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May. 30th, 2013

Sunsets in New Orleans



I some times wonder when I am going to really be able to live for myself, instead of feeling like I am always doing things for others. Now, I understand that this isn't necessarily true. I came to New Orleans ultimately as a chance to develop and mature myself. I am going to New York to develop and become stronger at my career path, as well as hopefully really start to move on with my social and personal life as well. But when you look at the bare bones of it all, it is seemingly always one thing to the next. These documents for these people, these deadlines for those people, all in a rush to get to that next stage. It is hard to stop, breath, and live for the moment. Even though there is no guarantee that you will ever really make it to that stage.

After 2 years in New Orleans and a some what deeper look into myself, I feel myself changing. I feel my desire to really make connections with people for the sake of making a meaningful moment, or many moments, more important than rushing from one thing, one person, to the next. I think a lot of people had this moment when 9/11 happened, but I believe I was really too young to make the connection. I guess at some point you go from feeling invincible (in the sense that death is so far away and things like that don't happen to you), to understanding that these meaningful connections are the ones that leave your small impact while you are here. Boston and Texas, Oklahoma and Bangladesh, New Orleans and Mother's Day, Halloween, Martin Luther King Jr. Day....moments that stopped people in their tracks, leaving behind the brief moments they had before.

I came to New Orleans to make a difference. To change the lives of kids who people said couldn't be taught. Couldn't be changed. Couldn't be touched. Who said parents and community, corruption and poverty all struck these less fortunate down where they would never make it back up. I came where some said "no excuses", relentless work, and leadership would reverse the effects these excuses had on low income children. But in the end, it is not for me to say if I did make some difference, lead a pathway for success. Or if I become part of the problem. It is the moments I had here that will leave the impact, the memory or desire for my students to keep trying, or to at least say, "one time I had this teacher who believed I could". Because I really do believe. I also believe that the parents can be a part of the problem, that the neighborhood and lack of resources are big obstacles that are often too big, too strong, and more impacting than what I could have ever been for these students. So I will leave New Orleans hoping I made a difference, that my students will say, "I once had this teacher that believed, said I could, and I am going to", but knowing this may never happen. I will however leave knowing that my students, my school, my time in New Orleans changed me more than I could have ever imagined before I came down here. And that though there is a debate on whether Teach for America is helpful or harmful, though there are those that say it can be done and there are those that don't agree, neither view point will change why I think it was a life changing experience for my students and me to be here.

Had you asked me a year ago, I would probably say I did not really recommend people to go into Teach for America. Part of me still understands the difficulty behind it. I believe it should be at least a 3 year commitment, I believe it should accept more teachers into the program, and I believe it can often replace good teachers with teachers who may be a strong teacher one day, but not their first year, and they may never stay long enough to become one.

If you ask me today, I would probably say that if you were looking to make a real impact in education and stay in teaching or education some how, I would recommend going into the program. I would also say be prepared to work overly hard, to fail a lot, and to feel like you are failing a lot even when you are actually being successful. Be prepared to have people put down the program you are in and possibly share their strong opinions and views against you quite regularly. Prepare to put in a lot of work, sweat, and tears just to be beaten down over and over, where you feel like everything you are doing is wrong. Be prepared to meet the hardest working, brightest, most driven peers. Be prepared to meet some of the greatest kids you will ever encounter, who will teach you so much more than you could have imagined. Be prepared to go from feeling like an outsider in a community who doesn't accept you, to feeling like those very people are part of your family. You will have so many experiences that will break you down, but so many more that will teach you how strong you really are. How much of an impact you can really make. Thank you to those who worked beside me and picked me up when I was down. Even after many disagreements and fights, I have not loved many the way I love them. Just like my friends in Spain, these people will be forever engraved in my memories and heart. They have made the biggest impact on me while going through this experience.

Though these very people I talk of will now roll their eyes, I cannot finish without talking about the impact that the person who meant the most to me while being here, also became the most painful of this experience. I have taught and learned a lot of lessons while in New Orleans and have spent a huge amount of time (100 times a day) discussing the importance of respect. Yet have failed miserably at respecting myself. I need to stop asking why and stop holding on, and start asking how. How do I make what I have learned a positive experience, while still holding on to the positive memories of what happened? How do I let go of the strongest feelings I have had for some one, without making some one into a terrible person in my eyes. How do I stop thinking about him every single day? How do I make this move about new experiences, lessons, and changes and not about it being an escape?

New Orleans has been full of so many things. I cannot believe 2 years have come and gone. I also can't believe that I survived so many moments, both painful and joyful. Life is about all of these experiences and New Orleans has made me stop and breath. Part of me wishes that things worked out better. That I felt so strongly about the impact I made at my school that it kept me fighting and teaching at that school. Part of me wishes I had never experienced love and loss because maybe that was what made me not want to fight on in New Orleans. But in the end, the experiences that I had here made me stronger. And will make me stronger in the long run. I will one day look back at this and understand why everything that happened here did happen. I know it was all necessary, I am just not sure exactly why.


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May. 4th, 2013

The Art of Rejection: Part 2



** Teach for America gives you the ability to reflect. Hate it or love it, you will spend 2 years of your life reflecting. With it coming to an end, I was able to really start the reflecting process on how my time here in New Orleans has been spent. What I learned, what I felt, what I will leave feeling. This is just the first of many reflections I have had on my time here and more will surely come. But this one is a pretty important (though most likely not one of my happiest) reflections. **

I did not grow up in a small farm town, where the senior class was comprised of 60 graduating students. I am not able to tell you what it would be like to be a boy, challenged with facing his own sexual orientation, in one of these christian following, conservative towns where every one is in your business. I also am unable to tell you what it is like to grow up in a city, where I was able to see diversity and have exposure to things that may have made me feel a little bit more comfortable in my own skin. I cannot describe to you what it would be like to be the only black student in a school full of white kids, where my skin color labeled me without saying a word. I instead grew up in a mid-sized town, where I would like to believe I wore a shield of white privilege, where it was assumed I was straight until proven otherwise, and left alone by the general masses.

This own self-identification of my childhood is of course not completely accurate though, because I was bullied by my classmates and family for as long as I can remember. I can also now admit that though I didn't want it to be true at the time, I knew I was different, I knew I was not another straight counterpart of my brothers and friends around me.

I kept my head down as I walked the hallways as fast as I could, going from one class to another, hoping I wouldn't be noticed. I made friends who I could identify with in the sense that we were all a little quirky, for one reason or another. I played as normal a role as I could, hoping I turned out to be accepted by people. Things like "It Gets Better" and the "Trevor Project" were not heard of. Gay Marriage was not even thought of, never mind considered a right people should have. Professional athletes were probably a lot more scared of coming out than me, fearing they would be shamed and humiliated while in the public eye.

I am not sure this is the image people who know me today would describe me as. However, this fear of rejection that I and a lot of other gay individuals grew up feeling is not a very easy trait to shake. Rejection is something that every one will experience, so one could possibly argue that being rejected early on taught these kids and myself how to be more strong and thick blooded; but really, if they are anything like me it just made them work twice as hard to try and make a point and prove themselves as worthy to others and themselves. A point that you are worth their attention. A point that you are worth their respect. A point that you have a lot to contribute and if rejected, the person walking away would be the one missing out.

As I left for college, I wanted to return different. To my high school classmates, I wanted to be strong, fit, and exude masculinity. To my family I wanted to be smart, successful, and admired.

I returned gay.

After college I wanted to live adventurous, gain as much knowledge of the world around me, and experience things that would make me cultured. I wanted to mature and be accepted by my family, friends, and men. No longer did I care about the community members who rejected me. I moved to a different country and lived my life, carelessly. I did not fear rejection, just getting myself in some trouble due to language barriers. I committed to learning Spanish, dating Spanish men, eating Spanish food, living the Spanish life.

I returned with no money, back into the community I grew up fearing, and speaking about 2 more words of Spanish than I had left knowing.

Being thrown back into the world I left without a care meant returning to a world where I feared rejection. After a first failed relationship and once again the sensation of rejection, I set out to prove I could make it with out him. That I was smart and special, and that if given the chance I would make a difference in the life of those who accepted my help.

I got into Teach For America.

I would say that after 2 years of humility; 2 years of experiences I loved and hated; 2 years of complete mental chaos, I am stronger and more mature than ever, but just as scared and rejected as the kid who walked fast through the halls with his head down. Out of all the accomplishments over the past 2 years, my biggest failure is what runs my mind constantly. That disillusioned view of being rejected overcomes and over powers all the good that has come from my past 2 years of what at times could be seen as greatness. I made personal connections, impacted the lives of my students, and made some really good friends. But it is the sense of rejection that runs my life; my present thoughts and my future moves.

Feb. 13th, 2013

Washed Away Sins


As I exhaustingly try and survive the day after what serves to be one of the biggest parties out there, Mardi Gras, I think about and reflect on my now 2 experienced carnival seasons.

A year ago I read this article following my 1st New Orleans Mardi Gras - http://www.nola.com/nolavie/index.ssf/2012/02/after_the_glitter_fades_life_i.html.
It was at the time, a moment of clarity. My state of mind on the Thursday this article was published was not an extremely positive one, to put it lightly. I was going through some tough personal issues, after just witnessing what seemed to be a truly magical event, Carnival. This article, after having gone through up until that point a very difficult and at the same time joyous year brought me to realize why this place really was so stunning.

I started getting excited for the start of my first Mardi Gras in December a year ago, when I saw my first New Orleans Parade. The Krewe of Jingle put on a parade that was said to imitate a parade rolling through some of the same streets that the actual Mardi Gras parades rolled down. Throwing beads and toys, it was a preview of what I was to expect when the real thing happened. It got my adrenaline to rush and I knew all I had to do was make it through Christmas and the month of January, which should have been easy, since I was introducing my family to some one who I considered my best New Orleans friend and confident; a person I equated all of my positive New Orleans experiences thus far to.

A crushing 2 months later and I found myself face-to-face with parades that would pass the balcony people jealously spoke of up to that moment. With all that was going on, with all that had happened, the next few days turned my relationship with New Orleans into a forever loving one. And then I got to read this article. It allowed me to really understand and appreciate what people saw in the city. It made me reflect in what I had seen and loved about the city. And it was an honest assessment of some one who loves New Orleans for all the grit and grunge it has to offer when it isn't putting on a show for those coming to have a fun, free caring experience that most likely would never be forgotten.

I have looked forward to my 2nd Mardi Gras for quite some time. I was excited to make it my own, rather than let it belong to some one who in the end, didn't deserve it. So that is what I did. I have been doing it with all of the festivals and big events, like the Super Bowl (another event I had long looked forward to), since returning to Nola after a summer at home. And though I have had my own, great experiences, I have realized that I still have spent all of my time being a part of some one else's fun loving, free caring experience. And though I enjoy New Orleans when the glitter fades, I gave away a part of it to the people who left. New Orleans was fun for the moment they were there, wishing they didn't have to leave. Envious that I got to stay. But what they didn't realize was that they got to go back to what I hope to be a more settled, self-satisfying experience. Something they were working on building for a long while. Where I was just being a part of an experience, waiting for the next show to take place so that I could once again play the role of Mickey Mouse in Disney World.

This is not a complaint, or an attempt to become a victim of some one else's fun. I have loved New Orleans and all of the moments that have come with it. It tears me apart inside to try and decide what I should do in the upcoming years. A big chunk of me loves that I get to be a part of some one else's fun. A memory that is hopefully one to never be forgotten. I have met so many interesting and fun people just by living here. So many events and festivals pass through that a visit is fun, but experiencing it all because you live here is amazing. And it isn't really just waiting for the next fun party, the culture and diversity of this city makes being here when she's off stage a beauty that is surely desired when living any where else.

But eventually I want my own worth to go back to after having a blast visiting some where like New Orleans. It doesn't mean I think it can't be done here, surely tons of people, like the one writing the article have found it. But I started this journey living for some one else. I moved too quick, relied on some one else to be my experience too fast that New Orleans will in my eyes, never be my own.

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Jan. 10th, 2013

New York, New York....



There is a glitz and glam to New York that draws in and captures the hearts of people. It is bustling, full of diverse and educated people, and there is something for everyone (accept maybe the poor). Every time I think about going to the big NYC I am excited for the possibilities, the adventures, the people. However, though I think the reality of New York may look and actually play out to be this way for some people, I am just immediately overwhelmed the moment I enter the proximity of any borough.

I once again planned a trip to NYC, this time a new excitement came over me while making my itinerary. I had always wanted to be in the city around the holidays, but had never gotten the chance to make it. I wanted to see the windows on 34th street, witness the tree in Rockefeller Center, run into an elf as full of Christmas as Will Farrell, be as wide eyed as Home Alone Kevin and have my moment of serendipity when I met my own Sally.

My real nerves and excitement came when thinking how I would spend my New Years Eve. After finding myself having a pretty difficult year in 2012, I was ready for 2013 to start off with a full out epic NYE. Though I just wrote about expectations and how I feel they should be high, I tend to not try and have any big hopes for NYE. I have found that when you have high stake plans for the night, it tends to lead to a big disappointment. However, it is New York City. The number one place in the world to be for NYE. It had to be full of greatness.

A lot similar to other trips to NYC, I found myself overwhelmed by the mass number of people. By the travel time it took to get from one part of the city to another. By the brash and forward nature a lot of the people seem to exude. A place I often think I would love to live in for its excitement, lead to be the familiar feelings of disappointment and drawback (not in the sense of being disappointed by the trip, but in the relapse of recognition that I would not survive as a fan if I lived in the city).

I do some times wonder if I would have different feelings towards the city if I actually lived there. If I had my own space, my own set of friends, my own familiar and favorite places to go. Part of me thinks I would appreciate it a lot more if I did, but I am not sure I'd ever take the plunge to find out.

I will say though that it will be a trip I never forget. Because though I left feeling happy to get out, my high expectations for NYE were surpassed. I never thought (even a day before NYE while being in NYC) that I would ever spend the stroke of midnight on NYE inside the infamous Times Square. Even as my friends and I planned which parties to attend for the big night just a day before it actually happened, I still never imagined it would take place in the square. We settled on going to a party at an AMC movie theater, where the bar would be open and food would be available and the New Year would be rung in with no one other than Vinny from Jersey Shore.

Like most things, there were minor setbacks that were succeeded by the quick thinking and forwardness of the friends I were with. Had I been alone, I am not sure the night would of been nearly as fulfilling or successful. A threat of a 4 hour line to pick up the tickets to the AMC party (that we were trying to retrieve at 8pm on NYE) was avoided and a long line awaited us before making it to the open bar. Around 11 that night, where the party eventually became more and more full, making the open bar not quite as desirable, we left to try and make it to the place I'd never be on NYE. A nerve racking taxi ride led us as close to Times Square as we could get and moments later we were being ushered by barricades by a connection a friend had set up. Right after 11:30 I found myself staring at the massive amount of people in Times Square, surrounded by blue hats, balloons, screens of celebrities and a performance stage that had Taylor Swift singing "I knew you were Trouble". That song will resonate with me forever, reminding me the moment I did what I always imagined to be the impossible. I was in the middle times square, on NYE, minutes before midnight looking at the 2013 ball. As the people counted down and I held my phone up to capture the majestic atmosphere, a surreal feeling was stewing inside me. It was as if I were at Disney world looking at Cinderella's castle for the first time.

The days that followed New Years eve were not quite as magical and NYC turned once again into the city I wished I could love, but the place I couldn't seem to quite fit in with. Even though I don't think I will ever live in NYC, I really do appreciate what it has done for me to start off 2013. I will try not to set the bar too high, but I think if I can make it to the middle of Times Square to ring in the new year, I can make things happen this year. I don't know what changes will occur in the upcoming year, but I am certain there will be many and I look forward to moving forward.



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P.S. I never met my Sally....rrrr....Sal.

Jan. 7th, 2013

High Expectations Lead to Major Disappointments



I have in the past heard people say, "I don't have expectations of people because it only leads to disappointment". I tried to rationalize this in my head, wondering if expectations are what serve as the front runner to my past let downs (as I write this I go to type what will lead to my future disappointments, but then realize that if I admit to this feeling, my expectations for the future are not very high).

I am not so idealistic to think in the future I will never be disappointed or let down by some one, or something, again. When I think about expectations though, I now have to relate it to teaching, and more recently what I have been pounded with since joining Teach for America.

Since day one as a corps member, I and the other thousands of newly recruits to teach have been told to hold high expectations for our students. If we do not have this core belief, that our students can and will achieve, we are already setting them up for failure. It was said over and over, hammered into us like a nail into wood. Some where deep down it resonated. I truly did believe that expectations needed to be set, though I am still not sure who they are created to benefit more. Some times I question whether I am getting through to them, or if they really understand that I believe they can reach their goals. It is actually hard to know if they fully understand their goals, which if they don't, how can they expect to reach them. Then I think, do they know what the word expectation truly means? Do they know what a goal is? Do they know that by reaching their goals, they aren't actually raising up their hand and touching it? Are you exhausted yet? These run-on thoughts are probably half of the reason why teachers are always so tired. So next time you see me space out in thought, remind to stop, breathe....and maybe take a shot of jager, tequila, vodka, or some other mixture of mind numbing liquid.

I really have thought about expectations quite a lot. Especially lately. I wanted to come up with some explanation or rationale as to why they play such an important role in the psyche; if in the end it was better to hold no expectation as to be pleasantly surprised when it turns out right or onto a belief that people can do good, and therefore will do good.

People may say it is circumstantial. A high expectation for a child to do well in school is different than an expectation of a person to be honest, genuine or selfless. It makes sense to have expectations as a teacher for your students, but why have expectations for a person you do not have the same necessary investment in?

So who is right? Those who believe low expectations lead to giving all people a chance, because you can learn from any one? Or those with high expectations, who may possibly miss opportunities in fear that their hopes are turned to failures. "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"?

I think I personally have a mind set that doesn't really allow me to not have expectations. I get annoyed when I hear over and over that I need to have high expectations for my students, giving rigorous curriculum to ensure students do their very best. But I only get annoyed because I know it is true. Whether or not I want to do the work to set high expectations, I know I will because ultimately I believe it is what they deserve. I also believe this about myself. I know I should have high expectations because if I didn't, I would possibly lose some appreciation for myself, letting things happen that could have been avoided had I held onto those expectations. But I also believe that every one can bring something, some valuable knowledge or experience and if my expectations are too high, I may miss out on these encounters.

So in the end, I am not sure I have really come to a clear conclusion or answer to how you have high expectations where you are able to protect your authenticity, but yet not unrealistically high so that you don't miss out on meaningful ventures. I know one thing is for sure, it doesn't really matter how much of a guard I put up, I have let it down to let in people who have crushed me in the past and I will sooner or later (time after time) do it again. Does that mean my expectations for the future really aren't that high?

Nov. 27th, 2012

Tolerance



There are words I use in my every day vocabulary now that I am a teacher. If I had some body counting the number of times I said certain words, respect would probably be at the very top. As a teacher, a parent, a role model, you are suppose to teach your students or children what it means to be respectful, yet I see disrespect around me in so many different ways, so many different times per day. It comes down to a culture, something I never really understood before. Maybe something I never really appreciated before.

Why are we so intolerant of the word tolerance?

Instead of being tolerant, we are defensive. I have always been defensive. Ask any of the friends who have challenged me, better yet, ask the exes who have betrayed me. I am constantly told I must have a lot of patience, since I teach second grade. But I often second guess how much, and who I am actually patient for.

I need to become more tolerant and more respectful towards the people who don't understand where I am coming from. I know this is true. I am so easily upset by some one telling me I don't understand the culture I am in, the kids I am working with. I am easily upset with some one telling me teaching isn't a strenuous job, it is not hard and there are so many other things out there that are more challenging when it comes to a profession. So I become defensive. I don't sit back and tolerate, probably because I feel like I am being disrespected. And when some one is disrespectful to you, you tend to become defensive.

How dare you say all of the hours, sweat, tears, and exhaustion are not strenuous, hard, or challenging. How dare you say that the kids I work with and spend time with 8 hours a day are people I do not understand. How dare you say all the hours (and God knows I have put in so many freaking hours) and all the money (God also knows I have spent so much freaking money) on my class, for my kids, is done yet I am still not here for the students I serve. I can't fathom this being true, so I will attack back and protect my name, rather than sit back and be tolerant of the fact that we just don't understand each other.

I wish I were more tolerant. More patient. Because in the end, it doesn't matter what words you say to me, my actions should speak volumes. Maybe you just aren't witnessing the right ones.

Oct. 2nd, 2012

Cooler Times



Finally a cool down from the scorching Louisiana summer; finally a cool down from a year that was heated in more ways than imaginable.

I understand that a whole summer has now gone by since last sharing my experiences in New Orleans. Maybe it was because I spent my whole summer away from New Orleans, or maybe it was that I was trying to forget my imminent return. Either way, I have a class of 23 new second graders, a Hollywood theme that outshines the ever so funny surfing theme of last year, and a constant changing mind on education that for better or worse enlightens me on a daily basis.

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They told me nothing is like your first year of teaching. It takes everything to keep your head above water and for the most part, you are almost doomed to fail at most things you attempt. It proved true for me, as well as most other first year teachers around me. I am proud of the accomplishments I had last year and I learned so much, but as they all say, second year teaching comes more naturally and runs a whole lot more smoothly.

I lost control of a lot of things last year. My classroom had little control. My every minute outside the classroom was spent trying to convince some one I was worth sticking around for. I wouldn't say both were a failure, my first year of teaching really did teach me a lot, but I really wish I could of just skipped both experiences and gone to the better times that hopefully lie ahead.

This year I have worked very hard to have control of my classroom. It is extremely well decorated in my over the top Hollywood theme (it is Hollywood, it has to be over the top!) and very well organized. Every inch of my room has a purpose. This has allowed me to have control, but now that I see my functioning room I can see all the blank minds around me. I really want critical thinking to happen in my room, where my students are coming up with thoughts that apply to what is happening in and outside the classroom. All I have at the moment are students repeating each other with the wrong answers, stares of confusion and a forgetfulness of what we learned yesterday (they do remember what they learned in the morning ELA lessons, because they try to use those answers during math lessons). My students also really know their goals. For the first month they answered every question with "2 years growth!" and "85 percent!". I am working so much more this year, but getting no results. Do you know how it feels to work a job as hard as you possibly can, just to feel like you failed on a daily basis?

On a positive note, I spent almost 5 or 6 months of last year getting anxious every time I saw the bridge I cross to get to work. It is a staple in the New Orleans skyline, so I got to see it and feel anxious any time I left my house. Returning from home was scary...driving the highway to the city would give me a picturesque view of my hellish anxiety to go to work in the morning. When I didn't sleep in my apartment I was off routine and off track, making me even more anxious. I was working and tired all the time and being called selfish for every single bit of this. Wait...I was getting to the positive! I am not anxious about going to work. I even have been excited a few times. I do not hope for students to be absent, but rather I am sad when students aren't there because they are going to be missing lessons (though if you have been reading, it isn't really sticking regardless). I love how my classroom feels and I some what enjoy being inside it. I feel like I have more control, I am a lot more confident and I feel like I am preparing myself to some day be a great teacher.

Now if only I could figure out how to get a personal life back.

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May. 17th, 2012

Ring the Bell



A year of experience, memories that will last a life time, and a wealth of knowledge that has both humbled and empowered me to become a better teacher, role model and person.

One long year.

I failed a lot. A LOT. Not only professionally, but personally as well. I succeeded a lot. A LOT. Professionally more so than in my personal life. I survived. I embraced. I changed the lives of my students, I hope for the better.

I joined Teach for America on a whim. It really was a process that was not well thought out and even though I never thought I would get in, I for some reason did. At some point through out the process I was excited, nervous and really wanted to be accepted into the program. For a good portion of the year I thought that I would end this year thinking, what was I thinking? And, well, I am! But in a different way than I originally thought.

It is no secret that I had a very difficult time at institution in Atlanta. It is also not surprising or unknown that this year was faced with an extremely overabundant amount of challenges. From overbearing grandmothers, to little administration support, planning given and taken at the pleasure of others and all the in between, daily circumstances played heavily on my role as a teacher throughout the year. But guess what? I fought, I accomplished and I achieved gains I once not only thought were very unlikely, but nearly impossible.

So to throw a little TFA lingo at you, I will give you some of my immediate take aways from a year full of hope, disappointment and smiles:

- It is a bad idea to get romantically involved with some one your first month of teaching. Just don't do it. Especially when insecurities are what got both of you into the fast paced relationship in the first place. Though it was joyous at times, it was more heartbreaking, distracting and an overall failure in the end. Also, it will lead to heart attacks every time you step foot into The Pub, Oz, or Good Friends.

- Centers! Focus your teaching on routine and get centers into place early. Explain the importance of centers and have high expectations when conducting these centers. Centers will make or break you. If you get the students on board, routinely run them and are able to systematically make it work, they will be the difference between a year of learning and a year of wondering how you differentiate with a room full of kids on different levels.

- Be humbled by the differences you will encounter. Don't take offense, don't jump to conclusions or fight back. Hold your head up high and know even though others may not yet see your true genuine self, you have to win peoples trust. Do this by taking a humble approach and always working for the reason you are here, the students.

- You are going to be asked if every white person that passes, is in a tv show or movie, or that is seen in pictures or books are your brother, mother, father or friend. Just say yes.

- Bite your tongue when a student shrugs his or her shoulders and mutters the dreaded words, "I don't care". It is not worth the fight (in my classroom I move you down 2x when you do it, but that needs to be the end of it. No snide comments back, they aren't listening or caring, they are doing it because they know it will get a reaction).

- Get to know your coworkers, even if they don't seem too interested in getting to know you. Again be humble on your own opinions or feelings, it is a different culture and people may not even think you deserve the same rights as them, but you have to work with them. So get to know the parts you do like about them and treasure the knowledge you can get from people who have grown up in the community you are teaching in and who have done the job a lot longer than you have. They have a lot of things you may not care to hear, but one word of wisdom may be all it takes to save you. You will also meet some pretty terrific people who have fought more difficult hardships and came up on top.

- Though I was weary, living with another TFA corps member may have been what really got me through this year. It is a good idea to live with some one who is going to not only know what you are going through, but have a lot of similar struggles. Just make sure you aren't always consistently talking about school and all will be worthy.

- In the end, you will love your kids. And you will be proud of yourself.

I had a conversation with a high school friend (aka my ex-girlfriend) at my going away party almost exactly a year ago now. She told me that her students reading level had grown exponentially, though she didn't feel like it was her that caused it. I thought to myself, how do you get your students reading level to grow so much (the goal in my class in reading was 2 years growth, something I am sure all of my students can tell you)? Teach for America set a goal of 1.6 years reading growth for our classrooms. Well, my class grew around 1.62 years growth. I have some students who grew over 2.5 years. I have only 1 student who is under a years growth, at .75. So just like my old friend, I too am amazed and not sure I am able to take full credit for this much growth in my classroom. But, I know it was me working relentlessly (that's right, I said it...another TFA term) and not many else saw these children the way that I did. So who else could be to blame? For that alone I consider my year a success, even though a lot of other stuff went wrong. I know I did something incredible and that is my biggest take away from a year I often consider to be hell.

I will go into next year with more focus and I have a fairly decent idea of my target areas that I want to hit from day 1. This knowledge is what makes your 2nd year a lot better and more worthwhile than the first, or so I have been told.

I want to thank all the people who have fully supported and stuck by me throughout this year. You are the reason I survived. You are the reason for my success.

Center Time:














Reading Buddies with 3rd grade:










Field Day:













Guest Author reads to our class!



Aquarium trip:




Former New Orleans Saints player Michael Lewis comes in to read:




Apr. 3rd, 2012

The Art of Rejection



There is something to be said for those who can have the courage to face a challenge, just to be rejected. There is even more to be said for those who take that rejection gracefully.


I don't think one moment defines you. I don't think that being unable to build the confidence to attempt to be courageous for one event in your life means that you will never rise to an occasion. I don't think that having the confidence for one occasion and failing, means you will always fail. If you take the failure hard, it doesn't mean you cannot learn from the experience. Maybe next time you will be more graceful in your demise. Maybe you won't. Just know that when the moment happens, that you reach out and try for something and it doesn't pan out, but you are able to land on your feet, you will have had a success story for the books. And on top of it, maybe an even better learning experience than had you come out on top.

Being a teacher means making spontaneous and random decisions. Multiple ones. It is exhausting. Teaching in general is exhausting, but that is a whole other post. As a teacher, you are often faced with having to quickly decide to have this courageous confidence, or to let the opportunity slip by. For example, I have been faced with hearing students use the word "faggot" on more than one occasion. Do I step in and explain why this is a cruel and inappropriate thing to say? I'd say I most definitely make this decision. Do I go a step further and explain how it hurts me individually, making a more personal and clear message? Probably not in 2nd grade. I have a friend here who had to have this conversation with his high school students recently and it has lead to a lot of trouble for him. But he had the courage to take the step. Was it graceful? I think only he could say for sure.

When I came to New Orleans I knew I would be faced with many difficult experiences where I would have to make courageous decisions. In fact, coming to New Orleans was a courageous decision within itself. I knew that I would be rejected by students and parents from the start. I took this rejection gracefully because I knew I had to. I had no choice but to be graceful or I would never change the minds of these students and their parents. I had to win them over, rather than accept their rejection and cower for the school year. A success that has, I believe, paid off. What if I didn't fight? I would have never survived. All of my closest supporters would agree, fighting this rejection was a brave and smart decision.

I survived thus far in New Orleans. It has been exhausting. When I say the word survive, I truly feel that I was put in survival mode. Courageous and building confidence, a rejection I took gracefully and overcame. But as I said, you can take one and win, just to take another and lose. Being rejected by some one you feel closest to is no easy feat. To say I have been ungraceful, would be possibly the biggest understatement of the year. I have been downright pathetic.

People believed fighting in one cause, the rejection of my students and parents was smart, brave and necessary. I guess when it came to my most recent rejection, I was the one who felt it was necessary, even when not many others did. I fell flat on my face, over and over and over. The art of rejection was something I had just mastered, why couldn't I this time? Or maybe the fall is what I needed, to understand exactly where I am and what I do and do not need. Regardless, it is a learning experience. And like I said, one that will be different every time. Most importantly, one that will constantly be changing and leaving everlasting impressions, molding my life experiences.

To be graceful, even in the face of your darkest and deepest rejection is ideal. But unlikely. But remember, no matter how silly you look, it was all done in fight for what you feel in your heart is right. It just might not mean it was meant to be. As bad or hard the fall, the climb up is really what determines how you handled the rejection. It is ok to fail, just don't let it define you. I won't let it define me. I have too many more successes to accomplish for that to happen.


On Spring Break, sitting in the sun, reading the hunger games on my balcony.



Mar. 31st, 2012

Slipping



Clearly teaching, New Orleans and life has taken me away for some time now. It is Spring Break already and so many incredibly enlightening and depressing things have taken place since last writing, I am not really sure where or what to focus on. Probably the story of my existence at the moment. Where do I put my energy and focus?

I bet if I asked people for their opinion on this, I would hear a lot of different answers. Some would go the teaching route. You are in New Orleans to make a difference, focus on your class. Some would focus on my health. You need to stay healthy, mentally and physically.

I think what it all boils down to is the underlining disappointment that this experience has proven to be. And please don't interpret that as me saying I am miserable and disappointed in the direction my life has taken, because that isn't what I am trying to say. I haven't taken on an emoesque persona. So what exactly am I talking about?

I undoubtedly took incorrect actions when making important decisions on what to focus on right from the start. When in Atlanta, an overabundant amount of work was surged onto me, making me drowned with second thoughts of choosing to be a part of this program. In response, I enjoyed my weekends and survived the summer. When it came time to set up for my classroom, I tried hard to come up with a good space, though didn't understand the importance of systems and a culture of achievement, rather than a culture of comfortability and acceptance. My thought was, once I have them on my side they will be willing to listen and I can then teach them. A month of failure after failure and the first run in/turn down by administration and I was feeling unstable and alone. So it is no surprise that when my personal life presented something that could make me feel stable and valued, I embraced it and cared for it deeply.

Eventually I was able to make the changes that helped change my classroom. I spent countless hours working on systems, especially when it came to centers. All of my energy school wise was put into making the students care about their behavior, want their education and reading levels to improve and for them to understand they would grow the most during center time (where I would eventually be able to focus on individual attention). It worked, things improved and my students centers were something to be awed at. By this time of the year, a routine is so well down that teachers are coming in to look at how they are run. Which is a small success I have taken humbly.

All of the time I sacrificed was at the expense of others. Something I understand. I was and still am always tired. I had no energy to be appreciative or romantic or fun. It is something I didn't expect at the beginning of the year. Something I hadn't been warned about when deciding to become a teacher. However, things were still stable, at least in my head. I had support and stability from the people I needed it from. Until I didn't.

I think when something that keeps you grounded is taken away, you have a lot of emotions. People ask me, why are you torturing yourself now that things have changed? Why keep trying so hard? Why not move on? I think the first thing I have to ask myself is, was it what was keeping me stable that I valued so much? Was it just the fact that I felt valued? Or was it that I just wanted to be stable and have control because I had no control over anything else. I am not sure I could give you an honest answer because the truth lies some where meshed in the middle of all of it.

What I do know is with the end of the year coming, students are feeling restless. Classroom culture is decreasing and my patience has diminished. The one thing that was keeping me stable is gone and I feel strong disappointment in all of it. Disappointment that though I may have made some difference, I feel way further behind now than when I started. Disappointment that feeling so close and loved and supported by some one wasn't enough for me to make it stay stable.

Spring break has made me appreciate the hard work I have put in to make it this far. I know I have survived the first year...no matter how bad the next 6 weeks, I know I can get through them. I also believe that in the long run, no matter how disappointed I feel now, I will be way further ahead when all is said and done. But at the moment, even with all of the joys, I still feel disappointed.





2nd & 3rd graders about to hunt for Easter Eggs the day before break!

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