Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I never knew that Christmas break would come this quickly and that it would be this necessary. It feels good to be on break. There's just one problem. How does one go from 100mph to 0mph? If you know the answer to that question please let me know. In college it was always just a sprint at the end of the semester. Not only was it a sprint but it was a short sprint. Being a school teacher is like running a very long marathon. Let's hope you don't pull a hamstring in the first mile of the marathon because you have 25.2 miles left and you HAVE to finish. After teaching for close to five months I have so much respect for most teachers everywhere. Side note: I said I respect "most" teachers. That is because there are teachers out there (this should come as no surprise) that don't give a damn about their jobs.

Well, I'm trying to slow down to 0mph but it's difficult. What does a first year elementary teacher do over Christmas break? I think I have a lot of various goals for myself over break just like most people. One of my goals is to plan a lot! I know that only a few hours over break can save multiple hours during the second semester. Teach For America has appropriately taught me that vision precedes action and I'm trying to realize that vision now. What is it my students need most? What is going to be the best use of my time in the short time I have left with my students? Thus far, I have sketched out a schedule (I like to call it a roadmap) for what I'm teaching and when for next semester. I have mapped out key points for every single math lesson I'll teach second semester. I still have a few more things to figure out but will do them in the coming days. Getting ahead invigorates me. Anybody that knew me in college knew that I was that nerd writing a paper months in advance. Well, my personality hasn't changed. If I can work ahead (without hurting my students) I will. There are obviously some things one cannot plan right now. That's okay though. I'll control right now what I can control.

Another goal is to revitalize myself spiritually. Things aren't negative in my spiritual walk but faith and working out ones salvation can always be strengthened. I want to spend time reflecting on what my relationship with God looked like the past semester and setting goals for what I want it to look like next semester. Identifying the pro's and con's of my spirituality and focusing on what really matters. Hopefully this break can show me a glimpse of a better spirituality. I hope to learn more about myself and how to lose more of myself.

I apologize, that last paragraph was really vague and sounded uber spiritual. What I want to do over break is to pray more, read more, and think critically about what I want to accomplish spiritually over the coming months. I want to critically look back and see what God taught me and what he is continuing to teach me about where I am in this stage of life. For example, God has been showing me a lot about what it means to become completely reliant upon him and abide in him FULLY throughout my day. I want to examine that more and not only figure out why God is teaching me this but figure out how to make it more of a reality in my life. Sorry, still kind of a vague paragraph.

Lastly, I want rest. I want to feel fresh going into the last 5 months. I want my kids to get the best Mr. Schaefer possible. If anybody reading has talked to me about education and Teach For America you can tell that I'm passionate about what I'm doing and I want to keep it that way. If I refocus myself spiritually and have a great game plan going into the second semester it's no doubt that I'll be able to have a better and more healthy rest.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life in November

They say the longest and hardest months that first year teachers experience are October and November. In my mind October and November were not what I anticipated. Both months flew by very quickly. October was a lot like August and September but November has been extremely difficult.

An average week I work anywhere from 60 to 85 hours a week. Sounds like a lot but I promise I'm not stressed. This is what I signed up for and I could probably work more than I do now if I wanted to. November has been crazy. I am the first one at my school every day. I get to school anywhere from 5:30 to 6:00 in the morning. Some teachers go in that early because they feel as though they "have" to go in and work but I just prefer getting an early start and I enjoy working in the morning. I appreciate the little things like coffee, an empty school, and loud music in my classroom. Because I go in so early I usually don't stick around after school that long. November has shown me new challenges and I find myself leaving school later and later each day.

Each week I teach at least one Math core standard and at least one English core standard. Monday through Thursday I give lessons on these specific core standards and, depending on the standard, I test my students on the standards. I then put the student data into my computer-based trackers. The past few weeks I have been teaching my kids some really tough standards. Due to the difficulty of the standards I have had longer days than usual because kids have a hard time understanding these elaborate learning goals.

There is nothing more frustrating than doing dozens of problems on the board, countless one-on-one sessions with struggling students, and constant reteaching just to continue to see blank faces and confused eyes. I believe being a good teacher means constantly being in reflection. What did my students learn today? What worked? What were my actions as a teacher that led students to success? What activities led to understanding and excitement for learning? I believe that asking these key questions will lead to better results in the classroom. And, after all, that's why I'm here.

I've been working my butt off. The last few Saturdays I've pulled close to 8 hour days. Things are hard. There's always hope. The long days, early mornings, and frustrating lunch breaks will be worth it if my kids grow. I feel as though I always say that but it's truly the case. I can't imagine the look on my kids faces if I am able to tell them that they grew two years in reading or that they finally passed the ISTEP. But, for that to happen there has to be work in the trenches. Bring a flashlight, a spade, and some will power because we'll be there for a long time!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why I Don't Give Homework

I think I just heard a few people gasp! How can you not give kids homework? How can students learn and get educational practice without homework? Let's first decide on a definition for homework: "Homework, or homework assignment, refers to tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed mostly outside of class, and derives its name from the fact that most students do the majority of such work at home." Okay, homework are specified tasks in which students are supposed to complete outside of class. What is homework really? It's just extra practice that aids the student in learning and firming up specified learning goals.

I gave homework the first month and a half or so. It was okay. I just assumed that teachers had to give homework, after all, I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't get homework. Homework is just something you have to give as a teacher and something you have to do as a student. Although, after a month or so of giving homework here is what I found to be true:
• The kids who need homework least (A and B students) will do it.
• The kids who need it most (D and F students), won't, or else they'll do it halfassedly, gaining as much credit with the least effort possible.

If homework is just schoolwork done at home, then what makes it more valuable than schoolwork done at school? I've just kind of redefined homework. With all of this being said, I still give homework to my students; however, I give them plenty of time to get it done in class. The process for giving homework and students finishing homework is a management issue. For example,if your class is slow to start and quick to finish, if your transitions are labored, or if you waste time disciplining your class, then you won't have the time to get through forty problems or my students wont have time to do the necessary practice that will lead to no work outside of the classroom.

So, my students get homework. As a matter of fact my students probably get more homework then anybody else in my school. They usually have 3 to 4 things for homework every day. They usually have 2 ELA (English Language Arts) assignments: one out of our ELA book and the other I designed based upon the English state standard we are working on. They usually have 2 mathematics assignments as well. They usually have 15-30 problems out of our math curriculum and I have another assignment I have designed based on the particular math state standard we're working on.

My students are starting to understand two things about me: I don't waste any time throughout the day and I expect them to work like their hair is on fire. If I don't waste time and if they work hard that means they've gotten in the necessary educational practice (homework) and they've got no homework because they worked hard to finish it. Plus, studies and research show that teachers that take advantage of every educational minute throughout their day tend to move their students where they need to be.

So, I kind of give homework. Hypothetically, my students should not have work to do at home. They should work their butts of in class to finish it all. Every day, done or not, my students are required to put their homework in their homework folder. They are required to take it home and bring it back every day. This fulfills two needs for me; this instills the responsibility aspect that homework teachers and fulfills parents needs to see their childrens homework (finished or not).

Every day is a learning experience. I'm just glad I have others in my life to bounce ideas off of. The most amazing part about this "no giving homework" thing is that parents seemed to respond positively to it. Either they like it or they don't have the guts to tell me how they really feel. Some students don't like it because it requires them to work their butt off during the day. In that respect, I'm teaching them life skills. WORK HARD! I would say the most common word I say to my students is "WORK". If someone appears to be daydreaming or screwing around I just give them a really disappointed look and say, "WORK!" They need to work. They need someone to tell them to work. They need someone to tell them how to work. They need to learn that hard work pays off. This year is the year they learn all of that.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I decided I wanted to start putting videos on here. So many things happen in my life that are just hilarious so I thought it'd be funny to have videos of me and friends telling stories. Here's the first one...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wake Me Up When September Ends

That was the thought going through my mind the last four or five days of September. When is this month going to be over? Well, I can honestly say that I am giddy that it is already October. I officially have to wear a North Face jacket when I leave the apartment in the morning and can effectively and comfortably wear jeans and a hoodie in the evenings. Thank God for October.

I have just recently set up all of my "trackers" for my classroom. Trackers are programs that are set up in Microsoft Excel that have formulas in them for me to track my students educational growth. For example, I have a Math tracker. On the top of the page it lists all of the important math state standards and on the left hand side it has my class roster. Every time I test one of those standards the students grades are entered into the tracker. This way, I can see their mastery over a particular standard. Sounds a little complicated but it's not. In other words, it's an organizational way for me to track my students progress and to see where they need help.

One concept I am trying to not only understand but wrap my head around is the idea of the Kingdom of God and how I can integrate it into my public school classroom. What happens in the Kingdom of God? Well, I think that if the Kingdom of God is fulfilled in my classroom then nobody will go hungry. So, to I keep granola bars in my desk just in case somebody forgets to eat breakfast or their parents/guardians didn't feed them breakfast. I also believe that there is justice in the Kingdom of God. So I try to seek justice in the classroom in whatever way possible. A lot of people define Justice as fair. A lot of people define fair as getting what you deserve. But in my classroom fair isn't what you deserve, it's what you need. Maybe there's a student that gets an teachers aid on a test. Other students may say, "Hey, that's not fair. I don't get someone to help me on my tests!" Well, what they don't realize is that the person that gets the aid because they need one. So, though it may not be fair for that person it's what the other person needs. The whole idea is mind boggling and I'm still thinking about it.

I'm letting things brew...I'm trying to increase my effectiveness as a teacher...Let's do it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Rubber is Hitting the Road

This is the time of the teaching year when things start getting great, stressful, frustrating, gratifying, or any other type of emotion or feeling that you can throw in there. I've taught for 5 weeks and it's starting to get to the point where I figure out what kids are learning and what they're not learning. I'm now coming to the realization about how far behind my kids actually are. The majority of my kids are two years behind in reading and all by 5 or 6 are behind in mathematics. It's frustrating. Who's to blame? Do parents not help with homework? Did they have teachers before that didn't care? Is it the school districts fault? What is going on?

If you were to hang out in my classroom you wouldn't see a group of 5th graders that are behind. You'd see smiling faces and a group of students ready to learn. I guess my point is that who cares why they're behind. The point is that they're behind and somebody needs to help close the gap between the kids that are on grade level and the ones that won't make it through high school. It's so funny, when I talk to people about teaching and my classroom they say something along the lines of, "I bet your students love you," and I got to be honest, I don't think a single one does. Am I okay with that? Absolutely. My kids are from rough home lives, poverty, and, in a lot of cases, people have given up on them whether they've realized that yet or not. They don't need to like Mr. Schaefer. They don't need Mr. Schaefer to be their friend and comforter. They need a teacher. They need a teacher that gives a damn about whether they are able to move onto 6th grade and accomplish the goals they have for their lives.

The next few months are going to be tough. I'll need to teach like my hair is on fire. Some kids are going to progress and grow while others will stay on the sidelines, complacent about their education and where their short-lived life is heading. How am I going to continue to get students to believe in the attitude that says, "I can"? Not only "I can" but "I want". Keeping the motivation and growth moving will be put to the test these next few months.

A quick note...between working 60-80 hours a week, getting my apartment broken into, and still being in a stage in my life where I have class and homework, I have become exhausted. So much of the past few months of my life has pushed me to a state of brokenness and humility. Amongst the busyness and stress I have found God in a completely new light. I couldn't be doing any of this without the love, comfort, grace, and power of Christ Jesus. His grace renews my life and keeps me humble on this journey. The growth I've experienced in my spiritual walk has been astounding. Those that have been around me have seen my joy, smiles, and laid back demeanor during the stress of the work week. I have Jesus and I desperately crave to know him more. When I am the most weak that is when Christ is the strongest in my life. When there is nothing else for me to do or say, I can rest in His peace knowing that his grace is enough.

Sorry, that was probably scatterbrained.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Nate Utesch, a friend of mine from Fort Wayne, started a band a few years ago. I absolutely love their sound and the creativity that it stems from. If you get a chance you should go to their Myspace page and take a listen. Or, better yet, go see them live some time.


Monday, August 31, 2009

A Few Weeks In

Teaching thus far has been absolutely great! I know that the experience of my fellow first year teachers thus far has not been a glorious journey; however, I have had a good time. This is the start of our third week in school.

The first week of school was a definite trip. It was the first time that I had ever been in a classroom full time (not counting substitute teaching of course). Having 25 students from 8:00 to 3:00 was crazy. I was dead tired and my voice was struggling. Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been primarily rule and procedure driven so I have been doing most of the talking. Although, Wednesday of the first week I started introducing my makeshift curriculum and having my students participates in my informal diagnostics.

This week, week three, it is my goal to get my students absolutely perfect (even though every teacher tells me it's not possible). My class is almost there. We've tightened up the majority of our procedures and really need to get a few last things nailed up. At this point, my students are sick of my droning as I constantly repeat expectations, goals, procedures, and rules. Though they get sick of me they need the constant repetition. My students need structure. My students desperately need rules...they just don't realize it.

The only frustration I've had with being a teacher so far has been with my leadership and administration. They have only RECENTLY ordered curriculum (math books etc.), we do not have keys/key cards to the building yet, and discipline within the school seems severely lacking. Though I haven't really sent my students to the office the other teachers tell me awful stories about how their children are being disciplined. The biggest struggles are no curriculum and no key to get in and out of the building. Out of the eleven days we've had school I have been the first one here probably seven out of the eleven days. My principal has vowed to be at school by 6a.m. every day but has failed to follow through with that promise so I have been left alone in my car most mornings waiting to be let into school. It's sad that a first year teacher has to wait for the principal to get into school.

Things are great and I'm just trying to get into a flow. Sorry for the gaps between posts.

Monday, August 17, 2009


My first day of school was today. I'll be honest. It was great. I think I have a great class and they seem to respond to my style of communication and teaching. We were complicated numerous times about how well behaved we were in the hallways and cafeteria.

The school day was great. I didn't get a ton of procedural, rule learning done; however, there was a lot of school-wide procedures that were accomplished today. Tomorrow I'll get to introduce my big goals and investment plans to my students. One reason today was so much fun was because I made the students "create" the rules. In other words, I had my rules already made up but instead of forcing them upon my students I created a dialogue in which the students and I talked about rules and we got to "create", from scratch, our own classroom rules. The students were eager to create their own rules and they really felt invested in their class. And, the best part is that the rules they chose were the ones I selected for them anyway. This way, they feel invested as a class and I get to introduce their rules.

With all of that being said, as good of a day as it was, this day was just completely exhausting. I cannot believe the physical and mental strain that I had throughout the day. My hat is off to all of you teachers out there. Granted, this was my first day but I know that it'll be hard on me and my body for quite some time.

Well, I'm officially a teacher. Let the hard days, long hours, and physical strain begin. I'm just glad things started on a positive note.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Little Taste From Last Weekend

The Dave Matthews Band concerts from last weekend (July 31st and August 1st) were amazing and I thought I'd share a little clip with you. Granted, this clip is a god awful clip; however, the song itself is amazing. The clip ends with the end of the chorus of the song All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan. Dave Matthews Band have their own version of the song that, I must say, is incredibly better than Bob Dylan's and Jimi Hendrix's versions. The clip starts at the end of the chorus, goes into a violin solo (with an effect), kicks into a guitar solo that interpolates the classic Led Zeppelin song Stairway to Heaven. Dave then sings the last verse of Stairway to Heaven as the trumpet and saxophone are playing the last groove in Stairway to Heaven. Dave then ends with the chorus of All Along the Watchtower.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Pentatonic Scale

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

I love Bobby McFerrin. Everything I have seem him do he blows my mind. He is famously known for the song "Don't Worry Be Happy"; although, he is an incredible musician and vocalist. This is an interesting video from the World Science Festival where Bobby McFerrin is talking about expectation using the stage as his keyboard playing the elegant, yet simple, pentatonic scale.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Great Radio Website

I have found a great radio website. As you all know, I love Dave Matthews Band. This website is a Dave Matthews Band radio station; however, it doesn't just play their studio albums but it plays studio songs, rare songs, never recorded songs, and cover songs. One minute you're listening to the song Typical Situation recorded from a show in 1993 and the next minute you're listening to Shake Me Like a Monkey recorded just a few weeks ago. Great website for Dave Matthews Band fans. It's definitely all I've been listening to ask I surf the internet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dave Matthews Band

One aspect of my life that is really hard for people to understand is my obsession with the Dave Matthews Band. Ever since I heard this band for the first time I was hooked. The first song I ever heard was the song Rapunzel off of the Listener Supported CD. I listened to the CD back in 1999 and I just loved the musical and lyrical aspect of the band. I was so intrigued by Dave Matthews Band that I went to K-Mart and bought a Dave Matthews Band CD. Ironically, the CD I bought didn't even have the song Rapunzel on it. The CD I bought was Under the Table and Dreaming. The rest is history...

This past weekend I saw Dave Matthews Band for the 29th and 30th time. On August 1st and 2nd I will see him for the 31st and 32nd time. There are multiple reasons I see Dave Matthews Band this much. First of all, it's a great type of vacation. Seeing Dave Matthews Band is a great way for me to get away for a day or two and see my favorite band. It's great to unwind for a few days and see a great band.

Secondly, Dave Matthews Band is a great band to see live. It is not rare for Dave Matthews Band to play for two and a half to three hours each night. Dave Matthews Band consistently has one of the best light and sound displays of any other band I've ever seen. Their musicianship is showcased live by their improvisational ability. I'm always looking to see what they're going to do next because it changes year to year and show to show...which brings me to my next point.

Thirdly, Dave Matthews Band's live shows are constantly adapting and changing. Usually when I see Dave Matthews Bands I see him two nights in a row at one particular location. People ask me, "Doesn't he just play the same concert?" NOT AT ALL! There are obviously exceptions to this. For example, Dave Matthews Band just released their new album (Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King) so may repeat 2-3 of those songs in a two night stint; however, when Dave Matthews Band plays two nights in a row you usually hear 36-40 different songs over those two nights.

Fourthly, not only does Dave Matthews Band's live shows constantly change but their shows are always changing as well. For example, I have heard the song Ants Marching at least a dozen times but the song has changed so much from the first time I heard it in June of 2000. Songs are always changing and adapting and constantly display the bands musicianship and creativity.

Dave Matthews Band is my favorite band and, as sad as it sounds, I will probably go to a lot more concerts until he just stops playing. The video below is Dave Matthews Band playing the song #41. The song is entitled 41 because it's the 41st song that the band had written. The song showcases lyrical ability of Dave Matthews and the musicianship the band possesses. It's quite long but you should definitely watch it regardless.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Training Over

Today, believe it or not, is my last day of formal training before I enter the classroom in the fall. For the past 7 weeks I have been in a very intense training program sponsored by Teach For America that is intended to build preparedness before one is in charge of their own class. I am proud to say that today is the last day of the 7 weeks. Today, to end our training, Indianapolis Teaching Fellows as well as Teach For America is having a luncheon with Gov. Mitch Daniels. It's an exciting way to end and start my time in Indianapolis.

The past seven weeks have been great in a lot of ways. I went from a college graduate that wasn't sure what life outside of college looked like to an elementary school teacher in Indianapolis. I'm grateful to have a job let alone work for an amazing organization like Teach For America. Over the past several weeks I have learned a lot about student behavior, classroom management, investment of students, diversity, community, effectiveness, lesson planning and lots of other little nuggets I'll add into my instruction this next school year. It's been like drinking from a fire hydrant.

I say training is over when, in reality, it's just beginning. Granted, I taught summer school in Atlanta, Georgia; however, the students I instructed down there didn't seem like "my class" or "my students". The students I'll have at Imagine West in Indianapolis will provide me with lots of training as I learn what it truly means to be a teacher that is trying to erase the achievement gap. The next few weeks before school starts looks like a variety of different things. From one angle it looks like a vacation. I will be seeing a lot of friends I haven't seen in awhile while also going to see Dave Matthews Band in various areas around the Midwest. I will also be going to Chicago with my family to partake in some fun activities as my family and I decompress from the stresses of every day life. In another sense these few weeks before school starts is a lot of work. I desperately need to make sure that my vision precedes my action. I need to make sure that when it's day one and my students are looking at Mr. Schaefer for the first time that they're getting the best Mr. Schaefer they can get.

So, as training is over, I'll have some vacation time; however, I'll be constantly thinking about the best ways to serve my first class and what I need to do to be the most effective teacher I can be.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What a Teacher Makes

Taylor Mali is a teacher and also a beat poet. I love this poem he wrote so much that I decided I would put it up for others to see:

By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Friday, July 3, 2009

I'm Already Bad at This

Good day to you! I have to apologize because I already feel as though I'm bad at this whole "blogging" thing. Oh well, this whole past week had a lot of elements of busyness so there wasn't too much of an opportunity to blog. I'll give you a quick rundown of last weekend.

Last weekend was an exciting weekend because one of my best friends, Jeff Deselm, got married to the love of his life Samantha Harper. The wedding was in Fort Wayne, Indiana and, of course, I am in Atlanta for the summer. So on Friday I got a cab ride from my school to take me back to Georgia Tech (where I'm living in Atlanta) and then to take me to the midtown train station (Marta Station). I then hopped on the train and it took me right into the airport. I easily found where I was supposed to be and sat eagerly by my gate as I awaiting to be home with friends and family.

My flight got into Chicago (Midway) at 9p.m. Fort Wayne, Indiana time. Brooke was in Chicago that day and was able to pick me up. I then enjoyed the drive home to Fort Wayne with my beautiful girlfriend as I was anxiously awaiting to be reunited with friends from home.

The next day was launched and the wedding was beautiful. Secretly, I think all of my friends and I knew that Jeff and Sam would end up together and it was great that they finally tied the knot. Congratulations to Jeff and Sam!

I then flew back to Atlanta out of Dayton (thanks again to Brooke for driving me). I got back into Atlanta really late and, without getting robbed, made it back to Georgia Tech in one piece. It was a great weekend.

The week wasn't that long due to a shortened week because of the holiday; however, it was still work as my fellow teachers and I are desperately trying to get our students ready for their standardized test.

So, again, sorry for not blogging in awhile. I promise that won't happen again.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two Fifths of the Way Through

One thing I can say for sure as a new teacher is that I LOVE Saturdays. It was great going to bed knowing I didn't have to wake up at 5 a.m. Though I didn't wake up as early as I do on a normal day, that doesn't mean work doesn't gets done on Saturdays. I woke up around 9ish and worked on lesson plans from when I got up until dinner time. There are clear signs of improvement in my lesson planning as I get further into it; although, it still takes me awhile for a few reasons in particular which I will explain later on in this post.

This week was a challenge. Although, like most of you who know me, I had no problem getting ahead in my lesson plans =). This week I taught 3 days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and can definitely say that it was a blast. I love getting to know my students and I love seeing them interact with what I'm teaching them. I can say with confidence that teaching is by far the best part about Teach For America summer institute.

Summer institute, this week, has been greeted with much controversy and animosity by me and other corps members. Summer institute, though the ultimate goals are student achievement and making effective teachers, there are many other sub-goals that Teach For America makes sure they meet. One of those sub-goals is creating a culture of stress and exhaustion. For example, due dates for lesson plans are at 4 a.m. What kind of culture is that creating? The kind where people stay up until 2:30 a.m. to work on lesson plans when they need to wake up at 5 a.m. My CMA (Corps Member Advisor) was complaining about how everyone was tired and was telling us that nobody should be tired. I told my CMA that if she changed the due dates to midnight that people would get to bed earlier. For some reason she seemed to disagree.

Lesson planning has been so hard for me and everybody here at Institute because nobody has a text book to reference. Now, I realize that there are a lot of schools that don't use text books; however, when you've been teaching for one week it's hard to lesson plan when you have no text book and the only thing you have to reference before you plan a 90 minute lesson is two sentences (the state standard and objective). For that reason, it seems as though I am dependant upon google to become an effective teacher. Creating assessments and materials for guided practice has looked a lot like me writing my own assessments and desperately searching the internet. This has been frustrating for me and I have expressed my frustration to those in authority around me. They basically told me tough luck. I told them I couldn't wait to get back into Indiana.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The First Day of Teaching

Today was the first day that Teach For America teachers started instructing summer school. Needless to say everybody was running around all over campus trying to get things together to try and make their first day as a teacher the best it could be. I even heard one of my buddies say that he saw a woman fall down with all of her teaching supplies. I guess a high heels and having your hands full is not very conducive with walking up a hill.

This morning I had a terrifying knock on my door. It was my roommate Mark. "Andrew, are you in there?" Needless to say, I was alarmed and answered the door and found out it was 6a.m. much to my dismay because I set my alarm for 5:15. Turns out I set my alarm for 5:15p.m. Thank God for people like Mark that are aware of when their roommates usually wake up.

As a result of the late wake up my morning was hectic as I quickly hopped out of bed, got in and out of the shower, hopped in a shirt and tie, and was walking to the dining hall. It was probably for the best that I got up so late because otherwise I would have just had more time to get nervous before I taught.

I got to school, set everything up, and eventually taught. The way TFA does summer school (for my location) is that I only teach every other day for 90min each day I teach. So, I teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of this week and Tuesday and Thursday of next week. Today was great though, I ended up going a little under time on my lesson plan but was able to improve, with the help of my Faculty Assistant, quite easily. I taught some vocabulary (context clues) and textual features (paragraph, topic sentence, concluding sentence) today and it seemed as though they got it just fine. As I glanced over their assessments at the end of the day it seems as though there are a few students that I will need to spend some time with reteaching my lesson but, overall, the students learned and were a joy to have. I'm just glad the students are fairly well behaved and my classroom management structure seems solid as well.

The day was great. The days go a lot faster when you're actually teacher your students as opposed to sitting around in seminars all day. I'm excited about getting and applying feedback to the journey to becoming an effective teacher. I just need to remember that the kids here in Atlanta aren't my lab rats; they're students that desperately need instruction. They need to pass their standardized tests so they can go on to 6th grade. As one CMA (Corps Member Advisor) put it, "Someone once told me to teach like a life was on the line...well guess what...a life is on the line...so make sure you bring your integrity every day!" That's motivation to work hard and become an effective teacher.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Week in Review

I think that I can speak for the majority of my friends and colleagues here in Atlanta when I say that I am utterly exhausted. This first week of summer institute has been tremendous but very challenging. Let me explain...

Basically, the first week of summer institute is devoted to learning the basics of becoming a highly effective teacher with other brilliant nuggets of teacher knowledge thrown in along the way. A normal day for me started with waking up at 5 a.m. and being to breakfast by about 5:45. I would then eat some breakfast and relax with some friends as we waited for our buses to arrive to take us to our summer school locations.

Since Teach For America teachers were not actually teaching this week we did a lot of sitting around and listening to lectures about how to be an effective teacher. This past week I have learned about effective teaching methods, classroom management, student investment, lesson planning, objectives, key points, diversity, and hundreds of other things I am forgetting right now.

I'll be honest, this week, especially Monday was quite slow. When you're sitting around in a classroom all day (from 7-4:30) the day tends to go very slowly; however, as the week picked up the responsibility picked up as well. By the end of the week, my Teach For America friends and I have been relentlessly working on lesson plans, classroom posters, and brainstorming about effective ways to close the achievement gap here in Atlanta. It is now Saturday and I am only a few days away from meeting all of my students and teaching them what they need to know this summer. Let me give you a rundown of my class...

I am teaching a 5th grade class and their subject is all day reading. That's right...all reading...all the time. In Atlanta, children need to pass a standardized test called the CRCT to move on to the next grade level. The fifth grade students I have all did not pass the CRCT the first time and need to improve their reading fluency, proficiency, and comprehension to move on to middle school. There are only 12 students in my class and they appear to be well behaved. I think they're eager to take this CRCT test again and hopefully move on to a new school and a new life awaiting them in middle school.

I have my lesson plans done for Monday and will rehearse what I need to do on Sunday. I'm eager to step into a classroom for the first time and hopefully make a difference. This whole things is hard. Teaching is not going to be easy, heck, it already isn't easy. Although things are not easy I am learning a lot. Everything Teach For America is teaching us is fantastic knowledge that I can implement immediately into my professional life. Like I said, I'm eager to step into a classroom but I know I have a lot more left to learn.

As I am 1/5 of the way done with summer instiute I know that the remaining 4/5 will fly by. I'll keep y'all updated as I learn more about myself, my class, and my life as a teacher.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Funny the way it is


For all of my friends that don't quite yet understand how weird Dave Matthews is this is my proof. http://www.spinner.com/2009/06/09/dave-matthews-band-funny-the-way-it-is-video-premiere/

Watch the link and just ask yourself what the heck happened.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Start of a Journey

This is my first post in the blogosphere! I am excited to be blogging about my experience in Teach For America (TFA). I have started this journey in Teach For America and figured that since I'll be in Atlant for the majority of the summer and for Indianapolis for the next two years that I'd keep a blog to keep family and friends informed about what's going on in my life. I hope that I can stay disciplined and blog consistently enough for people to read and care.

The last week I was in Indianapolis for a period of time Teach For America calls Induction. Induction is basically an overview of the region I am going to teach in (Indianapolis) and of Teach For America as an organization. The week was great and the more I learned about Teach For America the more I was impressed with everything that they're about. I also learned a little bit about Indianapolis and the trouble they're in as far as education goes. Some recent research showed that out of the largest 50 cities in America that Indianapolis is dead last (#50) in graduation rate. So, obviously there is a lot to do in the city of Indianapolis. I just hope and pray that I can be a leader in the community and in the classroom. I don't come into Teach For America with the idea that I'm a hero; however, I just want to make a difference in lives of children in Indianapolis with one child at a time. I realize my job isn't to reform the Indianapolis Public School system and thank God that isn't my job because I'd be awful at it anyway.

The next few weeks (5 to be exact) in Atlanta I will learn how to be an effective classroom teacher while teaching summer school for Atlanta Public Schools. An average day will depend upon me waking up at 5:30 and going to bed close to midnight. Atlanta will be strenuous and a growing experience and will come back ready to make a difference in the lives of students in Indianapolis. I only hope I can make a difference in Atlanta Public Schools during my time here.

In the coming weeks, months, and years I hope to continue blogging on a regular basis to keep y'all informed on what's going on in my life. I hope people will read, subscribe, and look forward to what I have to say next. What you'll read wont be insightful, witty, or brilliant but it will be my life. Stay tuned for more.