Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting used to central air

I'm sitting on a really comfy couch my husband and I got at a thrift store today, with boxes, a banjo, bags and mismatched furniture piled up all around me. My cat is lying next to me and he seems pretty happy with the AC in our new apartment. We moved to the Atrium Lofts yesterday from the Fan, where I've lived for six of the last eight years. (The two other years were in Boston). Moving to Atrium was a big transition for me; I was nervous about living in a different part of town and nervous about the apartment complex because it's so different than the apartments in the Fan. Our old apartment was big and open, dishwasher-less, washer / dryer-less, no central AC, radiator heat, clothes hanging on a line on the back porch of an old creaky house. I loved the dark, leafy streets, the hole-in-the-wall bars, the quiet. I was nervous about moving to a place that was "too nice" for me (pool, gated community, gym…my mom told me that there were worse things to be worried about.) I was nervous about moving to Shockoe Bottom, because my primary form of transportation is my bicycle and that is one big hill.

But today, once we got everything in and settled, I looked out the window and could see the high rises. The sun was setting behind them--shades of pink that slowly faded to blue. Earlier today, I had biked to the Pipeline, an amazing part of the James River Park System that is only half a mile from Atrium, and went swimming. The bike ride was so fast that by the time I got home, I was still dripping wet from the river.

I put every single dish we own into the dishwasher (which miraculously fit them all--not sure if it's a freakishly large dishwasher, or if maybe we should own more than two forks). Then I put on a load of laundry in my own apartment for the first time in eight years (I haven't had a washer /dryer since I moved out of my parents' house). The AC feels amazing and our cat, who has spent the summer being hotter than a cat should ever be, is playful for the first time since the spring.

Yesterday, five people from the program (and my parents! :) )helped us move. I was so happy and surprised with how much support we had--we borrowed boxes, a dolly, asked for heavy lifting. It only took us twenty minutes to unload our truck. It was so great to have so much support.

Despite my initial hesitation about the intentional community part of the program, the strange feeling of moving into an almost dorm-like situation when you are married and have been out of college for four years, I'm thinking that this apartment is going to work out for us just fine.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Low expectations

Today, I just want to write about my personal experience with negative expectations. In Dr. Gerber’s class, we discussed low expectations, and I think my math experiences in high school were really affected by these expectations. By the time I got to college, and did Intro to Contemporary Math, and Statistics, I was fine again. In elementary school, I remember loving math games, like “math golf” and CSMP, which was some kind of experimental curriculum with magnet boards. I was in a gifted program in middle school, and really liked Algebra. I was always more of an English person, but I enjoyed Math and it wasn’t hard for me.

I don’t really remember ninth grade math very well. I remember my teacher was extremely boring and I fell asleep a lot. In tenth grade, I really started to do badly in Math. Maybe because I hadn’t learned ninth grade math very well, I found it difficult to build on foundations I didn’t have. I remember being able to follow along when my teacher was doing a problem, but then trying to do it by myself at night and having no idea where to start. I remember the trepidation and frustration about doing math homework and how I eventually just started putting down random answers. I started to fail every test.

Midway through the year, my teacher made me stay after class. She told me that my grade for the 9 weeks was 64.6, and that it rounded up to 65, a D, but that I should be getting an F. She told me that I didn’t “deserve to graduate from the Math and Science School,” that I would be the only one in the entire magnet school who would fail the SOLs, and that I was bringing their test scores down. I remember feeling like she had kicked the wind out of me. I actually never told anybody that she had said I didn’t deserve to graduate. Very soon after that, I told my parents I hated the math and science center, that math was interweaved into everything, and was ruining English for me, and that I wanted to drop out.

The school made me retake trigonometry in 11th grade, because it had something to do with SOLs. In regular Clover Hill, I just refused to do math. I skated by with a low C, because I’d already half-learned the curriculum from the year before. I read novels through every class. In twelfth grade, I didn’t take math, but took journalism, creative writing, AP Comp, AP Lit, Dual Enrollment Comp and band. By twelfth grade, I had decided that I was an English person. That teacher had such a profound impact on me and I never really realized it.

I don’t remember now if she had treated me differently than the other students—did she wait less time for me to respond, did she not praise my successes? I don’t really remember, but the way she criticized me as a person, (I didn’t deserve to graduate) rather than expressing concern about my failing grades and offering help, really affected my behavior. I dropped out of the Math and Science Center and basically went “on strike” in 11th grade against math.

Before RTR started this summer, I read a book called, Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose. He writes about his experiences in the vocational track in high school. I found the chapter, "I Just Wanna be Average" especially interesting. He writes

What Ken and so many others do is protect themselves from such suffocating madness by taking on with a vengeance the identity implied in the vocational track. Reject the confusion and frustration by openly defining yourself as the Common Joe. Champion the average. Rely on your own good sense. Fuck this bullshit. Bullshit, of course, is everything you--and the others--fear is beyond you: books, essays, tests, academic scrambling, complexity, scientific reasoning, philosophical inquiry.

The tragedy is that you have to twist the knife in your own gray matter to make this defense work. You'll have to shut down, have to reject intellectual stimuli or diffuse them with sarcasm, have to cultivate stupidity, have to convert boredom from a malady into a way of confronting the world. Keep your vocabulary simple, act stoned when you're not or act more stoned than you are, flaunt ignorance, materialize your dreams. It is a powerful and effective defense--it neutralizes the insult (29).

I remember showing off my Fs on math in 10th grade and claiming that I was too artistic and creative for math. I think that the “self-fulfilling prophecy” of low expectations—twisting the knife into your own gray matter—is just a self-defense mechanism. If you refuse to work, they can’t tell you that you’ve failed.

I have to remember this when I’m a teacher. I need to try to remember that lower achievers are just trying to survive, and the accumulated frustrations of school for a low achiever are devastating. Apathy is a self-defense mechanism. If I can create a classroom climate that is nonthreatening and judges their work and not them, perhaps I can help them out of their apathy. I certainly needed that climate in tenth grade math.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rolling with the punches

I dreamed a couple nights ago about RTR. We were all waiting on the tarmac to get on a plane going from England to mainland Europe. Suddenly, the baggage handlers called over their shoulders, "Change of plans: this plane is going first to Mexico, then back to England, THEN to mainland Europe." A couple of us were fine with it; they loved Mexico. A couple of us started advocating, saying that they didn't want to go to Mexico, that we needed to get to Europe and that it didn't make sense to go to Europe by way of Mexico.

This dream made me reflect on my experiences so far as a Richmond teacher resident. Dr. Dozier said in Education Week, "this is the hardest thing" she's ever done. And she was the Senior Advisor on Teaching to the Secretary of Education under Clinton. I too have been frustrated by the kinks; our delayed stipend, attempting to get a Teach Grant or student loans and facing bureaucratic hurdles every step of the way, attempting to get one of the lower cost apartments at Atrium and working with my husband to downgrade all of our stuff to fit into a tiny studio.

Through it all, I've been trying to remind myself of the overall goals of this program. This kind of teacher preparation program is designed to reduce teacher turnover in the highest need schools in our country. It is designed to train teacher leaders (our clinical resident coaches) and attract high need content teachers such as math and science, to high need schools. The goals of the program far outweigh the inconveniences and stresses I've faced as a member of the first cohort.

I also know that behind the administrative kinks is a team of highly dedicated people, committed to seeing this program work. They are working on our behalf, and excited about the possibilities of this program. And they believe in us; they believe that with hands on training, we can become highly effective teachers and make a difference in Richmond Public Schools over the course of our careers.

I've also been thinking about how teachers need to learn the skills of "rolling with the punches." We may not always have the supplies we need--we may need to improvise sometimes. Our lesson plans won't always go the way we planned--we'll need to adapt. Our students will surprise us sometimes with what they know, or don't know, and we'll need to be responsive, flexible and adaptive teachers. One of the philosophies of the residency model is hands-on experiential learning. Perhaps the flexibility and stress management skills we all had to develop this summer were the first of many lessons the residency will teach us.

A note on this blog: I’m imagining this blog as a place for us to share resources, ideas, feelings, and also to reflect on our experiences for the benefit of the next cohort. I’d love for us to all contribute at some point, and have a few people who commit to posting once every couple weeks. I’ll make us all contributors, so please feel free to post whenever you want.