Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My New "Job"

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called." -A.A. Milne

I hated every minute of training, but I said, "Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion." -Muhammad Ali

So last week I had training for my new job. Some things I learned:
  • Minnesota Reading Corps, approaching 800 members, is the largest AmeriCorps organization in the country.
  • Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, when he speaks, has a repetitive gesturing pattern. (Also, cool that he came and spoke at our training.)
  • John Gomperts is the director of AmeriCorps--he spoke at our training too, and proceeded to skip a line of our pledge (but then fixed it).
  • Target is EVERYWHERE in Minnesota. Every possible event or organization seems to list Target as a sponsor/donor. MRC is no exception.
  • When I keep myself constantly full of caffeinated beverages, I don't fall asleep when I'm bored. (at Carleton, I fell asleep during several classes that were WAY more interesting than training.)
  • Like just about everything I do, there is a huge gender imbalance in the MRC. We had a men's restroom converted into a women's, and there were still long lines at breaks. 
So wait, did I learn anything worthwhile? You know, pertinent to my job? Well, yeah. I learned (slower than I would have liked) the assessments and interventions I'll be using with my students. But not until the second half of day 2 did any real learning happen. Day 1 was just a bunch of introduction stuff, where we went over what we were supposed to have read for "homework." The first half of Day 2 was a bunch of speakers--the governor, some lady from Target, another from the United Way, the director of AmeriCorps, the director of MRC...all basically patting us on the back for taking part in this great organization, blah blah blah, and making some crack about the "sea of red" in the audience--red is the MRC color, and we all had to wear red on day 2. 

Plus, a couple hours that morning was getting to know the coach at our school site, and the other members at our site. But wait, sorry Amy, you're the only one at your site AND have no coach yet! So I spent that time getting more tea, and taking yet another bathroom break. Luckily, I wasn't freaking out, because I didn't have burning questions about my school, given that I've worked there, and have done a year of AmeriCorps.

Things got better from that disappointment of a morning--I actually got a picture of what my time will be like with the students. But, having worked with kids reading, and having done some testing for some teachers last year, I picked up the material pretty fast. So it was useful, but boring and slow. And, to make it better, we had to practice the assessments with each other. Which is totally unrealistic--one, we make the most well behaved kids. And two, it's hard to make mistakes sound natural. I felt like an idiot looking at a b, but saying p. or looking at a q and saying g, so that my partner could practice the error correction procedure. I suppose practice makes perfect, and we might as well not be stumbling over words when we work with kids. 

Really, the best part of training was hanging out with my friend Jessie, and getting whatever they had for snack--one day it was ice cream bars, another cupcakes. Mmmmmm. So take that as you will, I'm just ready for school to start again. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.  -Winnie-the-Pooh

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's the last week of school. Despite being a year-round year (read: longer than usual), it certainly hasn't felt like it. It's bittersweet. While I'll be at the same school next year, it's going to be in a different building, and a few new faces. It's hard to know that a lot of these kids I may never see again. Some kids are changing schools to be closer to home, others are moving. And next week, I have Reading Corps training, so fear not dear reader! My blog will continue.

As I wrap up my year--I just picked up the yearbooks that I designed for the school--and the 6th grade graduation is tomorrow--and I had end of year evaluations with my supervisors (all positive!), and an exit interview in 3 days from my program, I wonder what difference did I make? Did I "get things done for America," as per the Americorps motto? And I would have to answer yes. Yes, I did. Maybe not on a large scale. Maybe I didn't close the achievement gap, but I certainly felt like if I was a necessary part of my school's community. 

I made strides with kids who were below reading or math levels. I became a friend, teacher, sometimes mother-ish figure to my students. Almost every student in the school knows my name. I don't really know why--I barely spent any time in classrooms above the 4th grade, and while I know the name of almost every kid in the school, I certainly don't know all of them. Yet today, as I was chatting with their teacher, a few 4th grade girls came up and gave me hugs. For what? I don't know. But elementary school kids love hugs, I'll tell you that. Even the 5th and 6th graders. They're getting to the age (almost jr. high kids) where they're too cool for adults. Well, that's the front they put up at least. But I would wager that most of them still like being kids. 

Case in point: The 2nd-5th graders went on this skating/funzone field trip on Monday, and a bunch of kids came home with these arcade/vending machine toys--blow up hammers and such. But the most popular toy? Light up pacifiers. What? I didn't get it. This 5th grader who tries to act older than his age (not helped by his parents clearly--listens to Eminem and probably is watching TV/movies that are for more mature audiences than him), comes in after school with a pacifier. Not so tough now, are you?

Still it's amazing how much kids have grown in a year--when I first started putting together the yearbook, just looking at their fall pictures made everyone look like babies compared to how they look now. And realizing how much they've learned throughout the year is incredible. It's also interesting to compare how I was at the beginning of the year to now--I am so much more confident and comfortable in my roll at school--whether with discipline, making copies, or whatever. 

I'm so happy I get to be a part of the same community next year, even with the changes. I've discovered that community is a really important thing for me--it would have been hard to leave the school after just one year. The relationships I've formed would seem a waste to end after just one year. It's why I stayed in Minnesota after graduating from college--having the opportunity to visit Carleton several times this year made graduating easier. It's also why I'm torn as to whether to go to grad school in California or Minnesota. But that's a conversation for another time. Instead, I'm going to make the most of being a part of this community. I feel so lucky. And I'm not the only one. Recently a parent of a 6th grader and an alum brought the teachers treats as a thank you for all the school had done for her kids. And another family made 400 empanadas to sell with concessions for the musical, and also as a treat for the staff. They were so delicious! In addition to families, there were a lot of jr. high and high school kids--alums of the school--who had come back to see the play. 

Basically, even though I make much less than minimum wage, it's totally worth it because I LOVE my job, and just about everything about it. It almost seems wrong that I could be doing something so much less fulfilling, but making so much more money. I guess any job I have after this, no matter how bad the pay, will make me feel rich! At any rate, I'll get by on my little living stipend because I'm so happy with my life.

Related to my last post: Thanks to my friend Michelle for sending me this article to me about the realities of summer learning loss.
"Until our nation addresses summer learning loss, efforts to close the achievement gap will continue to fall short."

Also, another reason to love Matt Damon: