Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Please Redirect Yourself (to My Other Blog)

For the last few months now, I have been keeping up two blogs -- this one and another one hosted by Wordpress. Exactly the same content, but just hosted two different places. That's mostly because I'm lazy and haven't taken the time to figure out how to automatically route this site to that site.

Of course, that laziness there just means that on this end, I've had to upload all my pictures and material twice. So really more work in the long run. Go figure.

Well, now that my internet access is limited (wont get it at home for another week and am currently parked outside a storefront on Main Street, sweating off my body weight in water just to get internet), I don't have the patience/time/energy/desire to upkeep two.

So, my friends, I give you this link: www.virginiafrommontana.com.

Please follow it through to my other site and bookmark that one. And someday (hopefully soon), I'll get virginiafilms.blogspot.com to automatically reroute to virginiafrommontana.com.

Until then, I apologize, but you'll have to do the work.

All My Love,
Virginia From Montana

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Things I Never Thought I'd Say -- #2


"I slept in an antebellum mansion the other night."


I did.

For realz.


A few of the corps members are renting a legit Antebellum mansion in Eutaw (about 20 or 30 minutes away), and I spent the night there once last week when I had to be Greensboro really early in the morning (before I had moved into my home).

Just another of the many reasons I'm excited to be living in the deep South for a couple years.

The original doorbell.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Math Praxis in Tuscaloosa

Last Saturday, before our week of Teach For America Orientation in Birmingham (getting ready for the school year), I had to take the Secondary Math Praxis in Tuscaloosa. Joy.

If you remember before, the Social Studies Praxis may or may not have been an extremely painful experience for me this spring (i.e. I fell asleep while taking it during Spring Break and studied too hard for it in April). I finally passed it though, and congratulated myself on at least being done with that phase of TFA stuff.

False.

When I started Induction in June, I was told that there weren’t enough Social Studies positions hiring, so I chose to also interview for math. I got a math job. Which means I’d have to take the math Praxis.



This is the building where I took my Praxis last Saturday. Crazy fancy building for the University of Alabama business college.

And I thought the OU business college was nice.

This is how we felt after the test.



It was a painful experience.

After the test, to make us feel better, a few of us walked around the University of Alabama campus for a while. Since quite a few of the BamaCorps members went to school there, we’d been hearing lots about the place over the summer. It was fun to finally check it out.



Definitely a beautiful campus. Very southern.



Oh, and after the test we all got breakfast at this super cute breakfast spot called Wayside Restaurant. While I’m biased and personally think nothing will ever stack up to The Diner in Norman, this was a preeeeetty close second.



It’s basically a little red house that they converted into a breakfast diner, where there are about 16 tables and a plethora of Alabama doodads covering all available wall space.





A perfect end to a not-so-awesome morning.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Officially Moved In

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am now an official resident of Greensboro, Alabama. I have a house and a bed and a mailing address. I have a school and a classroom and a principal.

I live in the quaintest place imaginable, and right now, I'm having a hard time believing I'll ever get sick of this place. Never. It's toooooo precious (pictures to come soon).

Love,
Virginia from Montana (currently living/teaching in Alabama)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Out of Service

I was about to blog to warn everyone that they wouldn't be hearing from me for a while because I'll be without internet for the weekend, and then I remembered that you really haven't been hearing much from me anyway, regardless of whether I have internet or not.

Whoops.

That's going to change though. I'm going to get better. I hope. This teaching thing is really hard and I'm going to need all my resources to survive the next two years, and since blogging has always been my coping strategy in the past, I think I'll use it for this go-around.

Get excited. The next time you hear from me, I'll have a house and a job and all those fun thing that mean "grown-up."

Until then, let's pray I don't get lost in rural Alabama again. This no GPS thing is stressing me out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Officially Hired

I have a job! Hallelujah!

I will be teaching eighth grade Pre-Algebra in the fall, and I couldn't be more excited.

I am a teacher. Life is crazy. Wish me luck!

Po' Monkey

I keep finding all these pictures from the summer that I never posted (and blog ideas that never made it up). Institute will do that to you, I guess. But now I have a relatively clear week, so I can get around to putting up all the pictures I've taken recently.

The first of these are pictures from my excursion to Po' Monkey during the FIRST weeks of Institute.

Po' Monkey, really Poor Monkey (gotta love that charming Southern slang), is a place unlike any other. Established in 1961, it is considered to be one of the last juke joints in the south.



We'd heard about it because it was one of those "places to see" while in the Delta. A last true remnant of juke joints? Yes please. A no-brainer.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Refreshed and Renewed




Oklahoma has been good to me. Since deciding to go to school there four years ago, it has become my home, full of amazing memories and people I love (and miss dearly). So last week, when someone in BamaCorps mentioned that they were driving to Oklahoma for the week break between Institute and Orientation, I almost died of happiness. Would I like to come with her? Hell yes, I want to come with you!

So blessing of blessings, I got to stay in Oklahoma for almost a week, soaking up the sun, sleeping a bit more than before, and seeing all my friends one more time before the craziness of teaching starts for realz.

There's nothing like a little R&R with friends. Nowhere to go and nothing to do. Well, sure I studied for the Praxis (Khan Academy = the best thing that ever happened to zee interwebs), but that's it. Nothing more than that. And it was loooooooovely. Absolute bliss. The break was good for my soul.

But all good things must come to an end eventually. The week sped by way too quickly, and early Friday morning my TFA friend was at my door, ready to take me back down south. Seeing the new lives that my friends are creating for themselves, I'm so sad to leave and maybe miss out on some of that.

But I am also excited about the new life that I am creating here. The week showed me that, while my friends will always be a part of my life, it's time to start letting go of Oklahoma. I'm with a new state now, and it's only fair to start that new relationship with a whole heart (and no pieces left behind). Can't be emotionally cheating now, can I?

So no need to worry, Alabama. I'm here 100%.

At least for the next two years.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Khan Academy = Lifesaver

Spent all day today studying for the Secondary Math Praxis that I have to pass on Saturday. Gross.

Cramming and trying to remember everything I learned in high school is sooooo much harder than I thought it'd be. Thank god Khan Academy exists. I've spent so much time on that site today watching tutorial videos. So much time, in fact, that I finally signed up for an account so I can get points for each video I watch. Not sure what happens when I get however many points I'm supposed to get, but it sure is fun to watch that number tick up during each movie. Keeps me entertained during these boring, boring times.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

. . .


“Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving.  We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ruleville Mural


About halfway through Institute, I started realizing that while I had a pretty well controlled classroom as far as no running around and throwing desks goes, the kids didn’t really respect me. They followed the rules but mumbled under their breath or made faces when they thought I wasn’t looking. Lots of passive aggressive things that, as a rather passive aggressive person myself, didn’t slip past me.

I knew I needed to do something fast to get them to realize that while I could be super strict and mean (You’re probably thinking I can’t be mean, but totally not true. I must have tapped into some hidden reserve or something, because I was the meanest, no-nonsense teacher in my room), I really did care about each of them individually as a person.

So in a flash of optimism, I decided that I’d teach painting in the morning.

Then in a flash of reality, I realized that that’d be a logistical nightmare.

So I guess I decided on something in between. My kids and I would paint together, and I’d teach little things as the opportunity arose. But otherwise we’d just paint and chat and I’d clean up after them and things like that to keep it simple.

Things I Never Thought I'd Say -- #1

At Barnes & Noble--

Me: "Do you have a discount for teachers?"

Lady at Register: "Sure. What grade do you teach?"

Me: "Eighth grade."

I'm now eligible for teacher discounts. Because I'm a teacher. Kinda like senior citizen benefits except without the being old part.

Life is good.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Closing Ceremonies at Delta State

The Closing Ceremonies for Institute were awesome. Incredibly awesome.

All corps members were all supposed to sit with our school sites for the ceremony (since we'd spent so much time with them over the last five weeks), so Ruleville all got together before the ceremonies to prepare. And by prepare, I mean that we all dressed in black and covered ourselves with green and yellow streamers (the colors of Ruleville).


So. Much. Spirit.

Some of the people from my awesome CMA group.

We then all walked in together shouting "Ruleville Tigers" and holding up tiger paws. We're cool like that.

And we cheered...

"50% sweat,
50% skill,
100% reason to remember Ruleville.
10 % sleep,
90% gain,
100% reason to remember the name.
RULEVILLE!"



The ceremony itself was the best part though. It started with a choir from a local Kipp school (public charter school) singing a couple songs, and then overall Director of Institute gave a speech.

AND.... My kids and I got a huge shout-out during the Closing Ceremonies!!! The Director of Institute gave a shout-out to four different corps members about how they went above and beyond to work with their kids, and I was one of them. He talked to the entire audience about how I invested a few of my most difficult kids by having them paint a mural with me before class every morning (blog about the mural coming soon). What an awesome feeling, to be recognized for that hard work and to have my fellow corps members celebrate that with me.

AND... My friend Geales absolutely ROCKED her speech at the Closing Ceremonies. Listening to her stories during Institute, reading her blog, and watching her on stage tonight reminded me of the incredibly people I've had the good fortune to meet. Geales is one of the most selfless people I know, with a heart and soul of gold. I love her to death, and I'm so happy that she got the opportunity to speak in front of her peers. Gave me chills.



AND... BamaCorps was hard-core represented through-out the entire ceremony. A fellow BamaCorps member, Mickey, was another of the four CMs who got a shout-out during the Director of Institute's speech (so two out of four = not too shabby). And we were all over the place in the ending slideshow, which was a montage of a ton of pictures taken at all the different school sites this summer.

Overall, a pretty great evening to wrap up my summer experience at Institute.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Belated Fourth of July!

In true Southern hospitality, Delta State and the community of Cleveland threw all of us at Teach For America -- corps members and staff -- an awesome Fourth of July celebration last weekend in the park, with a giant barbeque, massive fans to cool us from the scorching heat, drinks, and an awesome fireworks show.

There's nothing quite like fireworks.



On the way home from New Orleans, my friend Sean got all excited and bought a bunch of sparklers and things at a random giant fireworks tent. And being the generous, big-hearted person that he is, he brought them to the picnic for everyone to enjoy.




I'll repeat, there's nothing quite like fireworks. Especially sparklers.

Everyone loves them, and they would make even the saddest person happy.



Fizzing crackles of light are a sure-fire way to bring everyone together.


Thanks to the generosity of the community, it was a wonderful holiday.

Entering the Home Stretch

Time's almost up. We're entering the last week of Institute, and I couldn't be more relieved. And panicked.

I'm excited to leave and go somewhere where I can cook my own meals, sleep in until at least 9 a.m., and breathe. Lots of breathing. Lots of free time and free space. And studying for the PRAXIS. But that's a small price to pay for freedom.

And yet, with all this excitement about regaining some semblance of sanity and life back, I'm also two hairs shy of all-out panic. Institute is a relatively comfortable bubble of structure and more support than you could ever ask for. Corp member advisors, faculty advisors, curriculum specialists, literacy specialists, school managers, and fellow corps members are everywhere, available to help in any situation and answer any question. It's an incredible support system that I'd have to be crazy not to appreciate.

And now I'm about to lose most of it. Not all of it, mind you. The program directors (PDs, our mentors) in Alabama are awesome and I'm excited to work with them. And even having PDs is more support than the regular individual who graduates from college with an education degree and sets forth alone to be a teacher. Bless their brave souls. But even so, we're still being thrust into the world of teaching soon, to flounder and find our way.

Should be an interesting first few months of teaching, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Fourth of July Weekend Part 2: New Orleans


After our swamp tour on Saturday morning, we drove about twenty minutes from Slidell to the great city of New Orleans. Our plan was to spend the day there, exploring a new city and enjoying an entire day of zero Teach For America discussions.

It was glorious.

Driving to our hotel took us directly past the Louisiana Superdome, which was crazy to see in real life after hearing so much about it on the news during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.


Unfortunately, I didn't do much research on the geography of Katrina's destruction before I visited New Orleans, so a lot of the city's history felt disconnected to me. I really should have looked up the areas of the city that were untouched, damaged, or destroyed, so that I could understand the area better. But I didn't, sadly, and I felt like just a tourist out there to take pictures.


After dropping off our things at the hotel, we had lunch/dinner on Bourbon Street. Best crab cakes ever.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Fourth of July Weekend Part 1: Swamp Tour

Oh, where to begin?

Three days off -- free of commitment and structure -- was absolute heaven. And while I am 100% in this thing, it was still incredible to spend a solid two days not talking about anything related to Teach For America or our students. Instead, during our five-hour road trip and brief fling in New Orleans, we go tot learn something about each other outside our lives as teachers.

After school on Friday, many people's Friday nights turned into what the corps members on my floor like to call an FNF. A Friday Night Fail, when you fall asleep when you get home from school and don't wake up until Saturday morning, sleeping through the evening's festivities.

I wish I'd FNF-ed. I would have felt much more rested on Saturday.

Saturday morning was the beginning of the weekend adventure. At 5 am, four fellow BamaCorps members and I piled into a couple cars and took a five-hour road trip down to New Orleans.

First stop was Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tours in Slidell, Louisiana.


So excited to go on our swamp!



The swamp was actually beautiful. Really beautiful in it's own eery, magical way.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Headed to the Bayou

I don't want to spoil anything for my upcoming post, but I'm about to head south for my Fourth of July weekend -- to New Orleans. The agenda includes a swamp tour (hopefully some alligator wrestling. Or eating. Or both.) and an afternoon/night exploring New Orleans. Should be crazy. And crazy fun. Stay tuned!

Shameless Request

Dear Friends, Family, and Complete Strangers,

This is a shameless request for written notes of encouragement, via mail, email or Facebook. Institute is challenging and draws every ounce of determination from me. It's an emotional roller coaster, often determined solely by the mood of my students and the success of my lesson for the day.

I need some encouragement.

Would you mind sending me something?

Love,
Discouraged Teacher

P.S. If you send me a message, I can give you my mailing address here at Institute.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Louder and Slower. Repeat.

Some days when teaching, I just can't seem to be able to explain the objective of the day to my students. It refuses to doesn't click with them. Like my Monday, trying to explain how to use a ruler. Either the kids are turning off their brains for the day as a collective whole, or I can't break it down enough or can't articulate another explanation well enough -- or just flat out can't remember my math (like today, I blanked and couldn't remember how to turn a percentage into a fraction. Whoops!).

The hardest part of teaching math is in the basics, really. It's easier to explain the how than the why -- always. Like, why is the formula for an equilateral triangle A="s" squared divided by 3 x square root of 3?

I actually have no idea. But I can plug in those numbers like nobody's business.

And why does 30/100 = 30%?

No idea either. And apparently, based on today, I don't know the How on that one either.

Most of the time I feel like one of those stereotypically rude American tourists who, when they find that someone can't understand them because of a language barrier, decide that the best way to be understood is just to repeat exactly the same thing again, only louder and slower.

Louder and slower.

Using my best teacher voice. Fighting to ignore the bewildered eyes and concerned expressions.

And then I grade those assessments or mini-tests, and my heart sinks. 0/3. 0/3, 1/3. Ten percent mastery of the objective. Zero percent master of the objective. There are few worse sensations of disappointment than realizing that the last hour of struggle -- an hour of consequence cards, dry-erase marker races, giant attitudes in tiny bodies, and countless explanations of the difference between fourths and eights on a ruler -- was all in vain. And I'll have to re-teach the objective entirely.

Blah.

It makes those days of 80% mastery look like bliss. Feel like bliss. And those are the days I hold on to. Yesterday was a zero percent mastery day. Today was a 90% mastery day. And hopefully tomorrow will follow suit.

But I never know.

In teaching, I can bring my A game every day and still get less than awesome results. It's never the same day. Never. My inputs don't directly relate to my outputs, and I could honestly teach the same thing, verbatim, from Day 1 to Day 2 and get different results each day.

Because in the distance between my brain and their brains, knowledge has to fight hundreds of factors -- from sleepiness to empty stomachs to sheer boredom to the biggest, most anguished middle school attitudes I've ever seen. That's some pretty stiff competition for attention.

At the very least though, I can always say that those kids sure do keep me on my toes. No rocking back and resting in this profession. It just isn't possible if you want to be good.

Friday, June 24, 2011

You Know You're at Institute When...

1. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. is sleeping in.

2. Your backpack, straining at the seams, is twice as wide as you are.

3.  Averaging four hours of sleep a night is standard.

4. You debate if eating at lunch at 10:00 a.m. is too early.

5. You talk in acronyms. "During my ODC, my CMA talked about my INM during my AIT."

6. Everyone understands your acronyms.

7. TFA-speak is common and overflows into your normal lives.

"If I plan to be married by the time I'm 25, then I'm going to need to backward plan to make sure that happens."

"In the spirit of partnership and community, please use some urgency while in the shower. It's my turn."

8. We consider using behavior narration on people we know .

"I see that Becca's boyfriend bought her flowers. Kelly's boyfriend bought her flowers for no reason. Erica's boyfriend buys her gifts."

(Note: Behavior narration will definitely be getting it's own post sometime soon.)

9.  People talk about their students constantly, in all settings, and refer to them as their kids.

10. Dark rooms and comfortable chairs are to be avoided at all times when awake. Otherwise you wont be anymore.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Teacher Moment of the Week

This week's Teacher Moment is brought to you by the seedy world of insects, out to destroy classrooms one whiteboard at a time.

There are bugs everywhere here.

EVERYWHERE.

If you think you are safe from mosquitos because you're inside, you are wrong. And don't think that the cockroaches and spiders wont find you. They can sense your fear. Even the bug truck that comes around campus at night, spraying toxic bug repellent into the air to ward off the swarms of mosquitos (literally swarms -- big black clouds of them) cannot keep them away for long.

Yesterday in class, I had my teacher moment.

The class was pretty well-behaved for the day. I'd shut down the trouble-maker early, and he was participating along with the rest of the group. Point for me.

I had them sitting quietly and listening to me as I wrapped up my lesson for the day (I think we were learning about order of operations). While I was wrapping up some of my last thoughts, Ms. H started writing her objective on the board for her class, which was next. The students naturally were paying attention to her and not me, which was fine since she was moving more than me. Law of physics or something.

Anyway, suddenly Ms. H squeals and takes a fast step backward. The peace was broken as students started pointing, laughing and squealing about the spider on the board. Turning, I looked for the little punk who was about to destroy my hard-earned silent class.

It was just a daddy long leg. A rather large one, mind you (leg span of a silver dollar), but just a daddy long leg.

Normally I hate killing insects. But I have my priorities. So without thinking -- and with only one thing on my mind (regaining order) -- I stepped up and with one swing smacked the spider with the palm of my hand.

Turning back to the class as I brushed the insect off my palm, I resumed without skipping a beat.

"As I was saying..."

You should have seen their faces. Pure gold.

Ms. D -- 1; Spider, Destroyer of Hard-Earned, Well-Behaved Classroom -- 0.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Teaching with Urgency

Assessments are completed. Our students -- going into ninth grade -- are reading at a 5th grade level on average. They passed barely 30% of their math assessment. Science isn't looking good either.

When we got those numbers, a fellow teacher on my team and I couldn't help but tear up. My tears were mostly from anger. I am so angry that someone let these students pass from grade to grade without mastering the basics -- or even without teaching them the basics in the first place.

It breaks my heart.

Their student surveys also break my heart -- and make me determined to fight with everything I have to help them reach their growth goals this summer.

These students want to be lawyers, nurses, and athletes. And when they asked what they'd do if they won the lottery, the majority of students said things like "I'd pay my mom's medical bills," "I'd buy a house," and "I've give to charity" (often to the homeless).

My students are thinking about huge issues and dealing with things every day that I never had to deal with as an eighth grader. And yet their altruism, even in imaginary circumstances, makes me so proud to be their teacher for a short while.

It also gives me an intense sense of determination and urgency. I have 17 days to push these students to reach not only their tangible growth goals but also tap into their imaginations and learn to see their dreams as a realizable future.

Now, more than ever, do I wish there were 36 or 48 or 60 hours in a day. I need that time!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Inspiration from the Times, with a Healthy Dose of Lesson Planning

A huge thanks to my friend Madison for passing this article, "It's Not About You," on to me today. Just when I need encouragement the most, my amazing support system at home pulls out something new for me. I'm one lucky gal, I tell ya.

My favorite quote from the article is:
"Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling."

So inspiring.

I hope that at the end of this two-year journey as a teacher in the Black Belt of Alabama, I'll have the beginnings of a fulfilling life -- shaped by this immense challenge and the sense of purpose it gives me.

This is what keeps me going at 11:53 p.m., with two hours left of work and a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call.

Lord help us all.

P.S. I love my kids. All headstrong sixteen of them. Aside from being a handful in the management category, we asked them all what they want to be what they grow up. The answers? Nurses, Lawyers, Teachers, Professional Athletes. I couldn't be more excited to push them toward those goals. It's never to early to start preparing for those dreams.

First Day as a Teacher



Today is my first day as a real teacher. The first of many, many, many. I am so excited to meet my students and get to know them.

It's a pretty basic day. We'll be giving them all assessment tests (mine in math) to see where they are in each subject and to see what we need to be teaching over the four weeks of summer school. My students all have four teachers -- two math teachers, one science, and one English Language Arts. Besides giving three assessment tests, the four of us will be going over various policies and procedures of our classroom.

I get to invest students in our classroom's Big Goal.



Basically, my bottom line is that we all need to reach 100% of our individual goals this summer, so we can get on the right foot to be successful in high school. And success in high school leads to success in college -- my ultimate goal for all my students. Before teaching that mini-lesson, I still need to look up cool statistics about average income differences between people without high school diplomas, with high school diplomas, and with college degrees. There's nothing like some quality statistics to throw at people to prove a point.

Wish me luck on my first day!

My First Weekend in the Delta

Hours of Sleep Last Night: 8
Mosquito Bites Counted: 6
New Thing Tried: Fried Green Tomatoes
Temperature: Excessive Heat Warning (Feels like 106)


Picture Review of My Weekend Adventures

An excursion to Po'Monkey...



BamaCorps dinner at the Blue Levee... 



Decorating my classroom with my teaching team for the summer...


I'll definitely blog about all of these later, when I have the time. Until then, enjoy the pictures and wish me luck tomorrow!

P.S. Happy Father's Day to my Papa! Love you!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Workload of a Teacher

The work has begun. It's difficult to describe just how difficult this training to be a teacher thing is. We have 15-17 hour days, stuffed with classes, lesson plan writing, and more classes. There's a lot of sitting, a lot of shifting/fidgeting to stay awake, and a lot of eating little snacks to survive until the next mealtime.

I'll have to wait until the weekend to go in-depth on what I've been doing all week (and the awesome things I've been learning), since I desperately need sleep right now. Suffice it to say, I am incredibly in awe and appreciation of any of my teachers who were successful in the classroom. SO. MUCH. WORK. 


However, thank goodness I have my BamaCorps family to get me through. Lessons plans are so much more fun when you aren't writing them alone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Transformational Change in the United States

Today I learned that 60% of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate, meaning that they operate with on a first or second grade reading level.

The average literacy level in the United States is eighth grade.

Eighth grade.

I am dumbfounded. How is it possible that, in one of the most developed nations in the world, we still have adult citizens who can't read? How does this happen? How could we let this happen?

We are barraged with facts like that all day, and they are sobering. For all our highly set goals and ambitious plans, there is still so much work that must be done.

Needless to say, I left my Literacy Specialist session today feeling a little overwhelmed.

But then at dinner, I got to thinking. While the challenge is monstrous, the need is extreme and this Institute alone is contributing significantly to the solution.

My Numbers...*
*A rough, hazy estimation done in my head over the dinner table.
*Not to be taken as fact. I haven't looked anything up. Yet.

There are about 800 corps members here at Delta State (I don't remember the exact number, so I'll pick a nice even number for prettier results).

Then, let's say that out of the 800, about 5% of us aren't really good teachers and actually completely bomb it in the classroom (a high estimate, just to be on the safe side).

That leaves 760 teachers.

Out of the 760, about 30% of us might be just good, average teachers, doing well but not making significant gains. That's about 280 people, leaving 480 excellent teachers. Four hundred eighty exceptional, ambitious teachers.

And that's just one institute.

There are eight institutes training teachers across the country this summer, so multiply eight by 480. That gives me 3840 top-notch new teachers training this summer across the United States.

That, my friends, means that there will be almost 4000 transformational new teachers entering classrooms this fall, joining older TFA corps members and veteran educators in the fight to end educational inequity.

And when 4000 teachers each significantly influence the lives of their 50 students (a rough average), that gives us a stunning 200,000 children who will be touched by new corps members ALONE in the coming year.

Lives changed, transformed by the power of an excellent education and the opportunities that will open from that. That's not even counting TFA alum and other non-TFA veteran educators who have been fighting this fight for looooong before TFA even existed. And it's already a powerful number.

I think I'm going to need to write those numbers down to remind me in the tough times these coming weeks that I am not even close to alone in this fight. Because one person cannot possibly change the status quo alone, but as a collective, we can push this movement forward and create lasting, transformation change in the world of education and in our students' lives.

Bam. If that doesn't give me a sense of purpose, I don't know what will.

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Day in Our Summer Schools

Today we kicked things off with a bang by going out to our school sites for the first time. Since the Delta is suuuuuuper spread out, all the busses leave at different times (some having to go as far as an hour). The earliest bus heads out at 5:55 a.m.; I got lucky and don't have to leave until 6:25 a.m.



I don't think I've been on a bus since second grade.

The day at our school sites was spent meeting our School Director (SD), Corps Member Advisors (CMA), Curriculum Specialist (CS), and School Manager (SM). TFA loves the acronyms.

We also learned how to set big goals and plan backward (which I hope, having gotten to this place, is something people already knew how to do), got a tour of the school, and learned what we'll be teaching at summer school this summer. I'll be teaching Math to students entering 9th grade. I'm so excited!!! Not only will I be teaching Math (which will be great since I'll most likely be teaching that in the fall), but I'll be teaching middle school kids who are going on to high school -- the perfect age to catch them and really drill in the importance of starting high school with the intent to graduate and go to college. I cannot wait to meet those kids.

And last but not least, we read a gazillion case studies and filled out a ton of forms in this baby.



This hunkin' thing -- all 815 pages of it -- is known affectionately by many names, including the Big Green Book, the Hulk, and the Green Lantern. I've included my cell phone for scale.

The sessions felt long today, and it was a struggle for me to stay awake. I think it's because there was quite a bit of repeat information from Induction, except for the brief introduction into "I do. We do. You do." Teacher speak for how to organize a lesson plan. We're going more in-depth on it tomorrow, which should help me stay awake and excited.

I also think I'll spend part of this weekend making myself some inspirational things to stick on my Green Monster, so that when sessions get long and I feel like I'm losing my sense of purpose, I can reach for some quotes. They'll get me through.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Arrival at Institute

BamaCorps has made it to Delta State!

A few of us drove caravan-style from Alabama to Mississippi, stopping once at a little Texaco for Twizzlers and a stretch. Once at Institute, the well-oiled TFA check-in process had me in and out of check-in within thirty minutes, and a whole troop of boy scouts were assisting everyone in unpacking our cars and taking things up to our rooms. It was the easiest arrival to "camp" ever (because until we start teaching kids, it really does feel like camp for big kids).

After unpacking a bit, I wandered with a few over to the quad for a large barbeque TFA hosted for us. We decided to sit with new people, to get to know others besides the kids in our corps, so we sat with some Mississippi Delta corps members. We asked them the size of their region... they are HUGE! The official number in our booklet puts the corps at 520!!! Considering BamaCorps is a fifty-four man outfit (as are some of the other corps, including the Appalachian Corps and Indianapolis Corps), that's almost more than half the people here at Institute. 

Makes me glad, once again, that I was assigned to Alabama and not the Delta. Another one of the many things I'm glad I haven't gotten lately.

It remind me of that Garth Brooks song, "Unanswered Prayers."

"Sometime I thank God for unanswered prayers. / Remember when you're talking to the Man upstairs. / And just because he doesn't answer / doesn't mean he don't care. / Cuz some of God's greatest gifts / are unanswered prayers."

That's my life right now. Because despite the large gaping unknown of Institute in front of me, I have never been more content and full of purpose. This is where I'm supposed to be.

Tomorrow we split up and board the busses to head out to the school sites where we'll be teaching this summer. My school is pretty close (maybe a ten or twenty minute drive), which is lucky. Some people have an hour bus ride there and back, since everything is so spread out in the Delta. 

Visiting Birmingham

Today the BamaCorps took a field trip into Birmingham (about 2 hours by charter bus) to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and have dinner with the huge supporters of Teach For America in Alabama.

It was an incredible day and definitely one of my favorites.

After a morning of logistics, we all hopped on a charter bus and headed straight to Birmingham and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.



I snapped this photo in the atrium, and would have taken a clearer photo but the guard asked me not to take pictures. I think I had assumed that the previous warning/request against cameras was meant for only when inside the museum gallery itself, but I guess not. Whoops.

The quote reads:
"I like to believe 
that the negative extremes of Birmingham's past 
will resolve into the positive and utopian extreme of her future;
that the sins of a dark yesterday will
be redeemed in the achievements of a bright tomorrow."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

It was a powerful museum.

I was so moved by the experience that I haven't really been able to articulate my feelings about it yet. All I can say is that I am extremely grateful to TFA for making sure we saw the Civil Rights Institute while at Induction.

It is a museum that needs to be seen by every single person in the United States, because I honestly believe that there is no way someone can walk through the museum's exhibits without being moved -- both with overwhelming shame and sadness for our nation's past, but also with a sense of awe/appreciation/respect for the strength of will and character of those who fought against the disgusting laws of segregation.

It'll take me a while to process the museum. Until then, please write the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute down as one of the places you must see during your lifetime. It is incredible.


The 16th Street Baptist Church, which was right across the street from the Civil Rights Institute.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

. . .

“One reason we struggle with insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”
- Steven Furtick

I found this on my incredible friend Geales's blog (who I'll see next week at Institute!!!), and I cannot think of a more perfect quote for me right now.

One of the last things we did today (after a Diversity and Inclusiveness discussion, Professionalism talk, and a panel with community parents) was listen to a panel of second-year corps members talk about their experiences from last year and the things they did well/will do better next year. It was incredibly inspiring and very helpful, as they gave a lot of specific strategies that they used to overcome anxieties, establish professional caring relationships with their students, and embed themselves in their communities.

And yet, while the panel was one of the best panels we've had all week, I kept fighting back a twinge of doubt. Sure, she was able to do this, but she has a more forceful personality. Sure, he was able to do that because he's a guy and that'd never work with a female teacher. Sure, they were successful because of X, Y, or Z, and those aren't qualities that I don't know if I have.

It was an hour of mixed emotions. But then I remembered the quote above, which I'd read on her blog last night. And I remembered that behind these corps members' successes and confidence now, there were months of struggle and leaps in personal growth (and we all know personal growth is one of the hardest things sometimes).

So on top of my flexibility mantra, I'm going to have to add that quote. It's so inspiring and calming. And hopefully someday, I'll be in their shoes and my past years of teaching will have a highlight reel of incredible student gains and accomplishments that people can look at when preparing for their own classrooms.

Until then, in the words of another 2nd-year corps member, you can't share a testimonial until you've been tested.

Bring on the test. Me and my kids will be ready.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Embracing the Urban Possibility

Today was completely consumed by interviews. The interviews. The ones that determine our jobs for the next two years -- where, what age, what subject.

Going in, I was naturally pretty nervous, especially since a lot of the questions were going to be about my teaching methods, and to be honest, I don't know a lot about teaching methods yet. But embracing a positive attitude, I tried to pep talk myself with my strengths, etc. That went pretty well, until I got the list of schools that I would be interviewing with, and they were primarily for the Birmingham area -- highly urban. Very much an inner-city school district.

Crashing waves of panic.

What? I've been preparing for rural!

That took a bit of time to process. But in the end, I think I can do it. It will be harder and take more time for me to adjust. I'm less comfortable in an urban environment than in a rural environment when it comes to teaching and understanding the key factors of poverty and key players/stakeholders in those communities. However, I'm capable. I can do it. And I'm actually really excited about the kinds of projects that I might be able to do in an urban area, things that aren't necessarily doable in rural areas.

Overall, it's just an exercise in more flexibility for me. Lots and lots more flexibility. And considering I won't really know what my job placement will be for up to another five weeks, I'm definitely going to need to practice that constantly. Maybe I'll write "FLEXIBILITY" in giant letters across my notebook. Wouldn't hurt to keep reminding myself -- especially since ultimately, I'm not here for me. I'm here for the children of my future classroom, wherever that may be.

On a more positive note (which is important right now), I am really loving the follow corps members in the BamaCorps. Love them. They are all incredible people from very diverse backgrounds (from all over the United States) who have come to bring their specific skills, interests, and talents to teaching. For example, today I talked to someone who one day wants to design educational video games and who has innovative ideas of ways to teach math in his classroom that he'd already like to implement. So cool and so different -- and so necessary to have that diversity of interest here. Just another way to make the corps stronger.

And we do have fun together. Yes, we do. Even though it's stressful, everyone remains optimistic and supportive, and I am excited to belong to this community and to have these people as my coworkers and peers. I really couldn't ask for a better set of people with which to spend two years.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Learning to Be Flexible

I knew coming into Teach For America that I'd have to be flexible, because there are forces working bigger than myself. So many more moving parts than even I know about (and I had the awesome opportunity to work for the organization last summer). I just didn't think I'd have to internalize the "Be Flexible" bit already.

But the picture for me has changed a little, as there's now a high likelihood that I'll be teaching secondary school math this coming year, and not social studies like I'd been planning. It turns out that there are more social studies corps members than positions available, and they are asking us to interview in other areas. I've chosen math -- mainly because I really can't teach science. I mean, I'd be a joke of a science teacher (and really wouldn't feel excited about teaching my subject), and that'd be doing a huge injustice to my kids.

Besides, math doesn't seem too bad. It should be easier to gather data since, like, math is like, all about data, right?

Of course, all I can really think about right now are the stupid things, like, so much for accumulating all those atlases, and, uhhh, I have to retake the Praxis?! Say whaaaaa?!

Hooray for another standardized test. Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze time in during Institute to brush up on my derivates and ... stuff.

Other than that news, today was a solid day of discussion and reflection. Lots of introspective things, which, lemme tell you, I love. Love, love, love. And it was so helpful to be able to talk about our insecurities and anxieties about teaching in these communities where many of us do not share the same racial and/or economic backgrounds as our students. What an eye-opening, humbling, and fascinating discussion.

And when community leaders joined us for a panel discussion in the evening about how to work and become a part of our Black Belt communities, I was in heaven. Because if there is anything I am prepared to do, it is to become a football-loving Southern Baptist for two years.

Not really.

But kinda.

I am so excited to embrace the community that I'm living in, going to their sports games, shopping in their stores, and attending their churches. Because one thing everyone keeps stressing is that if the kids know you care, and are invested in not only their education but also their lives, then they'll respond to that and respect your leadership.

Of course, church plays a huge role in the rural communities in this area, sometimes being the only force keeping it together. And while recognizing our diverse backgrounds and understanding that not all of us are Christian or even religious, the community leaders encouraged all of us to become a part of the local churches, attend them frequently, and really enlist them as another partner in our work to propel our students forward to great gains.

And last, but definitely not least, Alabamans love their football. So, since I went to a giant football college, I feel I can relate. I understand that culture and I can smack talk like the rest of them (or rather, will be able to smack talk once I learn a bit more. Homework is definitely needed in this area). Though, no matter how much I get pressured by the "War Eagle" and "Roll Tide" cheers around me, I will remain faithfully a Sooner Born, Sooner Bred -- and will start doing my homework STAT to defend that. So any help from you Sooner football fans would be greatly appreciated.

In Peace, Love, and New Experiences,
An Excited New Corps Member

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Day of Induction

The first day was pretty much what I expected/way more entertaining.

After a leisurely morning in Demopolis, I drove over to Livingston, which was about half an hour away. Upon arrival, I checked in and got information about where to store my stuff. The storage containers were back in Demopolis. Great.

Still excited and feeling good, I hopped in the car and drove back. When I got into town, however, I couldn't find the unit. Anywhere. For the life of me. I canvassed that Highway 80 like it was nobody's business.

Finally I stopped and asked a woman getting into her truck if she knew where I could find this one random storage unit. She didn't, but she asked me the address and then said she could help me find it. So I ended up following this woman up and down Highway 80 as she looked for the place for me.

When she'd exhausted her ideas, she pulled over and asked me the address once more. Then she paused.

"Hold on. I have one more idea."

She pulled away again, with me in pursuit. We drove up the ways a bit, pulled into a gas station parking lot, and right up beside a squad car -- where she proceeded to ask Steve the Patrolman for directions. He didn't know either. But he motioned for me to follow him.

And so there I was, being escorted around Demopolis by a squad car. It struck me as hilarious, and I was laughing the entire drive behind him. If he looked in the rearview mirror, he probably though I was crazy.

Finally, after a few backtracks and a stop to call police headquarters ("Can you tell me where exaaaactly this place is?!"), we found the storage units, and he said goodbye with an apology for how long it had taken him, because he didn't know those units were still being used. I didn't care how long it had taken me to find it at that point -- I was just grateful for the help.

I know I'll say this again many a time in the next two years, but I am blown away by Southern hospitality. Love it.

After that adventure, I unpacked my car in the 97 degree heat, which was infinitely easier than packing everything in (in any heat). I owe the fact that everything fit in my car to my mother's amazing moving skills. She'd be a fiend at Tetris.

All of that fit into my tiny car.
Of course, unpacking things in the dead heat of the Alabama day isn't ideal. I almost had a heat stroke probably. Showed up at the gas station looking for Gatorade with an almost purple face. I'm going to have to watch out for that.

The rest of the day was definitely what I expected. Once all the corps members met up, there were lots of meet-and-greet games and team-bonding things. All good opportunities to get to know each other. So far, I really like everyone. Really really like them. It should be a good two years, if these are the people I'll be working with.




And naturally, because we all still feel like college students, about half of the 55 BamaCorps members went out to a local bar (possibly the only one?) after the day's events. It was called the Brass Monkey. We chatted with the owners, all signed our names on a ceiling tile, and watched the NBA Finals game.



All in all, a great first day.

Checking into Induction

Induction for the Teach For America 2011 BamaCorps begins today. This moment -- June 7th -- has been on my calendar since January, and it's so surreal when those days you mark on your calendar for months and months away finally get here. Where did all that time go?

Induction in Alabama will last until this weekend, and it should be a fun time. It's the opportunity for all of us in the BamaCorps -- corps members teaching in the rural Alabama area -- to get to know each other. We'll also have some regional-specific training and go to a job fair (according to the schedule). Should be busy and fun.

Then on Sunday it's off to Mississippi, where the BamaCorps will meet up with other corps from nearby regions (including Charlotte, North Carolina -- I'll get to see my friend Geales again!!!!) to train for five weeks. This will be the crash course in teaching, smashing everything we should have learned in a four-year education degree into one summer, complete with student teaching in summer school classrooms, lots of subject-specific training, and classes on classroom management.

I don't expect to get much sleep, and have stocked up on Emergen-C and tea bags to get me through. Someone please remind me to take my vitamins.

And with that, I'm off. Time to head out and start this thing. The nerves are gone and the excitement/adrenaline has temporarily replaced the rock in my stomach. I hope it stays away.

Ciao!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lost in Rural Alabama

After a leisurely morning driving around and exploring Livingston, Alabama (where I'll be reporting for TFA duty tomorrow), Mom and I drove to the Birmingham airport to put her on a plane.

Sigh.

There's nothing quite like having your mother abandon you in a strange state to start your new life.

Kidding. I'm not starting my new life yet.

It was a sad morning.

After a long airport lunch and a teary goodbye, I got back in my car and headed back south to Demopolis, my temporary base camp until check-in time. It was supposed to be a two hour drive, but after a week or so of people telling me that I'm pretty good at directions, homegirl got cocky -- and completely lost.

Took me an extra thirty-five minutes to get home.

I ended up on the wrong county road/highway and took a substantial, though scenic, detour through Greensboro, Alabama.

Sadly, it wasn't until I got to Greensboro that I realized something was probably wrong. It all looked the same to me, but I knew we hadn't gone through there on our way to the hotel the night before. So I pulled off at a little hardware store to ask if I was still headed toward Demopolis. The woman laughed.

"Not at all, hon."

I guess I was on a parallel county road/highway to AL-43 (or whatever I wanted) that was growing increasingly less parallel and meandering farther and farther away.

She gave me directions on how to get back on track.

---------------------------

Things I've Learned When Asking for Directions in Rural Alabama:

1. Don't expect cardinal directions. They don't exist out here.

2. Don't expect the person to name any street names either. They may exist, but they're probably only used by the postal service. If you live here, you'll be directed to take a left after the Hale Country Store, which is down low across there a bit, and then take a right at the first light, which'll take you around about a ways and then straight to Demopolis.

3. Follow their directions to the T. When they say go right at the first light, go right at the first light -- even though that particular first light happens to be about seven miles down the road. Don't bloody turn until you get to that light.

4. When in doubt, stop and ask for a second set of directions. The way in which they're told wont change, but the next time you stop, you've probably already completed at least one of the confusing turns, so that's one less confusing instruction for the next person to give you.

-------------------------

So that's what I did. After stopping at the little hardware store, I was completely confused and figured it was best to stop again and ask for a second set of directions. This time I stopped at a large gas station. Seemed like a safe bet. Sure enough, the moment I walked in, this really nice guy asks me if I'm looking for the bathroom.

"Actually, I'm looking for Demopolis."

He grins and points out where to go. Same directions as last time, but much easier to understand. I thank him and get back in my car. Right as I am turning left out of the gas station parking lot, the guy comes out of the store at a sprint, yelling and waving me down.

Apparently getting out of the parking lot going the right way is too much for me.

God bless that guy for sprinting after my car in the dead heat of Alabama summertime to tell me I was headed the wrong direction. Already. Probably saved me at least another half hour of driving.

And sure enough, after following that highway down a ways yonder and then taking a right onto another interstate highway, I finally made my way back into Demopolis city limits. Hallelujah. At least I got a really good view of the countryside around here. It's beautiful, and I'm happy to be spending a couple years of my life here.

Made It To Alabama

After our road trip today, I have officially driven across almost the entire continental U.S., minus only California and Georgia. 



It was such a long trip that my memory breaks it up into smaller blocks of time, and I only remember a tiny bit from each block.

From Tulsa to Little Rock, Arkansas:
Drove for two hours. Slept for two hours.

From Little Rock, Arkansas to Memphis, Tennessee:
I was determined to get a picture of every state line we crossed, but then I couldn't get one on the Arkansas border because of construction. Lame. So I tried to get one at the Tennessee border, which would have been cool since this was my first time in Tennessee.

I couldn't get one at the Tennessee border because I never saw the sign. The view was obscured by a giant line of semi trucks.



The picture doesn't even do it justice. I've never seen so many on one interstate before. But once I thought about it, it made sense that there were so many on that stretch of road, since I-40 is one of the main interstates across the U.S. It's amazing how much our country relies on cross-country truck drivers.

From Memphis, Tennessee to Mississippi State Line:



Picture of the Mississippi state line was a success, though I was too lazy to get out of the car.

From Mississippi State Line to Tupelo, Mississippi:
Mom and I couldn't remember if Elvis Presley was from Tupelo, MS or from another T-sounding city in Alabama. We decided that if he was from Tupelo, we'd know as we passed through.

Sure enough, there was a highway sign pointing us in the direction of his birthplace. However, I don't think the sign was quite big enough. In Oklahoma, if someone is from their hometown, their name gets painted on the water tower.

Just sayin.

From Tupelo, Mississippi to the Alabama State Line: 
It was getting dark quickly, so we decided for the longer route through Tuscaloosa over the shorter, windier route on county roads. This meant we hit the state line while it was still light outside. Perfect for picture-taking!



Yours truly got a few honking horns out of this photo op. Either it was my rockin travel outfit, or I was the only nerd they'd seen get out of their car to take pictures of a road sign. I prefer the first.

From the Alabama State Line to Tuscaloosa, Alabama: 
We got lost. So. Many. Times.

Or rather, the blue dot on Mom's Blackberry GPS thing was never right. The sucker refused to update. Not much help when you are whizzing around at 75 mph trying to decide if you need to turn right or not.

Me: "So I turn right?"

Mom: "Uh...." *frantic clicking/scrolling

Me: "Right or straight?! RIGHT OR STRAIGHT?!?!"

Mom: *more scrolling

Me: *drive straight

Mom: "Turn right."

From Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Eutaw, Alabama:
Mom and I counted how many states in the U.S. we have visited. I've now been to thirty of the fifty states (seriously lacking in the Ohio/Iowa area). Today I added Tennessee and Mississippi.

From Eutaw, Alabama to Demopolis, Alabama:
(paraphrasing)

Mom: "You know, when I first moved to Arizona, I looked up all the bugs in the area so I'd know which ones were poisonous. It made me feel a whole lot better about moving. You could do that too."

Me: "....."

Mom: "Or at the very least, look up where the alligators are."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On My Way

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today I am officially leaving the state of Oklahoma and beginning the drive to my new home state of Alabama.

Crazy, crazy, crazy.

Except for being incredibly sad to leave my friends and fighting a hard rock of nerves in my stomach, I'm excited for the trip. I'm ready to start the next phase of my life, though the wonderful week spent in Oklahoma (sorry for the lax blogging) was almost enough to convince me to quit my TFA position and find something in OKC. It's probably a good thing jobs are hard to come by these days, or I might have been tempted.

 My mom and I have mapped our route from Tulsa to Demopolis, Alabama, which will take us through the grand states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Four more states! And I'll get to see Memphis, which is cool. After this entire trip is over, I'll have crossed over eight states (only missing the coasts by two -- no California or Georgia for me this time).

I promise to be more dedicated to my blog from here on out. The last couple weeks have been sparse on the blogs but full of events (the little events with big emotions), and the next few months (and years) will be big on both. Pinky promise.

With All My Love,
Virginia

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

. . .

This quote was above the counter at a bakery I went to the other day. Reminds me of how simple life can be boiled down to.

"Man, for all his progresses, posturing, and high-minded opinions of himself, owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains."

-Anon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I passed my Praxis test.

Hallelujah. I can teach now.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Road Trip

So my awesome younger brother and I just drove across almost half the United States on Saturday and Sunday. It was a long two days.



On Day One, we drove through the entire state of New Mexico. First impressions were that it was very dry, rather level and uninteresting in most places, with small shrubs and large rocky mountains off in the distance (which, no matter how far we drove, we never reached).

I think it's safe to say that the interstates in the U.S. always take the most boring route possible. If it's interesting, it's probably still on Route 66.

After a twelve-hour drive the first day, and losing two hours from Daylights Savings Time, we arrived at our hotel in Amarillo, TX at 2:10 a.m. -- fourteen hours after leaving Tucson (we got a way later start than we would have liked).

I've never slept so well in my life. I was out.

The next morning, at our continental breakfast ...



You Texans. You would.

Then it was on to Oklahoma!

Those of you who have drive through any part of the Oklahoma/Texas panhandle know that I am not exaggerating in the slightest bit when I say that there is nothing flatter than the panhandle.

Soooooooooo flaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.

There's nothing out there but fields (flat fields with nothing growing very high yet), the occasional farmhouse, and some trees which that farmer planted to protect his house from the sweeping wind (which would randomly buffet my car a foot to the left now and then as I drove through).

The second leg of the trip was uneventful and didn't take very long (only four hours or so). And once in Oklahoma City, we had a few hours to spare before I had to drop Stan off at the airport, so we got lunch and caught the tail end of a baseball game in Bricktown -- which just happened to be the Big 12 Championship game. The perfect ending to the sibling-bonding road trip.

And then naturally, to wrap up an otherwise perfect trip, we got completely lost on the way to the airport and thought for a moment that we'd miss Stan's flight. But we didn't, and all is well.

So ends the first half of my cross-country trip to my new home. Stay tuned for tales of my shenanigans in Oklahoma and the road trip to Alabama.

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