I have come into this semester feeling like I am in a whole different ball game. Having the last three weeks off to be able to rest, think about last semester, rest, separate myself from my classroom to gain a clear head about what needs to happen to make it a better space. This past week since I’ve been back I’ve been working at school 12 hour days, but I feel like it is paying off. I have a lot of plans in the works to be able to give my students responsibility over their own learning.
One of the things we are going to be starting this semester is afterschool tutoring for all those kids who failed their state test last year, which is all of my students. Tutoring is three days a week and today we had our first day. When I saw the list of who had signed up I immediately looked for the names of my students. I saw one of my students who is somewhat of a behavior problem, yet came the closest to passing their OCCT progress test, or benchmark, last month.
When I walked into F-110 at beginning of the year, I encountered many students who I would grow to love and also to know. One of these students was Morgan. When we started, I could never get Morgan to do her work. She would put her head down in class and often fall asleep. There were days when I would make her stand the entire class just to keep her awake. Even when she was awake, I still had to fight her to do her work. She was often out of my class at the beginning of the day because she would sleep through it. I tried calling her at home to wake her up and make sure she would make it on time, but even then her phone became disconnected. Most days were a fight to get her to be on-task, doing her work, or not talking to those around her.
These past two weeks though, something happened. I moved Morgan to the front of the room away from distractions. I would stand in front of her to make sure she was following along and taking notes. As our days went on with this behavior, she began calling me over shyly to ask me if her answer was correct, as many remedial students do since they are not confident in their math abilities. Day after day she began getting correct answers. Her hand started raising more in class. One day after class I asked her if I could call home and tell her Aunt what a great job she had been doing. That number that had been previously disconnected, well that suddenly became a working cell phone, one that I could call and praise her great work.
These next two weeks, the school has fall intercession. The first three days are enrichment for students who typically score in the middle, and can be pushed further. Morgan was one of these students on her fall standards test. I was surprised when I saw her there, but after checking those feelings, realized how excited I was that she had come to learn during break. The last hour of the day, I had her in my small class of 9 students. As soon as she came in, she went to my chalkboard to the side of the room and started drawing. Since I needed her to sit in a seat and start on an assignment, before she could really even write anything, I shoed her away and to the activity on the board, which was creating a name tag about yourself. As the class went on, she was one of the students working the hardest on the assignment, and working with the girls in her group, after she reluctantly moved away from her friends into this new group for an activity that needed equal numbers of students per group. We finished a couple minutes early where many students talked with their friends before they had to leave to catch the bus for the day and I began to say my Goodbyes and See You Tomorrows at the door to parting students. When I went back into my classroom, I found this drawing on my chalkboard. ”Love you Ms. Urban - Morgan” I saw beautiful show of affection and was touched, thinking back to my history with Morgan, how far we have come, and how far I hope we can go as the year goes on, its moments like this when I think, this is why I teach.
Everyone always says the first couple weeks of school are the most challenging, especially of your first year. For me, the most challenging part has been wanting to do more for my kids and not knowing how to do that. This past month I’ve started to learn more about my students home lives and the ways in which they face poverty everyday when they leave our building and go home. For some of them, they purposely avoid going home in any way possible, including staying after school for extra tutoring. A couple weeks ago, one of my kindest students who often stays after school with me hung out after the final bell, as was his normal ritual. Despite being one of my lower students who typically has a hard time focusing and understanding, he will always willing do math whenever I ask him to and is often there after school. After we had finished doing review for a quiz we would be having the next day, he sat down and asked me for something to eat as he usually does. He started mentioning a little bit about his family so I asked him what his deal was at home. He began to tell him about the night his brother died leaving a young son, my student’s nephew. He then told me how it was going to be his brothers birthday the following week, so he wouldnt be there that day, as he was going to go visit his nephew, but not to worry because he’d get the work aftter school. He then began to tell him about how right after his brother died, his mother moved out leaving only his dad and his sister behind. “they both left at the same time,” he said as he began to cry while sitting on top of the table in the back of my classroom. I’ve always been able to help people in crises or to calm them down when they are upset, but in this moment I felt absolutely lost. I had no idea what I could do to comfort this student. I wanted to say it’s going to be all ok and that it is all going to work out, however there was nothing I could do to help his troubles at home, besides the gold fish I was already feeding him after school. I walked him out of the school building asking him superficial questions about his birthday, ignoring how uncomfortable it made me there was nothing I could do to fix things for him. Since this day, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I could help my students. Every day it seems I learn a new thing about my students home life. Just last week, I was told the girl who often falls asleep in my class ran away from home. When you learn this about your students, it can often make you want to let them put their heads down or lower your expectations in other ways, but I know that this education is the only thing that is going to change the situation they’re in. “Math is life,” someone said last week. With math you can be independent and live on your own, being able to support yourself. I think about how if no one had pushed me in school or lowered what I was expected to do because I had things going on, would I have turned out the way I am? I love these kids and I can’t let them down. They need a good education and I can’t stop, won’t stop until they get it. My kids don’t deserve to have another person let them down. Enough people have left them, the only thing I want to leave for them is a life changing education.
When I first started with Teach For America, the idea of a blog felt strange to me. It felt like I was going to be documenting some life in a foreign land, when I knew for many of the families and students I work with, what may be foreign to me is their everyday life. Now that I’ve started teaching, I think it’s important to have a blog because I want to share how amazing and inspiring my kids are, with the hopes that everyone back home will fall in love with them, just like I have.
I work at Webster Middle School which is 89% Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP). The demographics are about 42% Hispanic, 29% Black, 20% White, and 6% American Indian. I love my school for the racial diversity it has, however it makes it more difficult to learn how to best culturally serve the needs of your students, because there are so many different cultures packed into one little school. At Webster, I teach 8th Grade math. I teach entirely remediation and not one of my students passed the Oklahoma state test last year. Let’s just say our work is cut out for us.
At my school there are 3 other TFA teachers, all in the 8th grade. This is the first year we’ve been placed in Oklahoma City, so it’s a new year. A lot of time both us and staff are learning the ropes, but it’s been a fun experience so far. There have been lots of experienced teachers always willing to help us out at our schools.
Everyday my students amaze me. I think at this point, they’re teaching me more than I am teaching them. I’ve learned how to be calm when I’ve wanted to explode. I’ve learned how to let the little things go so we can work on the big things that matter. I’ve learned how a hug can go a long long way. I also learned how much these kids just want to be loved. I feel like half of my job is teaching. The other half is just showing that I care for them, especially with remedial math, where kids haven’t always had the best experience with math classes in the past, the first step has been getting them not to hate being in class and to trust me so we can move forward with our instruction.
The best day I’ve had so far happened two weeks ago. I gave my students a homework packet for the week. I decided I would give a weekly packet so students who work, go home and babysit, or just have other things that come up could have a break if they couldn’t get their homework done for the next day. When I explained this and handed it out, I asked if there were any questions. There was a pause and about 10 seconds later I heard, “Ms. Urban you’re so nice.” I was confused seeing as I had just given out 10 pages of homework, but I said Thank You. Then one of my shyest, quietest students said, “Yeah Ms. Urban. You get us.” It may have just been acknowledging that I knew they had other things going on outside of school, and maybe other teachers hadn’t done that before, but I think this was the moment I really started to love my students. And realize that I needed to do anything it takes to get them to do well in 8th grade math so they can have opportunities like taking high level math courses in high school and even college. We’ve got a Long Haul ahead, but I know it will take us great places.
For the past two weeks now, I’ve begun my journey with Teach For America. There has been a ton of information and finally, after two long weeks, I will be stepping foot in the classroom on Monday and become Ms. Urban.
Last week, we had induction in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I met with all the other Corps members from both cities. We mostly talked about the Teach For America core values and the staggering numbers of the achievement gap in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, they rank 48th in the country in terms of their public education. Their state tests standards are significantly lower than the national assessments. This year will be the first year that myself and the other corps members will be in Oklahoma City. Also while we were in Oklahoma City, we did a community service project and while I was there, I got my picture in the Oklahomian, the OKC newspaper.
After Oklahoma City, we headed to Phoenix, AZ where I am now located for Institute. I think the best way to describe it is ‘Teaching Boot Camp’. Each day I wake up at 5:30AM and maybe have a cumulative hour of free time when I am not in sessions or doing work for the following day. Luckily being overextended in college taught me how to handle this sort of workload, so as of now, I feel like I’m faring fine. We’ve been learning a lot about learning theories, planning objectives and lessons, classroom management and how to invest your students in academic achievement. It’s been really informative, but I’m really ready to put it into action.
The people here are great. There are so many people from all over the country. Today when I was waiting in line for stir fry, I randomly started talking with the person ahead of me and it turned out they also went to UMass! We’re everywhere! I especially love the people who will be living in Oklahoma City with me next year. Since we’re the first corps, we’re really going to have to help each other navigate the city and school system and help each other overcome the learning curve.
So on Monday begins the