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).

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.


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.

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?

Discouraged Teacher

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

About Me

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