Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 24 2011

Wings like eagles

Conversation while walking to the cafeteria
M.: “I want to go to St. John’s or Harvard Law School.”
Me: “Hmm, why Harvard?”
M.: “Because the smartest people go to Harvard.”
Me: “Did you know that Yale has the best law school in the country?”
M.: “No, you’re just biased.”

(Disclaimer: I admit that I am biased, and I would be happy wherever M. goes to law school. Or college, for that matter. But that doesn’t mean I won’t stand up for my alma mater.)

In other news, week four has been quite eventful, even by Institute standards. On Monday, I attended a workshop called “Math Doesn’t Have To Be Boring!” (with somewhat low expectations, admittedly) and was blown away. The 1.5-hour workshop consisted of a brief intro followed by 10-12 simple and concrete strategies for guided practice, independent practice, and review, as well as their benefits and potential pitfalls. I used one such strategy (“Drive Mr. K off a cliff!”)┬áto reteach an objective on Thursday, and the kids ate it up. There were cries of “Mr. K, you’re going down,” and for the first time all summer, students seemed disappointed when they got questions wrong. Plus, they averaged 92% on their exit slips, so it wasn’t just all fun and games. Hooray for student investment!

My collab and I finished teaching the ISAT (“Institute Student Achievement Toolkit,” oh TFA acronyms) objectives on Wednesday, and according to exit slip data, all of my students have met or exceeded their individual growth goals. We can’t celebrate quite yet, since they still need to do well on the final next Thursday, but I’m so proud of all of them–from K., who scored a 35% on his diagnostic exam but now has a 91% average on ISAT-aligned exit slip questions, to J., who doesn’t need this class to begin with but usually works hard anyway and was able to solve most of the extremely difficult math puzzles that I gave her yesterday. I’m still a mediocre teacher, and there are other CMs with much more inspiring results, but I’m so grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity to make a (hopefully enduring) difference in these kids’ academic trajectories.

On Thursday, after spending two days observing all of us at our placement schools, the Rhode Island regional staff ate dinner with us and led a brief session about the First Eight Weeks after Institute (formerly Round 0). It was great to see them again after four weeks of being away, but it was even greater to find out that we’d have several weeks to prepare for the upcoming semester, including establishing a vision, creating unit plans, setting up a tracker, and writing assessments. It will certainly be a nice change of pace from the day-to-day planning of Institute. They also brought us delicious birthday cakes for the three birthdays that occurred in July, as well as coffee milk (apparently a Rhode Island delicacy) and chocolate lollipops. Basically, my region is awesome.

Yesterday, in the midst of one of the most intense heat waves to ever hit the Northeast, our school team decided to hold a teacher stare-off. That’s right, a teacher stare-off. Despite never having heard of the “teacher stare,” I was volunteered by my CMA (against my will, I might add) to go up against fifteen other CMs in the most bizarre staring contest of all time. Long story short, I ended up getting second place, though at the expense of receiving intimidating, soul-piercing stares from CMs who I never thought could be intimidating. I would not want to be a misbehaving student in one of their classrooms.

Throughout this week, with all these things happening (and more), I’ve been thinking a lot about where I derive my strength and motivation from. Especially as things start to pick up, as I fall into my teacher stride, as lesson planning gets easier and more efficient, ad infinitum, I need to remind myself that I cannot rely on my own ability to keep me going, nor can I ground my identity in teaching, TFA, or even my students. One of my greatest struggles is acknowledging God in my life even when I feel like I’m doing alright (whatever that means). But the reality is that life is entirely unpredictable, and it is only by His grace that I happen to find myself in a place of peace, comfort, and relative stability at any given moment. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to worship and acknowledge Him in all my ways (Proverbs 3:5-6)–not because I have anything to add to His glory, but because it is what I was created for, and what every blessing and joyous occasion exhorts of me.

Conversely (inversely? additionally?), when times get tough next year, I need to remind myself that God is faithful, that “He who began a good work … will carry it on the completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). So, to my future self when I read through old entries for encouragement, as well as to anyone out there currently struggling to get by, I offer the words of Isaiah 40:28-31.

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

And on that note: final week of Institute, here I come!

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    New city, same vision

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    High School

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