Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summer is Almost Here :)!

I'm on the three weekcount down until SUMMER!!! Ican't believemy fist year of teaching is wrapping up already- and I survived! Our big Texas state tests are completed so most of the students (and many of the teachers) pretty much think school is already over. I've been really surprised that all the schools around here are so focused on getting students to pass the TAKS that once testing is over in late April, all teaching basically stops and verylittle learning occurs. Its crazy that this is so engrained in the students and teachers and everyone is ok with losing over a month of learning every year. That'sover 13 months, or almost two entire school years, of wasted instructionaltime throughout their k-12 education. It's especially concerning since statistically the students in the Rio Grande Valley are already performing far behind students in higher income areas.On a separate note, I had a super awesome weekend at South Padre with my TFA friend who lives in Harlingen and another mutual friend from the area. I took a personal day Friday so we left for the island as soon as school got out on Thursday. We made a pact that there would be absolutely no work when we were there because we all needed aserious break from the state testing stress. It was so relaxing to sleep in, nap on the beach, do some beach runs, and have some much needed girl time :)
That's all for now. I'll post again in a couple weeks when the
school year wraps up. I can't wait to head back to Oregon to catch up with a lot of ya'll over the summer :) Love ya!

P.S. The pics are of one of my students who won "Math Vegas" in my class, a note from an 8th grader who passed the TAKS, a recent toga birthday party I went to (we were tired of having one person with their
eyes closed in every take, so we decided we would all just close our eyes so it looked planned ;)), and my weekend at South Padre Island.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Im still here ;)

Hi y'all. I've beendownright terrible about keeping up with this blog! I just wanted to put up a quick update and let you all know that I'm still thinking about my friends and family back home and certainly haven't forgotten about you:) It's been a LONG couple of months, but I'm on the home stretch.

Ok...a recap of the past few months...let me think. December flew by. We did a first set of benchmarks, which are like mock state tests, and got our first bit of official data on the kids this year. The results from my students were pretty discouraging, but I just keep telling myself that there is more to students success (and success in life for that matter) than passing a standardized test. Don't get me wrong, I still believe my students deserve to be pushed toward big academic gains. However, after seeing lots of scores in the 15%-30% range for basic on-grade-level multiple choice tests, I can't pretend that 100% of my students are going to pass this spring. I'm struggling with that, among other things, but more about social injustices and the broken education system later ;)

Christmas break was amazing. I got to spend a full 10 days at home spending time with my mom and sister and Chloe Unfortunately, since I arrived back in January, I've had some of the toughest weeks I've yet to experience since I've been down here. I was told the day before starting back to school that I would be teaching another teacher's regular 7th grade math class for three weeks because shewas out on sick leave. So, not only did I get to restructure all my plans over night, I also had to prep for a series of substitutes that took over my class for the next few weeks. While I was sent a fairly clear message that my class didn't matter very much, I was able to work with a whole new group of 100+ students and see what it was like to teach a "regular" math class. I built some relationships with 7th graders I had never interacted with before and many of them are still stopping by my classroom on a daily basis.

Long story short, when I came back to my regular class I had a lot of garbage and terrible habits to try to deal with after my students spent fifteen days with a total of four different substitutes. Many of my kids were behaving absolutely terribly, I think, in part, because they had the impression that I had willingly abandoned them. The class that I had worked crazy hard to get on the right track earlier in the year had become my absolute worst class. I had kids vandalizing things, cussing at me, refusing to follow any directions I gave, and getting agressive in their obstinate interactions with me. I spent a lot of lunch hours in tears and tried a variety of interventions before finally having to permanently dismiss a few students from my class.

Since then, I have still had more than the usual share of behavioral issues, but it has improved. During the time that the substitutes were in my classroom, the vast majority of my students also decided that doing any work was completely optional- an option that they opted not to take. So when interim progress reports came out, I looked like the worlds most terrible teacher to my administration when 75% of my students were epically failing my class. It turns out, it is my responsibility to make sure that no more than 10% of my students fail. AKA...I'm getting the message that teachers here are just supposed to pass kids for showing up to class and converting oxygen to carbon dioxide as they breathe. I had a heck of a time wrapping my mind around the repercussions for passing my kids after they had been given so many opportunities to earn a better grade and simply refused to do so. Quite literally, out of the forty students who I give 15-minute homework packets to every week, I rarely get more than three to four back. I sounds like the other teachers at my school have the same return rate. Absolutely crazy! And we are telling these students that they are "college ready" with our slogans and campus posters. I am ashamed of the hypocrisy in the messages that we are sending these kids. My kids will argue with me that they are going to college "no matter what" as they are refusing to do work in my class and haven't turned in more than a few pages of homework in their entire k-12 education up to this point. I am seeing a really concerning mindset of entitlement in my students that isn't accompanied by any sort of work ethic. The more I try to instill the importance of a good work ethic and the idea that there are no shortcuts to success, the more backlash I get from students, parents, and even well meaning and kind administrators.

Anyhow, so sorry to rant and rave. I'm just a little discouraged about the bigger issues that are making it so challenging to reach these kids in the way that I had idealistically envisioned doing. Obviously, if the issues in education were as easy to solve as sending a few college grads into high risk areas to turn them around, the problems would have been solved long ago. I do feel privileged to be working with a group of teachers who really genuinely care about these students and are pouring themselves into them. And the administrators at my school, while they are only human, are doing an absolutely incredible job given the challenges they are up against. I can't imagine facing all of the difficulties I have up to this point with out the support that I have been given on my campus. Again, I am reminded to take this journey one step at a time and love my kids unconditionally.

That's all for today. I'll update you sooner than last time hopefully ;) For all of you that have been faithfully praying for me and supporting me, thank you SO MUCH! It means a ton. Take care and love y'all :)
P.S. this picture is of my classroom door that my morning helpers and I decorated for a college door competition we are having on campus. I'll have to take some pictures of the other doors that have been decorated more recently by them as well. These are some talented girls! Plus it's way fun to see my alma matter every morning when I get to my room :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2 more days!!!

I'm heading home for Christmas break in two more days!!! :) Can't wait to see my family!!! I have a lot of catching up to do and hugs to give and snuggling to do with my niece. School has been going better since Thanksgiving. I feel like I am actually seeing little glimpses of progress in my kids. We have been doing state testing benchmarks this week and I am in the process of building my entire second semester curriculum to focus on objectives that students typically struggle with in these state tests. The partial curriculum I received in November turned out to be far less rigorous than what these kids need to get caught up to speed. They are very far behind grade level, but I know that if we spend the entire year on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, these kids will never have a shot at competing with their higher performing peers for college prep/AP math class in high school. My program director, Dama, has been incredibly helpful in guiding me through this process. I observed a variety of master teachers across the Rio Grande Valley and have been looking at data from some of the best schools in the state and feel a renewed sense of urgency to push my kids into a track that will lead them out of the cycle of low achievement they are currently trapped in. I started unit planning Monday night and I'm already like 12 hours, a four foot stack of books and print-offs, six binders, and multiple pads of sticky notes into the process. Right now, it looks like a tornado hit my bookshelf but my goal is to have most of it cleaned up and organized into seven unit material binders before I leave on Friday. That's going to mean some long hours at work between now and then, but hopefully I can get enough done so that I only have a couple more full days of work to plan my semester after I fly back to Texas. And my two -08 TFA friends were able to get a three bedroom apartment that opens up January 6th so I get to move in with them the week after I get back. Yay! I haven't packed a single thing yet, but I'm going to ignore that thought until after I get back. Well, that's about it for now...I'd better get back to work on my units. Take care and have a very merry Christmas if I don't post or see y'all before the 25th :) Hugs!

These are pics from my classroom yesterday morning. My "morning helpers", a gaggle of girls that like to come to my room before school and do little tasks around the room/art projects I create for them, got a hold of my white board pens and decorated my entire board when I left yesterday to collect my testing materials. The "Word Wonder Wall" has turned into Ms. Hibner's Spanish words to learn wall. The kids put words up and quiz me on them before they erase them and add new ones. I'm learning a lot! The last pic is of my first period kids arriving and eating breakfast before class started.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A day off :)

It's been a little while so I thought I'd better update y'all. I've actually had a four day break from teaching! I had a professional development session all day Friday and Saturday and then I decided to take a "mental health" day today. I was hesitant to take a day off, but boy did I need it! I think I can actually tackle the rest of this week as a much more effective teacher now that I've had a little down time to regroup. I really do love my kids, but I tell ya, they zap every ounce of energy out of me in the course of five class periods. I've been trying to get to campus by 6:30 every morning and most days I'm not done at work/with professional development requirements until after 7:00 at night. I'm still working with my homebound student for four hours a week after school and I am really enjoying our time together. She is such a sweet and eager student that it is very refreshing to teach her. I wouldn't give up my time with her even if someone else offered to take my place. However, my principal found me running errands the other morning, stopped me in the office on my way out, and asked me to tutor twice a week after school. For some freakish reason that has gotten me into a lot of extra work lately, I forgot how to say no and nodded in agreement before I fully comprehended what I was doing. Needless to say, I am an official math tutor now. The good news is, it'll be a little extra time to work with some of my students more one-on-one and maybe help them gain a little more confidence with their math skills. I'm going to make the best of it and hopefully tutoring will make a difference for some of these kids. On a separate note, I found some really awesome roommates who I'm going to move in with at the end of my Christmas break. While it's a little bit of a hassle to pack up and move again, I am really looking forward to having roomies again. I've been kind of a hermit lately and it'll be good for me to have people around to encourage me to get out once in a while. And they only live like three miles away so it will be a short distance move. Oh, and bee I go, I wanted to tell everyone about a new documentary that is out. I watched "Waiting for Superman" a couple weekends ago with some of my friends and it was awesome! I'm not sure if it's playing in any cities in Oregon, but they had it at one of the theaters down here in the Valley so it might be. It's a really candid look at what has happened to our education system in the US since the 50's when we were a world leader in education and the very real barriers that are standing in the way of reform. Its a powerful film and not totally disheartening- more inspiring. If you get a chance to see it in theaters or once it comes out on video, I HIGHLY recommend it. Well, I don't really have a lot else to share for the time being, so I'll keep it brief. I think I'm going to do a little reading and go to bed early tonight- save up all the energy I can for the next four days ;) Love y'all and take care!
This is a picture from one of the scenes in Waiting for Superman :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Deal

Whew. It's been an exhausting couple of weeks. My kids are really challenging my entire classroom management system and continuing to try to find every shortcut possible in order to do the least amount of work they absolutely have to do to skate by in my class. My management system needs a serious tune up and I need to get more strict, but it's gonna take a couple solid days of planning and preparation that I don't foresee having until Thanksgiving break. Still trying hard to light a fire underneath the vast majority of them. Gotta keep believing it will eventually catch fire ;) I've also been pulling my hair out trying to figure out why a few of my students are being downright mean and defiant no matter how much I try to do to show them I care about them and want them to be successful. However, the last two weeks has shed some light on major issues going on in my students lives that I was given some painful insight into. Without going into the level of detail I have been trying to sort out on a personal level with individual students, I am trying to figure out how to best help a middle school mom-to-be, students who have been kicked out of their homes, kids who are told they are worthless trash on a regular basis, students who have a wide range of disabilities, students joining gangs, parents in jail, parents in gangs, suicidal students, students who have eating disorders, and students who are cutting to try to deal with internal pain- yeah, I'm talking about 11-15 year-old kids. I know I'm supposed to be focused on teaching math, but these kids need so much more than math right now. I would sure appreciate your prayers as I try to do whatever small part I can to help these kids and teach them to the best of my ability. More importantly, I would really appreciate your prayers for the amazing young people who are dealing with these crazy tough issues far beyond their years. I know that God has all these kids in His hands and He cares about them and loves them so much more than I ever could.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Big Goals to Remedy Apathy

Hi y'all :) Just wanted to post a quick update. My kids are getting comfortable with me and have been pushing boundaries like crazy lately. However, my biggest concern has not been for my kids who are acting up in class (although that is a significant challenge), but with the large majority of my kids who are displaying total apathy at this point. I have so many students who come into my class, plop down in a seat near the back of the room, and immediately put their head down on their desk for a nap. Granted my class is their second math class of the day, but I still can't fathom how they think it's ok to sleep through any class and simply refuse to do their work. I've tried just about everything to get my kids excited about math and engaged in the work we are doing. I come in everyday acting almost ridiculously excited and enthusiastic about the concepts I am teaching. I've created math games and activities where they get to work in partners and groups or move around the room. All my students know that the expectation is that they will be "Stellar Scholars"- which means that they are attentive, focused, and actively participating. I've reminded them, danced for them, begged them, given consequences to them, offered them candy, and more! This same apathy has led to less than 10% of my students doing ANY of the homework I assign. Many of my students will flat-out refuse to do in-class work. When I gave out progress reports this week to my students, the ones who had a bunch of zeros and F's were surprised and upset with me! The average grade on my first unit test was a D :( I nearly cried as I graded the tests and saw all the students who simply scribbled in answers that they gave absolutely no thought. So I've decided to spend time every day this week re-visiting individual goals and marketing/selling my class big goal. We have talked a lot about the power of goal setting and we will be making action plans tomorrow- because a goal without action is just a nice thought. I shared with my 8th graders (who are my most apathetic) a little bit of my personal story about how I set goals with running and worked my way to a college scholarship. I think they understood how powerful I believe goals are, but I'm not sure if any of them have internalized the power of goal setting for themselves. I'm sure not going to give up on any of my kids, even though it is awfully tempting in light of where they are at right now. I simply can't allow myself to see the kids for their actions- I have to look deeper at the potential that they will pry out of them. I sincerely believe that once they get a glimpse of their own profound abilities that develop from hard work, they will be hooked. to facilitate that glimpse...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Three and a half weeks in

Hi y’all J Well, it’s been almost three weeks of teaching and I finally feel like I’m getting into the rhythm of what I’m doing. It’s certainly been a LOT of hard work and long days, but I really do love what I am doing. I am so blessed to get to spend forty hours a week working with children who have a whole lot of potential, and for the most part, are eager to learn. To be honest, most days I leave feeling pretty discouraged about where my kids are academically. Even though I ran a diagnostic on them and saw that many were performing at a first through third grade math level, it still blows my mind when I spend thirty minutes teaching my heart out about something simple like rounding and half the kids in the class look up at me like I just taught them how to calculate a rockets trajectory from earth to the moon. I’m still trying to figure out how to differentiate my instruction in such a way that the kids who are ready to move forward get that challenge while the others have the opportunity to get the remediation they need. In my textbooks, that seemed simple enough. Real life is a bit messier than what I had envisioned ;) I’m working crazy hard to plan lessons that are meaningful to all my students and push them to develop higher level math skills. It’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a teacher so far, but it also drives me to put in lots of extra hours in the evenings and on the weekends. This week alone I had six hours of professional development after school and then I spent my second Saturday in a row of three at a seven hour workshop for new teachers in my district.

Curricular frustrations aside, I am falling in love with my students already. Some of the kids have been my biggest challenges have also nestled most deeply into my heart. Many of my students are painfully desperate for someone to care about them. I had almost forgotten about what a critical age middle schoolers are at as they develop their self-identity. I have a handful of students who are rebelling and trying ridiculously hard to appear as though they don’t care about school or anyone who tries to tell them that education is important. As I’ve taken the time to listen and observe them, I’m convinced they are either terrified of failing and have put on a tough front to mask it or they feel powerless and by blowing off their school work they are exerting the only power they feel like they have. I have two specific kiddos in mind as I write this and it has become my personal challenge to break down their tough exteriors with the kind of undeserved and persevering love that Christ has shown me. The other kid that I constantly think about and try to figure out is a very timid young man. He is always looking down and mumbles everything he says as though it’s not at all worth saying but he knows he has to say something when I speak to him. I greet all my students with a hand shake at the door and his handshake is always limp and cold. He asks me to repeat directions multiple times and rarely begins his work without me coming to his desk and specifically telling him what first step he should take. I don’t think he has a learning disability, but I could be wrong. My inkling is that he has been beaten at home and told he is worthless. He has all the psychological and affective signs of an abused child but I don’t want to jump to conclusions before I’ve had much longer to get to know him and learn about his life situation. Hopefully I can help him build some confidence and love on him enough to make an impact in his life over the next six months.

Beginning this week, I am taking on a job after school for four hours per week teaching a young lady who was recently diagnosed with lupus and is home-bound. From what I know about her, she was an excellent student and began missing a lot of school at the beginning of the year for a lingering illness. She got so sick this fall that she had to take an extended leave from school and was eventually diagnosed with lupus. It sounds like she has had a rough battle with the disease and recently underwent chemotherapy to suppress her immune system. I am so excited about this opportunity! I am hoping to really bless this girl and her family and minister to her as I spend time with her in her home each week. Having battled a frustrating and, for a time, debilitating autoimmune disease myself, I hope and pray that I can give her encouragement and hope as she deals with this life changing diagnosis. I recognize that our diseases are different and the recovery trajectory may look different for her, but I do have a personal knowledge of the devastation, anger, and fear that comes with the initial sickness and diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. My first priority will of course be educational, but I am looking forward to building a relationship with my new student that helps her as she moves forward both academically and emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Your prayers for her and for myself as I seek to be a mentor to her would be so greatly appreciated!

Speaking of prayers, thank you SO MUCH to all of you who have been faithfully praying for me and supporting me over the past few weeks. I want to especially thank my mom, grandparents, and aunt and uncle for their continued prayers, packages full of goodies, and financial support. You guys mean the world to me and I am so blessed to have such an amazing family. Seriously. Thank you.

And I’ve got to give a quick shout-out to my mom! She started her first year in the nursing program two weeks ago and she has been working incredibly hard. I am so proud of her and the journey she has been on that brought her this far. She is a phenomenal example to me of hard work and perseverance. I know she is going to be a stellar nurse but the program is a tough one. Please keep her in her prayers too as she plows through hundreds of pages of reading, labs, clinicals, content-heavy lectures, and super tough tests. And for those of you who see her often, be sure and remind her that she rocks ;)

I’d better get to bed and get my beauty sleep so I can be awake and alert for my professional development that starts bright and early in the morning. Hope all of you back in Oregon are enjoying a beautiful fall. Love y’all. Hasta luego.