Institute

Break down/through

I do not cry. OK- clarification. I do not cry in front of other people. I cry alone. I hide in bathrooms, bedrooms, and hallways, and I sob. I did not cry while saying goodbye to my friends at GW. I cried after, when I was out the door and safe in the confines of the hotel bathroom. If I’m crying in front of someone else, it’s probably because I’ve been sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted (hello, recruitment), or I’m with the people who I hold closest to my heart, and will continue to be related to and therefore required to talk to me even after witnessing my ugly cry (thx, Katie). I’ve cried at institute, duh. Alone. In the bathroom.

Except. So. I had to read this post, my reflection on my institute experience, to my CMA group. 10 fellow math teachers, and 10 of my favorite people I met at institute. It was totally casual. Us just sitting in a circle of desks sharing our reflections. We were supposed to write down our thoughts first, but most people didn’t, so they just talked off the cuff. I had written something, but if I try to just talk I ramble, so I read that post. Totes cas. It was just a lil’ something I had cranked out during a session the other day. It had classic rabram sassy quips interspersed so that it wouldn’t seem too emotional. It was very matter of fact. Just the truth of how I was feeling. I did not expect to cry halfway though. I did not expect to keep crying though the rest of it.

When I say I did not expect to cry, I mean like beforehand I would have said that there’s a better chance of a pig flying through the classroom window than of me breaking down in front of a group of people who I only sorta knew.

Except I lost it y’all. I had no idea what to do! I’m sitting there trying to read but my voice is cracking and high and squeaky and I’m just like what on earth do I do now?? It all went downhill when I had to say out loud, “…but I can’t do that.” My heart broke in that moment and I immediately felt myself choking up. “Just keep reading, Rach. You have another minute left. Keep. It. Together.” OH I did everything except keep it together. I started bawling. And then I tried to keep reading and it was this painful squeaking sound and I could only focus on the words on the screen and GOLLY I was practically having an emotional break down in front of a group of relative strangers.

BUT alas. There I was. Sitting in a public school in the middle of the ATL sobbing my heart out to a bunch of friends I had made four weeks earlier. HOW THINGS CHANGE.

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Institute

Hotlanta

We played a game in class this week. I attempted some sort of version of Cranium but with math. I split them up into four teams. I let them pick their team name.

“Okay, guys- I’m going to go around the room and you’re going to tell me your team name. Got it? Group one…”

“Diamonds of Atlanta”

“OK- group two?”

“Blue Flame”

“Alright- group three?”

“Ms. Abram…you know those are all strip clubs, right?”

“OKAY CLASS NOT COOL EVERYONE PICK AN ANIMAL INSTEAD”

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Institute

The Head and the Heart

My institute experience has been a battle between my head and my heart. What I know, and what I feel. I know I need to narrate two seconds after giving MVP instructions. I feel like that’s stupid. I know my students can meet my highest expectations. I feel bad punishing them until they meet them. I know I need to move on from college. I don’t feel like it.

How do I take what I know, and what I feel, and somehow combine them and turn that into actions that most effectively better my students lives/the world?

I knew I was going to have students with harder lives that I could imagine. I’ve been told that, over and over. My head knew it. I could recite the numerous challenges I knew I was going to face at institute. My heart, however, was unprepared. I’m super sheltered and maybe somewhat optimistic at the core. I didn’t really believe that I would have students that faced overwhelming challenges – I couldn’t fathom the idea that those challenges actually existed in the world, and that there were children who woke up to them everyday. The harsh world was something crafted in movies and news stories…it didn’t really exist. Fun fact: it does.

There is a couple split between my Coordinate Algebra B class and the Coordinate Algebra B class next door. Sally and Samuel. I’ve changed their names because apparently that’s what we do over here at TFA. They are 16/17 years old, taking this class as one of their final requirements for graduation. They “should” have passed the class back in their freshmen year, but clearly that didn’t happen. It might be because Samuel can’t read. It might be because Sally gets overwhelmed in the large classroom setting and needs 1:1 instruction after class to understand the material. Maybe it’s because Samuel doesn’t really get addition. Or maybe it’s that Sally struggles to add negative numbers. Who knows. These are my students – these are our students. They are the future of our country. Presently speaking, they also share a three year old son and a few days ago Samuel was arrested.

I like to think that I’ll be the one to put the stop in the cycle of poverty for my students. I’ll help them defeat the perpetual path that swallows American youth growing up in low income communities. I look at my students and I see their future – and I want to change it. I want MY KIDS to be the Ivy League students that the bratty spoiled white girls (like me) are bitter about getting into Harvard when they were rejected (personally it was Tufts but alas). I want Sally and Samuel to go to Harvard next year. I want to take care of their child for them for four years so they can go have that college experience that I adored. I want them to have every opportunity possible. But I can’t do that. I’m leaving today. I’ll never see them again. I can let them know how much I love and care about them, and help them believe that the sky is the limit, but I’m leaving. My ability to have an impact on their lives exponentially decreased over the past 24 hours.

I feel like I need to save the world. I know I can’t. I know I need to focus on the little wins, the little problems, the handful of students I do have, not the thousands and thousands that I don’t have. I still feel like the whole world is sitting on my shoulders.

I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I know I have a better grasp on this whole teaching thing than I did a month ago.

I know I’m going to cry when I say goodbye. They’re the least academically gifted, most obstinate, most talkative bunch of kids I’ve ever met, and I adore them with all of my heart. We have a love/hate relationship. A few of them probably think I’m “doing too much.” I don’t care. I want to do more! I want to stay. I can’t stay. I don’t want to say goodbye to another place, another community, another home that existed in the finite time and place that is Atlanta Institute 2014.

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Institute

Jargon

How TFA works: anyone with a bachelor’s degree, a 2.5 GPA, and US citizenship can apply to teach anything from ECE to ESL to calculus for two years in one of 48 low income regions across the county. TFA’s mission is to ensure that every child has the opportunity to receive an equally excellent education. The expectation is that after I finish my two years I’ll move into whatever field interests me to fight on behalf of my students.

In preparation, and because TFA doesn’t require an education background, all corps members (CMs) spend 5-6 weeks in intense training the summer before you head into the classroom. You spend one week at induction in your region getting to know everyone in your corps, then together you all travel to institute. Your first week at institute is all training, but weeks 2-5 are a combination of teaching in the morning and training in the afternoon. I’m at Atlanta Institute, which is based at Georgia Tech. We live in dorms and eat in the dining hall. It’s weird. ATL hosts the South Carolina, Greater New Orleans, Southwest Ohio, and Metro Atlanta corps. Atlanta is handled separately, but SC, GNO, and SWO are all intermingled. We teach at 11 different low-performing schools across Atlanta. There’s 50 CMs at my high school, and there we’re split into four CMA (corps member advisor) groups based on content area. I’m with 9 other secondary math teachers. Within that group of 10, we’re split into pairs (called collabs) to team-teach a class for the summer. Everyday, I teach our one lesson, followed by my collab who teaches another lesson. While she teaches, I support teach by checking students understanding of material and passing out papers and such. When we aren’t teaching, the four CMA groups (math, science, social studies and ELA which stands for English language arts) come together for big group sessions about teaching. These are usually led by our CS (curriculum specialist), but sometimes we have an LS (literacy specialist) speak. Every morning starts with a pep talk from our SD (school director). Sometimes a CMA will lead a DCA (diversity, community, and achievement) session. All of these acronyms are people who are TFA alumni, hired by TFA to work at institute for the summer.

I hope this clarifies my life here a little maybe???

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Institute

Good Days

Sometimes there are days where your lesson plan explodes in your face. You set up this great worksheet for your kids to explore the lesson on their own, and so they figure out the key points of the material without your help. Then, five minutes into the activity, no one understands the material and you find yourself running around like a chicken with your head cut off explaining to every other student how to calculate a dilation.

On days like these, which like obviously totally never happen to me, you have to focus on the positive in order to move forward.

I have this brilliant student who always finishes her work 10 minutes before the rest of the class. She spends those extra ten minutes bugging her neighbor and disrupting the class. I don’t understand why she’s in summer school or how she failed the class the first time, but she’s a gem I can always count on to have the right answer. She’s taking the ACT in September. She’s nervous. Today I brought in a few ACT math prep worksheets for her to try once she finished her work, hoping this would keep her focused and allow her neighbors to compete the class work at their own pace. She got stuck on the first problem on the worksheet, but kept working at it until she got the right answer. After class let out, she stayed for an extra few minutes to show me the problem.

“Look Ms. Abram! I solved it! I figured it out all by myself! I’m good at math. I’m good at math!! I’m going to major in math when I get to college.”

Day. Made.

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