was born during the worst blizzard of '88!

#4 Life plans / thoughts. I have officially decided that I want to go to graduate school after I complete my commitment to TFA. I am currently considering a dual degree program. I want a Masters in education policy or an MPA with a focus on education administration WITH a JD (law degree). This world needs change. I have always wanted to be a part of it. The daily grind at my school, the stories and anecdotes of other teachers' school administration encounters has convinced me that change needs to come from teh top AND the bottom and meet in the middle. I want to work at the top after having been at the bottom. In a few years I'll want to jump back down and see how things have and have not changed and then to jump back up to the top to try and work from there. I never want to loose this experience and the fact that it has taught me that real experiences "on the ground" so to speak are essential to being a good policy maker, a good administrator, a good superintendent, a good politician etc. Would you want a swim instructor who had only ever studied the theory of waves and the human body? No. You would want an instructor who has experience...swimming. Exactly my philosophy with education policy.

I also really want to get out of the United States again. I love the US. I love my people and my culture, but I'm just itching for a little traveling. My semester abroad really awoke something in me that loves and misses traveling to quaint and gorgeous landscapes to hike, enjoy art, food, and meet new people.

#5 Other thoughts. Thanks to the best sister IN THE WORLD I now have a guitar that I am slowly self-teaching myself how to play. I have also gone de facto vegetarian. I mean I eat chicken on occasion, but what has happened is that I am sooo busy and focused on doing my job and doing it well that I forget to use meat I have stored. It then goes bad and i get mad at wasting food and money. Frozen veggies and tofu (left int he package) last MUCH longer. I'm not becoming is just what has happened since about December. I'm sure this summer I'll be chowing on burgers and baked pork chops again:)

Until next time, which will hopefully not be so far away! Love and happiness!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Visits and Clarity

2 visits, 1 path that is now clear to me

I've been living and working in the Delta since June 8th, 2010. I've visited a few people outside the Delta and entertained a few guests to help myself feel a little better when things get really stressful and I bog myself down somewhat unnecessarily. When My Dad and Diane visited two things started to change. My moodiness (which had been getting more frequent, and common for all first years) started to lift and I've realized how TFA fits my professional goals in addition to how it fits into my personal ideology. Allow me to elaborate...

Visit 1

Seeing a familiar face was nice. Seeing a familiar face that knows an incredible amount about me and how i function and can give some decent advice on life and stopping to breather was hugely helpful. I was proud to show off my school, new community, house, roommates and region to my Father and his girlfriend. I really do love a lot about this new place and I think now they do too! Plain and simple...mood was lifted by Dad's visit and a break from the grindstone.

Visit 2

This weekend I visited Syracuse. To keep things short and was amazing to spend so much time with the ones I love and spent so much time with during college. Sam always makes my heart happy. McQueen is hilarious and tells awesome stories. Rita is my fireball and I adore her to no end. Alex, although we had only a short chat is always so encouraging and genuinely curious about new things, so sharing was a pleasure with him. Ginge and are my loves and I appreciate all y'all do for Monkey when I'm not around :)


When I applied to TFA and joined TFA and am asked about TFA my reason for being a part of this hugely important movement is the same. I want to be part of the people and communities that work toward getting rid of the achievement gap because i want my fellow citizens to have the same opportunities and sense of self worth and value instilled in them that i was so lucky to have given to me as a student. This is a service opportunity in my mind. I am giving back to my country in a way that I am highly skilled and quite passionate. Yes, this is a job, but this is also a learning experience for me too. Whether or not i agree with every minute detail of the TFA organization is neither here nor there...what matters is that I believe in the end goal and the foundational message. One day, all children...will be given equal access to education. Right now, that's not the case in this country. For our country to be as great as it can truly be...we must educate our children so that they may compete with leaders and competitive students across the globe. I am happy and proud to be a part of making this change...this is why, for personal reasons I've chosen to join TFA.

Professionally, I've been struggling to find a connection between this job and the career path I had in mind for myself throughout and after college. Now...clarity! I want to finish my 2 years with TFA and head myself into graduate school immediately. I want to pursue a Masters in Public Policy or Public Administration because I want to create change by fixing the internal system in the United States. I believe that we need across the board national education standards for every grade level in every subject. This is just the tip of the iceberg...but needless to say, I want to be on the inside making laws and policy that helps our children. They are our future. We are only as strong as our educated youth.

With that, I will leave you and simply say thank you to all my visitors and to my loves for helping to cheer me and helping to break me away from my gloom enough for me to find this beautiful sense of self and purpose.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joey Pigza Looses Control! And, Ms. Poulin gains control

I have offically started my second unit. My 7th and 8th grade students are all reading a book called "Joey Pigza Looses Contro," a great book about a middle school-aged boy who goes to spend the summer with is less than dad-of-the-year qualities for the first time. Joey's mother left his father Carter, for a number of reasons but mostly because he was just like Joey, wired (had ADHD), and refused to get anything to help himself out. It is a charming, bold, and fun book and so far everyone is at least interested in the story. Joey looses control of him himself at one point, as the title foreshadows, and mayhem ensues. I cannot wait until we get to these last few chapters as a class! Lots of great discussions are ahead of us.

Ms. Poulin has finally gained control of her classes. Control beyond the "I said sit down and raise your hand" and onto "wow! you are all really learning, and showing me how smart you are, let's see how far we can push since we're ahead of my schedule" (which is totally a is just good for them to feel like they are THAT smart sometimes. I'm still struggling with the enjoyment/ investment factor in my first class and my last class of the day. My 3 middle of the day classes and I have really started bonding and real work and effort is being put in by my students now too! Who knew?! My goal is to charm the hell out of 8C and 7C (first and last classes of the say) so that they want to come to my class when they're asleep or aching to go to football practice because I make it fun and interesting. Small steps, but i am determined to be successful in getting them to at least love learning enough to 1) come to class and 2) do thier work and 3) maybe learn enough to jump up from basic to proficient on the state end of course exam!

Overall, I am finally now truly enjoying some of my classes. I want to enjoy all of them equally, but then again...i teach in Marvell, not utopia. I'll keep teaching them all as they deserve...but i can't promise i won't have secret favorite periods. Oh! I'm also getting a guitar soon. I really really really have fallen hard for the blues and folk style music with modern twists...imma be a star! Or at least a tinker-er :)

Ciao, tutto mio amore

PS - Fellow 'Cuse kids. I'm visitng October 15th!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I cannot believe that an ENTIRE month has gone by since I last wrote on here. Sooooo very much has happened in that time, so I will do my best to keep this as short and succinct as possible to catch everyone up to speed. Two important things have happened since I last wrote and they are:

1) I experienced my first in-service training at my new school with veteran and new teachers.

2) I have been teaching for 11 days...


This is training and education (health, stress management, classroom management, and stats about scores and places that need improvement, etc.)provided and mandated by the school district I teach in and in most districts. I enjoyed meeting the many faces and personalities that I am lucky to call my co-workers. I got a sense of the direction the superintendent wanted the district to head this year. And, I had my first real "Delta breakfast" during in-service. Never in my life did I think that I would look at a biscuit and a sausage patty and think, yeah that was really good. The kitchen ladies put some magic in those biscuits and some love on that patty because it was was also insanely heavy...but still awesome. I've befriended a few fellow teachers "old" and "novice" as we are all called by our administration and i am happy to say that I feel comfortable and confident when I walk the halls to my classroom in the middle school wing.

11 Days so far
I survived the first two days. Correction: We (my students and I) survived the first two days together. Weekend. Monday-Friday of week 2 and my students slowly came out of their shells, I was able to assess their reading levels, set up big goals for my students to strive for, and class expectations for behavior and academic success. I love everyone one of my students. Sometimes that love comes easily, sometimes that love comes with a little more effort...but I LOVE THEM ALL because they are really great kids.

These great kids of mine, have been failed though. Failed by a system that they didn't know was working against them. Today I had conferences with students about their individual reading and writing levels and their goals for the year and their goals for next quarter. 2 students nearly burst into tears. 1 student denied that what I was telling her was the truth several students immediately invested themselves in their own learning and focus. Most other students took me seriously and took my advice and returned to the in-class assignment. Why are these great students of mine having such reactions? I teach 7th and 8th grade English? My class average reading level for 7th grade is a reading level of 3rd-4th grade. My 2 8th grade classes read on about a 4th grade level. I don't know who, I don't understand entirely how, but I do know students have been failed, let down, dismissed, and not cared about enough my previous teachers. They have not been told honestly about their reading capabilities and they have been given tools to catch up or to succeed. I cannot save the world, i cannot get all my kids on grade level, but I'll be damned if a student of mine leaves in June and does not leave my classroom confident that they can make enormous gains, can read, and can push themselves harder than they've ever pushed before.

I, me, Ms. Poulin and invested in them and that is all I ever communicate to them. I'm not into frills and gimmicks to lure my kids into being invested in their education because I see things in the Delta like this. I am teaching in a low-income, high- region. People living below the poverty line are generally most concerned with 2 things: safety and having things taken from them. My investment strategy is simply this with my students. "I am going to give you something that no one can ever take from you. I have a car outside, if someone was feeling incredibly cruel...they could take it from me right? I have a purse...same case, right? Well, you know what no one can ever take from me? MY EDUCATION. In this class, in English this year I am going to give you the tools, knowledge and skills to develop your education. No one can ever take that from you. That is ENORMOUS control and POWER over yourself and your life. So class, when you come in, we work hard so we can educate ourselves and be something, somebody we're proud to be one day."

I also tell them to keep six feet on the floor at all times (chairs have 4 feet , they have 2...hahaha) because 1) i care about their safety in my class and 2) i don't have a broom in my room so, if they do fall over I'm not sweeping up the pile of student that lands all over my nice clean floor.

I got a little intense a few lines up, so I am going to rest here and say ciao! tutto mio amore (all my love) and I will be better about writing more often.

PS - every door in the school has "Success is our only option" above it because it is the new district wide slogan...yours truly is already making her mark on ol' Marvell, Arkansas ;)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Unlit "highways," sticky, hot summer weather, 1,000+ miles away from the places and people love

ow that I am away from the Delta (currently on a brief visit out of state)and everything in the title, and left out by the limitations of the title, all i want to run back to it all. I am the proud resident of 5225 Moon Lake Road, Dundee, Mississippi 38626. This residency is actually a refinished barn located right on the Moon Lake! I have 4 lovely roommates, a dock, a portiocny (porch / patio / balcony), a garden and so much more to look forward to when I return to this new address of mine. I must admit, I am in a bit of a mixed state of emotions over all of this. I am so excited for the next 2 years, I am missing a lot about being a college student in New York, and I am missing the easy commute around my New England states to some of our country's most beautiful locations. What trips me up the most, it probably the fact that I really and in love with the fact that the unlit "highways" make me feel like a tiny speck of dust under the most enormous starry night sky. That I love the sticky, hot summer weather that still somehow does not deter my neighbors from making friends with my roommates and myself. That although I am 1,000+ miles away from the places and people love, I know I'll still be able to keep in touch and bring some of them to the Delta and a whole lot of the Delta and the people of the Delta back to these old familiar people and places in NY and New England.

There is a magic here, a certain mystery and excitement in the slow rhythm of life here. Admittedly the state of Mississippi (an many parts of the South) still has a lot that isn't so great (without naming specifics) ingrained in its culture, but there is just as much that is really great. When one is forced to life life a little slower, a little more organically, a little less reliant on technology, and a little bit rustically a lot is learned about the self. I have already learned so much. For example, I have learned how to kayak on my little Moon Lake in replacement of TV watching. I have learned how to "yes ma'am" my way around convincingly enough to make pleasant conversation with locals and even a few friends.

I've appreciated being in darkness and daylight in a whole new way. The nights are darker than anything I've ever seen...even darker than the inside of my eyelids I could swear. The brightest days are not blindingly bright, but bright enough to eradicate just about every shadow lurking about in the fields. The weather is both a chore and a blessing. Smooth, steady rhythms push their way through the thick air to make it into my ears and then don't stop until they are tapping on my soul. Sweating it out at an outdoor performance quickly becomes a labor of love, instead of an inconvenience at times like this. The many miles of space between myself and the many new friends I've made only makes the Delta feel smaller. I know this doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but try to think of it this way. The Delta is said to have approximately 200+ mile radius. I know people who are living and teaching at the top, middle, and bottom of this area. Each town and community in the Delta is very similar, but secretly very different (only insider's who've paid their dues, warmed up to locals, or discovered for themselves know this). We all share via our generation's various technological gateways of communication positive negative and just pain silly experiences quite often. So, at the end of a weekend, I feel as though I have not only been all over the Delta, but I know what is going on where, with who, and why. Distance is only a limitation and a divider if you are willing to let it be. The Delta has already taught me this, too!

I am in solid like with the Delta, maybe on my way to love. If it wrote me a note asking me to prom, I'd for sure check yes though.

And, not because she requested it, but because I truly miss her and all of lovely witticisms and general outlook on life...LYNN I missssss youuuuuuu and I hope new apt. and YPFP are treating you well!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Institute, check. Orientation part I,

Well, i'll keep this one short because I am tired and still trying to give my body the rest it needs to i can be at my best for when the official start to the school year comes in a few weeks!

1) I am going to be a proud English teacher for Marvell (in Marvell, Arkansas) Public's 7th and 8th graders this year.
2) I live at 5225 Moon Lake Road, Dundee, Mississippi 38626 (pretty sure that's the correct zip code...still getting used to it)
3) I survived institute (and 2 days of fairly moderately paced orientation to my specific content of teaching )and have of this morning that those 5 weeks changed me for the better and quite dramatically.

i "survived" because the schedule remained as i previously described for all 5 weeks of summer training institute. i did, however, manage to learn a great deal about TFA, the job I've signed up for, and myself as a person and a professional.

I am proud that i did well, but i am dismayed by my failures as well. My 6th grade class this summer did really well overall and made tremendous gains in their education 5 out of our 16 students met their ambitious reading goals and a few more than that made their math goals too! I am very proud of these students they are representations of my hard work paying off. To the same token, I feel dismayed and frustrated because not all my students made their goals. They made growth, which is comforting, but I cannot help but still focus on how i could have done better by them. In the end, what's done is done, and I will take the lessons and memories of this extremely difficult summer with me as i move into my year long placement at Marvell public this fall semester.

Pictures of the moon barn (my house is really a barn that has been remodeled for human living!) very soon. Pictures of the classroom soon too, hopefully!

Now?...well, now I prep for my room with big goals, long term plans, a first unit plan and assessment, and general class room poster making..lesson planning, etc etc. ahh the life of a first year teacher. I'm lucky to have the lake and a kayak to de-stress with from time to time.

Next post...hopefully in a week or so, will be on the Delta itself and my growing affection for this region. This proud New Englander still surprises herself sometimes at how much she likes it here and how well she does just about anywhere once she finds a few quality people! :0

PS- JENNI I misssssss youuuuu!!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Tentative...means tentative, but doesn't mean I can't be excited about possibilities!!

I am currently tentatively placed in Marvell, Arkansas as an upper middle school reading teacher. The entire school district is 1000 kids from tiny tots to high school. I am so excited just to be placed, but also at the idea of being in a place where I can make huge ripples...if not a splash in the water.

Google it. I'll update soon. For now, simply join me in the fun daydream musings of what could lie ahead for me! :)