Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 25 2011

long-awaited update

Well, not really that long-awaited.  But an update nonetheless.  So I just finished my second week of Institute and my first week of teaching!

It was quite the week.  I don’t even know where to start.

Let’s talk about sleep deprivation.  I used to think that people who were sleep-deprived at Institute either procrastinated on the weekend or just didn’t plan well enough.  Not true.  I went to bed at midnight and got up at 4 am all week except for last night, when I went to bed at 3 and got up at 4:30.  I’m not sure if an hour and a half of sleep counts as a night’s sleep anyway — it’s more like a nap.

But it surprisingly wasn’t that bad!  I felt tired today, and for the first fifteen minutes I’m awake every day I’m pathetically incoherent, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought massive sleep deprivation would be.

This could be because of all of the adrenaline.  I’ve had more adrenaline pumping through my system this week than I have in years.  I was completely terrified basically from the time I got to school at 7 to the time I started teaching at 11:30 every day, and then I was just tense until the kids left at 1:00.  I guess I was too busy being panicked to be tired.

I also haven’t been eating!  For me, that’s saying something!  I’ve been so busy and focused all week that eating hasn’t seemed that important.  I have lunch with my kids every day, and I’m usually too busy monitoring a bunch of 13-year-olds to worry about eating.  The first day, they said “You a vegetarian, ma’am? Why ain’t you eatin’?” I wanted to say “Because you guys make me so tense that I can’t even think about eating!”, but I didn’t.  Of course I made up for all of this by feasting at Sonic tonight in celebration of the week.

Here’s what my average day looks like:

4 am: get up, stumble around my dorm room getting dressed, Bible/prayer, check facebook and catch up on the world, generally try to keep my eyes open

5:15 am: haul my ridiculous amount of stuff (more than I’d be allowed to carry on on an airplane) to the dining hall and stand in line for breakfast. probably my least favorite part of the day.

5:32 am: try to eat breakfast.  not very successful.

5:35 am: grab lunch from the lunch assembly-line place.  usually a turkey sandwich with some kind of cheese, an apple (I’ve accumulated a lot of those), and some chips or carrot sticks.

5:45 am: get on the bus.  try really hard to stay awake.

6-7 am: amazing bus ride.  sleep, listen to music, stare out the window, cut out prize tickets, or play solitaire on my ipod.

7 am: arrive at school and try to wake myself up. help my co-teachers set up our classroom for the day.

8-9:30 am: sessions, mostly useful.  learn about lesson-planning and TFA stuff.  drink lots of Kool Aid.  try to focus while worrying obsessively about teaching later that morning.

9:40 – 10:40 am: Academic Intervention Time, my favorite time with the kids.  basically small-group tutoring.  I bring mini-whiteboards and let them do math problems on them.  They love the mini-whiteboards.

10:40 – 11:35 am: hang out in the classroom while my co-teacher teaches.  walk around authoritatively and hand out copious amounts of reward tickets.

11:35 am – 12:10 pm: teach my lesson, with varying degrees of success.

12:10-12:20 pm: lead kids in line to lunch.  I make them stop every time they start talking or get out of line, so it takes awhile.  Having them walk silently in a straight line to the cafeteria is a school rule as well as my own personal crusade; I’m gradually wearing them down, I think.

12:20-12:35 pm: watch kids eat lunch and try to make myself eat too.  referee arguments about whether LSU or Ole Miss is better, answer questions about why I haven’t had any babies yet, or restrain them from wandering around the cafeteria.

12:35-12:40 pm: attempt to corral my kids during the designated “bathroom break”.  again force them to stay in a straight line. stressful.

12:45-1:00 pm: try to keep kids in classroom until they are actually dismissed. chaos.

1:15 – 4:30 pm: more sessions. take notes and drink more Kool Aid.  feel overwhelmed by videos of amazing teachers.

4:30-5:30 pm: another bus ride.

6 – 8 pm: gym, dinner, and shower.

8-10 pm: lesson plan

10-10:30 pm: walk to copy center and make copies.  am amazed at how many people are hard at work still.

11:00 pm: pick out “teacher outfit”, pack snacks, and get everything together for the next day.

12:00 am: bed.

I’m exhausted just from writing that.  So yeah, it’s pretty intense.  Overall, I really enjoy it.

I absolutely ADORE my kids.  I was worried about not being committed enough to my class this summer, and at first they really scared me.  But I liked them nonetheless.  And on Monday night, when I was looking over their assessments (the class average was 20.6%), I felt this sense of protectiveness rise inside of me, and all of the sudden I was saying to myself “WHO didn’t teach my babies this?! Who was it?!  Who let them get through the school system without learning this?!”.  They tried so hard, and it was heartbreaking that they didn’t even know basic basic stuff.

I cried a lot on Monday, just knowing that the achievement gap is something that most people I know go their whole lives without knowing or caring about.

The next day, I was helping one of the kids with his assessment, and he got so frustrated with himself that he’d never been taught a lot of the stuff.  I had to look him in the eye and say “It’s not your fault that you’ve never learned this in school.  It’s not your fault.”.

I was just so completely floored with the injustice of it all.  These are smart, capable kids.  But the system has wronged them for so long that they have a lot of built-up anger and don’t know how to handle it.  My collab has talked about this; we want to hopefully teach our kids about conflict resolution and the importance of not ending up in jail.

5 Responses

  1. Jorice Maag


    I am trying to send a comment and having almost as much frustration as you are in your new environment!!
    I will try again next time.
    God bless you.

  2. margie stark

    Dear Elsa Got tired reading your
    daily activities!
    You sound your usual positive self.
    Hang in there girl!
    We are rooting for you.
    Love from all of your sisters
    Margie Stark

  3. Erin

    I love the heart you have for your students. I know that protective feeling you express: “Who didn’t teach my babies this?” I had to get myself past that pointing fingers stage, and remind myself to do my best to make sure that the next teacher these students have can’t say the same.

    You’re right. It is incredibly unjust that these students don’t know the things they should have been taught. Don’t forget that you’re part of a group that’s trying to fight that injustice. =)

  4. Gwen Brickell

    God bless you Elsa. Sounds like you are doing a wonderful Job and although it is tiring and stressful I know that you will succeed because you are so positive and mainly because you love these kids and that makes an Immense difference!
    Gwen Brickell

  5. Mimi Maginnis

    Dear Elsa – We really miss you but we know that you are doing such an important job and that you will do MORE than succeed. Your determination to help your kids and your love for them will always point you in the direction you should go to help them. My Mississippi girl is NOT going to Ole Miss (long story) but to Tougaloo College, outside of Jackson with a full scholarship. Love, Mimi

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June 2011
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the title

"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln