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.

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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.

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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.

About Me

... A few thoughts to pass the time...