Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 23 2007

I’m officially a teacher, isn’t that weird

Background info: I’ll be teaching middle school special ed in East Point, GA starting in August but right now, I’m teaching 8th grade math at summer school in Atlanta Public Schools as part of the TFA Institute. Our schedule is: eat at 6am, leave for school on the bus at 6:25am, teach and learn at school until 4:20pm. We get back to Georgia Tech’s campus at about 5pm. In the evening, we sometimes have workshops and we always have lesson planning to do on our own. I’ve actually been pretty good about getting to sleep at a reasonable hour but I have friends who sleep maybe 1.5 hours on average per night. It’s a crazy hectic life, thank god it’s only 5 weeks becuase I don’t think I could do this much longer than that. Nonetheless, while it’s hectic, I like waking up early with a full day and a purpose ahead of me.
At the school, I’m working in a collab (collaborative group) of 4 brand spankin new teachers. We all work together to plan our calendars and our 1st period (math/lit hour, when we’re all in there, working in small groups). The rest of the day, each one of us teaches a 45 minute lesson alone. Our class is made up of 12 students who failed the state test required to enter high school and are in summer school so that they can pass it next month. So basically, here’s how it breaks down:
the 4 of us are learning 1-2 years’ worth of teacher’s ed in 5 weeks, and
we are teaching these 12 students 1 year’s (or more) worth of math in 4 weeks….

June 23, 2007
So, I am now 2 weeks into Institute and 1 week into actual teaching. I know it’s only been 5 days in the classroom but it’s already been a big rollercoaster. First of all, last week we got our student’s diagnostic scores (which ranged from 33% – 56%) and we observed for about 40 minutes in the classroom we would be teaching in (40 minutes during which several students slept, stared off into space, poked each other, and seemed to not do anything school-related). We all went in on the morning of Day 1, ready to introduce them to our big goal of passing the CRCT (the Georgia state test that 8th graders have to pass in order to begin high school) and being ready to succeed in high school, as well as classroom rules and consequences and procedures. The students listened but when we finished our schpeal, they were like “man, we ain’t in kindergarten,” because we were giving them such specific procedures and whatnot to follow. To say the least, I think we were setting them up in a way that they weren’t necessarily used to in school. After that first period when we were all in there, I had about 45 minutes to prep before delivering my first real live lesson, on number subsets (integer, natural numbers, whole numbers, rational numbers, and irrational numbers). I felt totally fine as I got ready, but then when I walked into the classroom, I got super nervous and shaky. I don’t know what it is about me but whenever I do something big, like move to another country or jump out of a plane, or decide to teach with pretty much no preparation, it doesn’t hit me until I’m in the middle of it. So with this, I tried to get pumped up and ready to knock em out, but then I got in there and was like “ummm”. I do think that it went fine, for my first day. I got my points across, I followed my plan (for the most part), and at least some of the kids were involved. Anyway, after that first day, when we got back to GA Tech, all of the staff from Institute was there to cheer us on, give us popsicles and t-shirts and play us music… all to congratulate us on finishing our first day. As I was walking to get my shirt, someone next to me was like “yeah, one day down… 2 years to go,” and I got feeling overwhelmed… wondering, am I cut out for this? If I can’t assert myself in front of 12 students for 45 minutes in one day, how can I do this with twice that for 6-7 hours a day for 2 years?

Needless to say, when I went in on Tuesday, I felt way more confident and prepared and I think that I did a lot better, but still obviously not perfect. Wednesday and Thursday also went pretty well… I incorporated some more fun activities into my lessons and while they meant that the kids got a little rowdier, they seemed to enjoy the games and actually learn some stuff. Friday, however, I was not well prepared with my lesson, I tried to fit too much in, and the kids were off the wall (maybe because we gave them donuts with their pop quizzes first thing in the am, hmm…). Anyway, I left feeling not so hot, but also feeling like “okay, I can control this, I just need to be better prepared and more assured of my self.”

I mean, when it comes down to it, yes, this is training for me, but this isn’t training for the kids. These are real live people who are depending on us to equip them with the tools to pass this test and progress to the next grade level. Some of them are wise kids, some of them have serious attitude, but some of them are really determined to learn and, in just a few short days, have progressed tremendously! A is quiet but she really gets it and that’s so exciting to see. P has quickly becoming a really active participant in the classroom and she rocked the pop quiz we gave them yesterday. T is super quiet but he’s a hard worker. J2 gets it when she thinks about it but she is really quick to jump the gun on math problems instead of pause and think through it. She really wants to ace the final test but she has outright admitted to me “man, I need to be pushed.” I told her that I’ll push her. D seems to have some big literacy issues that she needs to overcome to be able to even decode word problems but she won’t admit it and she covers it up with a vicious attitude. And then there’s J1 … is smart and has a lot of potential but has so much trouble focusing. He has been in and out of juvie over the past few years and has dealt with some crazy ish at home. At lunch, he sits next to me and tells me about “the beef” he has with the gangs in East Point (where I’ll be working this coming year). However, he also has big goals for himself. He got a 33% on the diagnostic but he wants to get 99% on the final test, and he has asked that we give him extra homework to help him get there (although he doesn’t always finish his regular homework…). So overall, we’ve got good kids who just need some structure and a push.

So the days are going by pretty fast and I think that this will be a great experience… a trying one, but a good one. I know that I’ll learn a lot and hopefully will be ready to get started as a real-live, full-time teacher in August. I’m sure I’ll have some break downs… I’ve seen a ton of breakdowns around me already, and more than a couple of people have thrown in the towel, but I’m determined to make it through!

7 Responses

  1. sis-in-law

    Thanks for the update, Casey! Look forward to learning about your students’ progress through this blog… what a great way to record your experience! xoxo

  2. mom

    we’re rooting for each of your students in preparing to re-take the CRCT! those little successes in week-1 are big building blocks for your teaching career – good work, Miss Lamb! xoxo

  3. Sandra Shaw

    You go girl! Thank you for the great update. Sounds like you are doing fine. I know from my own teaching experience that it is always an adventure and can be emotionally draining at times but the reward of seeing the students succeed is just an awesome feeling. Thank you for sharing! Love you and miss you. Sandra

  4. Dad

    Your short descriptions of your students show so much wisdom, heart, understanding, patience and passion! To be known like that by you is to have an opening on the way one’s life can unfold in a positive direction.

  5. bro

    Great work, Casey! These kids are fortunate to have you in their lives, helping them to achieve their goals and advance to high school. Sounds like you are taking the steps necessary to connect with your students and instill in them your passion for learning. You are the best!

  6. Kathryn Dietz

    Hi Casey Love! Those kids are lucky and so are YOU, getting such an unprecedented education! I identify with your comment about panicking once you’re in the midst of something — like, “yikes, i’m talking and they’re listening, yikes!” I completely trust that you’ve got the compassion, humor, smarts and patience to succeed there, just take it easy and try to eat well and sleep enough. I keep thinking of the “Dangerous Minds” movie and wishing that you had a secret like that you’re an ex-Marine, some kind of trump card to pull out when needed. I guess your trump will be that… you’re YOU! And we all back you up 100%.
    Keep us posted!

  7. Taylor

    Hey Babe! Sounds like TFA will be one of those infamous “learning experiences” that’s code for ” this is hard as heck – why do I do this to myself?!” but you sound like you’re doing awesome! Keep your confidence up – if there’s anyone who can tackle a classroom full of glossy-eyed, needing-to-be-pushed kids, it’s you!

    I miss you!

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teaching like a long-star

Metro Atlanta
Middle School
Social Studies

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