Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Goals

I am official knee deep in summer activities. By summer activities I mean the laziness and joy that comes with a break from the grind of the school year. I think a lot of people just assume teachers just sit around and do nothing over summer break. Whereas there is some of that (after all it is our vacation) my friends and I are constantly working or doing something. Along with planning for my new teaching position and Ph.D program for next year I have set some goals for myself this summer.

First, a simple goal is to blog weekly. I'm hoping that if I can get into a habit of blogging this summer that it will become more of a habit during the school year. I'm not a terribly good writer but I do like blogging when I am able to do it.

Secondly, I would like to read 5 books this summer. I have to read a few books for my Ph.D program (check) and I have various books in my possession that I've got over the past few years so I don't believe I'll have to buy many of the books I'll read. The books range from classics by CS Lewis, to Rob Bell, to books on how to make a good business better. I'd like to become an avid reader but due to apathy and excuses I never have. Most of the time it completely depends on the book and my interest level on the given topic. The books I have etched out to read will be knocked out hopefully by mid-July.

Thirdly, I would like to have more independent time with God. I don't want this to be a boxed in, concrete time; however, I would like this time to take a variety of shapes and sizes. This may be more time in prayer, more time in Bible, or more time studying particular christian topics. Like blogging, this is something I really want to get in the flow of now so I wont have to worry about budgeting it in during the school year.

Fourth, I would like to eat substantially better. Too often by apathy or excuse I eat terrible. The workouts I put my body through are of high intensity and high caliber but the results are limited due to a poor diet. So, this summer I want to get into a more healthy routine. I have to make sure this isn't something that is short-lived but something that can be replicated when true busyness hits. I'm diligent and responsible when it comes to working out (typically 5-6 days a week) but struggle with the food aspect.

Lastly, a goal of mine is to relax. I'm the type of personality that always has to be doing something so true relaxation may be hard. It's also tough because working ahead and knocking out work is relaxing to me. However, this summer I'm going to spend a week on a cottage on a lake up in Michigan to simply unwind before I start my grad school program in mid-July. In Michigan I hope to not do much work. I want to spend the majority of my time on the beach, reading, and spending time with the people I'll be with.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm Back and an Update

Blogging is always something I have intentions to do but it never actually happens. I've decided the further I get into education the more I want to blog. I obviously wouldn't be doing the work I'm doing if I didn't think it was of the utmost importance. If I truly believe what I do is important than why not share it with my friends, family, and others on the blogosphere? I could chalk up my blogging absence to busyness or apathy but I'll skip excuses and simply dive into updates of my life.

Let's go way back! The past two years I have been engaged with Teach For America teaching at a charter elementary charter school located on the west side of Indianapolis. The past two years have easily been two of the most forming and impacting years of my life as I do work I'm passionate about and meet people that truly inspire and impact my life. Fast forward, my two year commitment is now over (TFA Alum) and an array of opportunities have made themselves available for me.

I served my two year Teach For America commitment at one school (that I was placed at) but decided that that school was not the school I would choose to stay in. Don't get me wrong I love the demographic and population I serve at my school and will continue to serve the exact same population at my new school. I am moving to another charter on a different side of Indianapolis. The school is called KIPP Indy which is obviously a school in the KIPP network if you are familiar. Instead of teaching 5th grade everything (Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Social Studies) I will be teaching 7th grade math. So, obviously, I win. With familiar leadership, higher behavioral and academic expectations, and an increased salary it was a no brainer to move to KIPP.

The past two years I worked on and finished up my Masters in Teaching. As I continued to teach and the passion for quality education grew in me I decided that education leadership was an area I must pursue. I applied and go into a doctoral program where I will be pursuing my Doctorate in Education. After my 3 years in the program I will have my Ph. D and an Indiana principal's license. It's really a fast track to becoming a school leader and expanding my impact on public education specifically for an urban population.

That's a snapshot of what's happening in my life. The idea is to blog weekly. We'll see if it happens. I will publicize any blog post I make. I'll leave you with a link of something else I have done on the side of teaching. I have done some writing for Michelle Rhee's organization Students First. Here is an article I wrote about all of the recent education legislation in Indiana.

Monday, May 31, 2010


I came across this quote by Theodore Roosevelt and loved it. I love this website as well. A friend of mine (Josh Woodward) showed me this site and all of my guy friends should check it out.

Blogging Coma

I apologize to the 3 people that read my blog because I have been silent for 3 months. Though I have been silent I still want to be devoted to this blog. I still feel like I have semi-meaningful things to say I just need to create time to actually blog those things. So, I apologize and I hope this is the last time I apologize for my lack of blogging.

The past few months have flown by. I have gotten a few new students and lost a few students. I guess that's the way it goes in public education. My students lives are so fluid that they're in Indianapolis one minute and then the next week they're living with dad in Oklahoma. One of my Hispanic students left for Mexico immediately after ISTEP. Strange but I guess that's the way it goes.

Probably the most important part I haven't mentioned over the past few months has been the success of my students in the classroom. At the beginning of March, my students and I began to bond like we hadn't earlier in the school year. There were a lot more smiles and a lot more laughing. I think the longer they were with me the more they actually bought in to what I was trying to do as their teacher. Either way, it made things really fun for both them and I.

My students finished up taking the "NWEA" exam a few weeks ago. This is a test my school takes to track students growth. My students took the NWEA exam at the beginning of the year (like a diagnostic), at the middle of the year (to see how much growth has accrued), and at the end of the year to see how much my students really have grown this school year. The NWEA is extremely important to me and I communicate that importance to my students. When students, like mine, come into 5th grade years behind in math and reading then I'm less worried about how they do on a 5th grade standardized test but MORE worried about how much they grow. I want them back to grade level or beyond. My class goal, as my students would proudly tell you, is to grow 1.5 years in both mathematics and reading. My goal is not for my students to pass a standardized test (though that would be great) but for them to have growth that will ultimately change their mindset and trajectory in education.

Needless to say, my students met our classroom goal. With their weekly assessment scores combined with their NWEA scores my students grew 1.5 years in both Math and Reading. Awesome right? I'm proud of how hard they worked. I'm proud of their investment in the goal and in the test. I'm just happy I reached my goal as well. I can honestly say that I would have walked away from my first year of teaching with an extremely bitter taste in my mouth if I would have not had "significant" gains with my students.

That was a brief snapshot of the last few months of school. I now have one more day left (a half day, field day). This summer will be quite a busy one. I am taking a few different masters classes as well as teaching summer school with an organization in Indianapolis. I am also moving to a new location in Indianapolis on July 1st. I am moving in with Ian Yearwood and Josh Woodward in a house right in Broad Ripple. I hope to rekindle my feelings for blogging over the next few weeks and to continue updating my life on the internet for the few that read.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SPED, Threats, and Knives OH MY!

Any teacher can agree that the time span from Christmas break until spring break is the "longest" time of the school year. I can remember at Bethel that the time between Christmas break and spring break seemed like an eternity. There are just so many factors that play into it. There are little to no breaks/days off. The cold and the snow just wears on people (especially at Bethel). Overall, there is just not much to get excited about during this time of year.

Since early January I have been slowly but surly prepping my students for the dreaded ISTEP. For those of you that are not Hoosiers, the ISTEP is the Indiana standardized test that my students have to take. The test is difficult for most children but specifically urban children. The demands the ISTEP makes on students is unreasonable and unpredictable. I teach specific items that I know are going to be on it but every teacher in urban education knows their kids are typically awful test takers and will inevitably struggle with this test. Nevertheless, I am prepping my students to make their way through the uncharted waters that is ISTEP.

Although, how much fun is prepping for a scary standardized test? Sometimes things can get monotonous and I try to through unpredictability their way (like Science and Social Studies). Sometimes, though, students can break up the monotony. Something happened this past Friday that was both shocking and terrifying. My emotionally handicapped student was expelled. What for? Not only did she threaten to stab a 4th grade boy BUT she was storing supplies at school. Other students (not in my class) found a steak knife and box cutter in the womens locker room. After connecting that with her threats heard by students the puzzle was soon solved. Expulsion was the only and correct solution.

What does this mean? This means that all of my hard work for that student is pissed away. The behavioral and academic gains she had been making are now all moot and the achievement gap has expanded for her. It's quite sad. But to every situation there is an up side. I lose a student that was not only one of my lowest academically but one of my lowest behaviorally. She was a student I not only always had to help but always had to watch. It sucks that she's expelled (don't get me wrong she deserved it) but her presence in my classroom tended to hurt my classroom culture.

I apologize, let me explain my title. This female that was expelled was a emotionally handicapped (SPED = Special Education). She made a threat to a 4th grade student (said she would stab him). Lastly, she was expelled for bringing knives to school with the apparent intention of stabbing another student.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't Let Them Forget

Teach For America has 5 core values. They are as follows:

* Relentless pursuit of results: We assume personal responsibility for achieving ambitious, measurable results in pursuit of our vision. We persevere in the face of challenges, seek resources to ensure the best outcomes, and work toward our goals with a sense of purpose and urgency.

* Sense of possibility: We approach our work with optimism, think boldly, and greet new ideas openly.

* Disciplined thought: We think critically and strategically in search of the best answers and approaches, reflect on past experiences and data to draw lessons for the future, and make choices that are deeply rooted in our mission.

* Respect and humility: We value all who are engaged in this challenging work. We keep in mind the limitations of our own experiences and actively seek out diverse perspectives.

* Integrity: We ensure alignment between our actions and our beliefs, engage in honest self-scrutiny, and do what is right for the broader good.

I would say that most people that work for Teach For America concentrate on the very first one. As teachers in desperate situations, we work our little fingers to the bone trying to achieve our "sense of possibility" that our students can succeed. I feel as though I embody all these values. If I didn't then I don't think I would have been chosen to work for this organization. I work so hard. I am strict. I am determined.

If you want to know how determined and hard working I am you can just simply look into the eyes of my students. I think they understand what I am. The problem is my students forgot how I FEEL. They know I expect nothing less than their very best and they know I constantly want their heads down in determination to be perfect students; although, I felt as though it was time for a fire side of sorts with my students. They seemed frustrated and disconnected. Was it the long break? Is this a January swoon? No, I let them forget something very important.

On Thursday, with about ten minutes left in the school day, I had my students pack up their stuff. I then wheeled out my office chair and sat in front of them. They desperately needed a reminder of how much I cared about spilled my guts to them. I told them the truth. They needed to know that they're the first thing I think about when I wake up and they're the last thing I think about when my head hits the pillow. I just blatantly told them that I care about each one of them. By the looks on their faces you would have thought that I was giving them the answers to ISTEP+. They were focused and engaged on what I had to say. That's because they needed to hear it just as much as I needed to say it.

They needed to know why I am so strict. They needed to know why I'm so hard on all of them. Why do I demand perfection? Why am I different from other teachers they've had? I care so damn much. This is what love looks like. They all agreed that I was the most strict teacher they've ever had. I don't apologize for how I do things and how hard I make them work and sure didn't apologize to them. They just needed to understand why a 23 year old man is spending all of his time wondering if Trinidy is going to get kicked out of my class. Or if Rodney is going to understand math standard 5.5.4 okay. Or if Cheyanne will be able to focus even though her cousin was shot dead last night.

I'm not here for my health and I'm definitely not here for my hairline because that's fading quicker than the polar icecaps. I'm here because I care about each and every one of my students. I don't want them to go a day without realizing that.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth."
~Dan Rather

Friday, January 1, 2010

Music in 2009

I saw a friend give an interesting editorial about his favorite albums and songs of 2009 so I decided that I would do something similar. I'm going to throw a kink into what you think I'm going to do. Instead of just listing my favorite albums of 2009 (which I will) I will also be listing musicians/bands that I got into this year regardless of when their material was released. So here we go...

Best Albums of 2009:
-Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King by Dave Matthews Band
-Ocean Eyes by Owl City
-The Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z
-Battle Studies by John Mayer
-Be One of Us and Hear No Noise by Metavari
(Some close calls are The Fray and Kings of Leon. They are close calls because their cd's came out late in 2008)

Bands or Musicians that I started listening to a lot in 2009:
-Colin Hay

That is all. Not every interesting but it was interesting going back and sifting through all the music I bought and listened to through the year.