learning to be ms frizzle

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 09 2011

Pikes Peak or Bust

I have officially 5 days until I move to Colorado for TFA. I am so excited! It feels surreal that this process, that started way back in August of 2010, is about to start. Last week I got to meet Wendy Kopp (CEO and founder of TFA) on her book tour. The public perception of TFA is interesting to observe. As new CMs I think we are so invested in the process of becoming excellent teachers, but it is also important that this movement happen outside the classroom and in the pubic sector. I also found the story of a first year CM who told her class that they had the “chance to make history” by proving everyone wrong inspiring. Every student in her classroom passed the Regents exam (from my understanding its a test that NY students must pass to be able to go to college in NY state) that no one in the entire school had ever passed before.

I’m thinking that I want some sort of national test to measure my student’s success in biology. Maybe giving them the older versions of the Regents exam available online?

I also have started to get advice from many different directions. 1st TAL is my number one source. So far the best advice I have gotten from that is:

a. set big goals for the class (such as 100% passing the CSAP)

b. make monthly objectives personalized to each student

My second source is my thesis advisor’s husband. He has a masters in biology and has taught at the high school level for 8 years. His advice:

a. set the playing field the first day by meeting students at the door with an assigned seat and a survey of their own goals. Basically, what the tone in your classroom is on the first day sets the tone for the entire year (talk about pressure!).

b. never talk in faculty meetings, if you have an issue talk about it outside of the meeting to whoever/whatever it involves. He said I would know why after my first meeting.

c. read……. (I ¬†will get the stack from my thesis advisor tomorrow during check out and share it on here).

d. make friends with male coaches who can make kids run when the act out

e. don’t reinvent the wheel, split up the work with the other biology teachers

I feel really excited about most of his advice. My concern lies in what he told me about his school’s administration. Each child, regardless if they failed the TAKS the year before were still able to move up a grade level. By the time they got to high school they believed they could easily be doctors, lawyers, or astronauts even though they couldn’t read the test they were given. 9th grade is the first year that if you fail you wouldn’t move forward.

He knew he had a ways to go before these students were ready. Specifically getting their reading comprehension levels up. Yet, reading takes time, and they specifically told him he could not assign homework. Period. So his students are trapped and finally find out that their education is lacking and that their dreams are no longer possible because they can’t pass the 9th grade test. He on the other hand is trying to improve their scores, but without homework or after school sessions he has little choice. He then told me “hopefully Colorado is better”.

I sure hope so! Not allowing for the things that could improve a student’s entire life outlook because of politics is impossibly hard to understand. Apparently you can’t assign homework because students may not have a pencil, a quiet place to study, a printer …… he even offered to give them those tools, and still the no homework rule won.

My last advice is from Kopp herself. I asked “If I do one thing next year what should that be?”

Kopp: “Invest families”

While I’ve read (not sure if it’s Ms Lora or not) about CMs having potlucks and inviting families to come, or having student teacher nights. I’m worried that I won’t be able to do that in a high school setting. Any thoughts?

Luckily, I will be in a school with at least 7 other CMs. The other biology teacher is TFA as well.

Every day I have thoughts of how my first day of class is going to go. How many  months can you plan for one day?

Well, any way, those are my thoughts for this week. I am going to observe a CM in San Antonio this week. Hopefully, I will be able to learn a lot from her.

7 Responses

  1. Ballerina Mathematician

    I’m a MS math teacher in CO and I totally understand your concerns about investment in a secondary setting. My advice is to seriously call EVERY parent within the first few weeks of school. Having that initial contact and introduction is essential when calling later to talk about concerns with behavior or dropping academics. It’s true that there are unsupportive parents, but many mroe than you would expect are fully invested in their kid and will do anything to help them.

    As for “hoping Colorado is better”, I hope it is in the Springs. In Denver if a kid fails the CSAP and all their classes they still go on to the next grade…until 9th. It’s a terrible system, but the reality in a lot of school districts.

    • Ms. R

      that is ridiculous that its the same in colorado. maybe we will change the system.

  2. Regents are actually required to graduate so unless they graduated 0% of their students something is up thete…

    Otherwise, get it girl! Best of luck with the move. Loving the Ms. Frizzle reference :)

    • Ms. R

      hmm…. I must have misunderstood. do they have to pass in every subject to graduate because she said it was optional?

      • The Regents are actually super confusing. I grew up in MA so this is what I’ve gleaned from living in NY for four years and taking one class that touched upon the Regents system. There’s a passing number for a “general” diploma, a “Regents” diploma (which I suspect is what you need to get into college?) and a “Regents with distinction” diploma. Maybe the teacher was referring to the second or the third number, which are 65 or above, but the second required a few more classes (science and language, mainly).

        • And by the last “second” I refer to, I actually mean “third,” i.e. Regents with distinction.

          • Ms. R

            Got it! I believe that is what she said. Thanks for explaining it : )

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Science in the Springs

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High School
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Science

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