Saturday, June 26, 2010

I'm a teacher....say whaaat?!

OK, so today is Saturday June 26, 2010...I feel like it is Saturday, June 26, 2020. The reason for this is simply due to the sheer amount of WORK (yes in all caps) that I have done this week. I am not going to complain...although i have been guilty of this in the wee hours of the morning (thanks to Jane Wu for being a champ and laughing at me so i know to check myself about what is important and the reason why I am up in the first place) but I am going to inform.

Last week, we all had the same schedule...minus the actual children/students. The addition of real students this week makes everything all the more stressful and all the more rewarding. I stress out because I know that my actions, preparedness, and mood will all directly affect each everyone on of them. I want to be the best teacher-ashley I can be for them, so i stress more than I would normally when just turning in work that is about nameless, faceless students. Its a similar feeling to hearing about a disaster on the news, and then, you happen to drive by the disaster or see it from an airplane...and your heart sinks so deep that you think your other organs will never be able to push it back up to where it belongs again. That is how seeing scores, hearing about previous experiences with "regular" (simply meaning the teachers students have during the year) teachers, and learning about what life is for my students outside the classroom felt for the first few days.

I get up every morning a 4:45. Toss on some pre-laid out professional clothes, grab a bagel, pack a lunch, and find a seat on the bus for an hour long drive to Greenville -Weston High school in Greenville, MS. I get off the bus and I am running (maybe not always physically) all day. After signing in for the day I re-read my lesson plan, think about execution, help my collab (partner in crime...and the classroom set up for her lesson and to clean off desks from the afternoon before, or I'll grade some assessments from my lesson the day before and enter them in the tracker. Then off to a TFA session to learn about lesson planning / classroom management / how to invest students and parents / how to balance it all / how to interact with students so you know if they are learning...kind if a huge reason we are all here! and many other things. 45 minutes of "flex time" is used by to re-read my lesson and walk through it in my head, then I use the rest room because it is go time come 9:45...I do not stop until 1pm. I've shared this because it is so important to me. haha. 9:45 I head to my classroom and my collab and I share an hour of instructional time with our class to focus on math (what i teach currently, last 2 weeks i teach reading!) and reading areas that are weak and need attention.

Pause: I'm teaching 6th grade students...about 18 of them. First 2 weeks = math, next 2 weeks = reading and word study. Just realized that was not make clear. Apologies.

Resume: After this hour....I'm the all-star and it's math time. 45 minutes of lesson, lunch, 45 minutes of lesson. Dismissal at 1pm. then two more TFA sessions. bus leaves at 4:15 ...return to greenville for 5:30. Eat, change, pack, head to student union for remainder of night (unless there is another TFA session...usually on literacy and/or how to administer a diagnostic test). I finalize the lesson for the next day and write a draft or two or three (depending on what is due) for 3-4 days ahead. Then I write up an assessment for the next day's lesson, a worksheet, some guided notes. (Print lab and copy center = more valuable than gold and influence, closes at 12pm sharp) so I race the clock to get this all done at 11:40 so i can get in line early enough to make it in to either resource room by midnight. I head back to the cave...shower...set an alarm...pass out hopefully by 1am. Up again at 4:45am the next "day".

I've shared this ridiculous outline of a A SINGLE day so that 1) you would all know that I am not slighting any of you by not texting, calling, emailing etc etc. I literally have barely enough time to make sure i eat every day. I am not complaining though...just informing.

In fact, I probably won't ever complain and it is all because of this "aha" moment that I had Friday morning. I was grading the assessments from Thursday's math lesson and my class had about 70 % mastery of the objectives. My lesson on Tuesday was around 40% (that might be too generous to myself). My heart swelled with pride and with joy. Pride for my students who were learning and showing themselves that they can be successful and joy at the fact that I actually am able to shape another human being for the better. I might not reach all of my extremely high goals for myself this summer, but I will feel successful as more and more students master new math objectives. I am learning here. I am making a difference in lives...lives i get to learn about... be a part of... and will hope with all of my being will be successful in the their upcoming school year thanks to the leaps they made this summer.

In sum, I am seeing and feeling a sliver of the impact that TFA teachers make across our great country everyday and I am honored, privileged, and stoked to be a part of something HUGE!!

Before I part, 2 tidbits of happiness to share:

1) Friday my students were on task (as they almost always collab and I made it clear that we are not to be messed with...but we are there for hard work..and play if and only if the work gets done and done well!) but, they are always so focused that the TFA staff requested permission to tape them working and my collab and myself managing them and working during the hour we spend together everyday! I got goosebumps...I was so proud of myself, my collab, and my students for getting beyond the hard part of new faces coming together and learning about each other in our first week, and just getting down to the nitty gritty and churning out some work!

ps - they were even more amazing during the taping!

2) After the taping, a few girls were asked about their experience in our class so far and about what some of the rules and inspirational stuff we had up was all about. Of all that they shared, this quote hit me the most and was actually posted by my higher-up for all to see, "I like my teachers more than my regular teachers during the school year. I'm learning a lot and they make me feel like it is OK to get things wrong and to ask questions." Go ahead and try to tell me that wouldn't melt your heart all over the place, too.

I still don't know if teaching as a life-long career path will be it for me, but i do know now that I only feel alive when I am making a difference and helping others better themselves while they force me to better myself. I will certainly find a path that allows me to work hard, make a difference for others, and brings me this "alive" feeling every single day.

A rising tide raises all ships.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm starting to understand this place / Catfish Fry!

Last night the entire TFA Delta Corps was invited to attend a Catfish Fry in the community of Greenville (30 minute drive south from Cleveland/ DSU) right on the bank of the Mississippi River. The "fry" was a welcome and a celebration in our honor, as well as a way for us to celebrate and learn a bit more about another area of the Delta via some native cuisine, conversation with some locals, and simply taking in the new surroundings.

From the very moment I stepped out of the car, I was melting...literally. The heat index was somewhere around the high 90s WITH humidity. Everyone, including myself, sucked it up found some shade and put a smile on because this event was truly a warm welcome with the best of intentions despite the sweltering outdoor venue. I grabbed an ice cold soda and a few strips of catfish dabbed with some hot sauce and lemon juice, some coleslaw (or just "slaw"), and a scoop of southern-style baked beans. As I was eating the spicy tangy, salty fried catfish in alternating bites with the barely still cool coleslaw, it hit me. This is just one of the many reasons Southern folks relly do like to take things slowly. I wanted to savor every bite of that soul food. Flavors were intense, but subtle, but new, and somehow familiar. It all just made sense in that moment. Sitting with the river nearly 50 feet way, the sun scorching down, the blues band playing a steady rhythm to match the mood f all in attendance, and a slight breeze offering a little relief I found myself in an almost euphoric state. I was so happy in the purest sense of that word--happy--while having that experience. I felt no need to rush to the next thing on my to-do list. I felt no pressure to call, text, email etc. anyone. I felt no pressure at all. Perhaps, in the few hours that I was able to truly let go of my typical frenetically paced self, I was able to feel a bit of the heartbeat of the South and what makes the Delta captivating to so many people.

I still love the upper northeast. I miss NY and NH everyday. However, I just may let myself love the Delta too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The "firsts" so far... address for all who have requested.

Ashley L. Poulin / Corps Member
c/o Teach For America (Mississippi Delta)
Delta State University
Box B4
1003 West Sunflower Road
Cleveland, MS 38733


First impression while driving (with Dad for 24+ hours over 2 days - thank you by the way so much for not letting me do that alone!!) into the Delta Region:

**quickly...The "Delta" is actually the region that surrounds the Mississippi river in the northwest of Mississippi AND the northeast of Arkansas because the river serves as the political/geographical border between the two states. The region itself is about 200 miles in radius, but is very small and tightly knit as any other small rural town would be despite the great distances between villages and towns.***

Ok, so back to focusing. The Delta is GORGEOUS. Lush green fields of rice, cotton, and corn cover every inch of land for miles and miles and a few trees break up the bright green monotony. I am not used to such flat land at all; life in NH, 3 years in Syracuse; and a semester in Florence / DC were not flat at I feel lazy walking everywhere. My calf muscles are already taking a hit from the lack of grade in the landscape. Cleveland, the "city"and DSU (Delta State University, the school that i am staying at while I'm training all summer) are sweet, small, hot as can be and populated with some of the most incredibly warm people I have ever met in my life. I think some of the local southern hospitality is rubbing off on myself and other Corps Members because my fellow TFA teachers have all been very warm, out-going, and friendly.

First Impressions of TFA Staff, '09 CMs and other new CMs:

I was joking the first few hours, while unpacking, that I felt like a college freshman all over again I'm living in a open-double...I am expected to eat at scheduled dining hall hours and I have been repeating the same "Hi, I'm Ashley. I'm from NH. Yes, it was a long drive. I went to Syracuse University in Upstate New York. I studied History and International Relations. I am going to be teaching High School English. How about you? *insert gasp for breath*" over and over again. After dinner last night and breakfast this morning, I have discovered something that is already changing my take on this whole induction/institute training thing I am partaking in this summer. I am now surrounded by people who are VERY similar to me. (Those of you who know me better than others, hold your tongues and let me finish explaining!) For probably the first and only time in my life, I am surround by people my age that all want to be here, are highly motivated, intelligent, and out-going leaders who are interested in "an opportunity of a life time to give back, learn a lot about a new place and make an impact where they're really needed. We all feel as though we've known each other for a lifetime and it has barely been 24 hours since everyone first arrived.

Also...roommate = awesome and super relaxed personality. We are going to do quite well together. :D Her name is Meghan...just in case I reference her with out putting her into context later or in another post.

First impressions of the process andTFA on a national scale:

By "the process," I simply mean the summer and how it is going to go. I am most impressed with the precise organization of the staff and the constant feedback that is sought from us after each session for the betterment of the following generation of incoming CMs. I do not feel lost, like just a number (there are 300 of us now...Monday another 500 or so arrive from other regions just for training), and I am really enjoying the fact that there is always something to be doing...even if that is recovering from a 6:30am wake-up call from mr. smell phone alarm clock.

TFA, on a national scale, is what we were educated on...and more interestingly and importantly, how we each fit into the broad mission and goals of the organization. To keep this part short and concise, I will simply say that TFA is working ona revolution of change. The "achievement gap" that exists in this country needs to be fixed and is going to be fixed. I give it 10-15 years max and the American public school system will finally be competing on par with the Far Eastern and European models of K-12 education. I am proud to be a part of lifting our country's standards and citizens up to these high standards. Here, as a TFA CM, I feel as though I am investing in my fellow citizens for a better nation, a richer culture, and a prouder people.

All in all, I am as happy as a daisy in the sun here. I am meeting excellent people. I am melting away slowly in the heat, but sticking it out for my first ever green winter. I am going to make a difference and I can feel it already. Ho fuoco nelle mie viene is an Italian saying that translates to I have fire in my veins. More than ever this statement holds to true to the fire in my belly after today, as well as the kind of teacher and person I am going to develop within myself to be the best CM I can possibly with fire, poise, passion and drive. I am so excited. Bring it on Mississippi Delta.

Bring. It. On!!

Also... I am developing a professional career, so please bear in mind that it is entirely possible that a future principal, or fellow teacher, or TFA staff member will find this and read this, so please comment with respect. :) Thanks and love!