Wednesday, December 24, 2008

First term reflections

A year ago, I never would have believed that I'd be sitting here writing about my first full term as a teacher in New York City. Actually, 12 months ago, it seemed like my life had no direction other than graduation approaching in May. It really is amazing how much things can change in 12 short months.

So here I am, sitting in a hotel near the Pittsburgh airport, on my way home after finishing my first four months as a teacher in New York City. At the beginning of the school year, I was scared to death and had no idea what to really expect, and after hearing stories from countless older TFA corps members, I just knew something horrendous was going to happen somewhere down the road (that's just my kind of luck).

Fortunately, divine providence has dealt me a tremendous blessing the last four months. The school I work at (I.S. 528 in Washington Heights), is an oasis and what could easily have become a long, arduous journey though the inner city. During the last four months, I have forged tremendous friendships with many of my coworkers and have developed a deep respect for my administration as well. Perhaps most importantly, I admire my students. Each and every one of them have inspired me in some way. In fact, with each passing day, and the more I learn about each of them, I am even more blown away by the way they are turning into adventurous young adults.

Looking back, I worry that the last four months have been an anomaly and that the next six are somehow going to go wrong. Although, certainly such fears can be alleviated with lots of pre-planning on my part, which shouldn't be too bad. Either way, I can't wait to get back to work in January and see all my "kids" again. It's tough raising 129 of them!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Newsletter success

Oh! I forgot to mention... my newsletter class finally finished the first newsletter of the year. I'll upload it so everyone can see the great work my students did. It's called: the I.S. 528 HEYREADME... yes, we're witty like that.

Working together

So the last few weeks have brought a slight change in approach to lesson planning. During our first unit of study, I approached lesson planning as a personal endeavor. I used some resources from Teach for America and mapped out the unit to cover the areas I felt my students needed the most practice with. However, this time around, I've started working with two of my co-workers to plan out our non-fiction unit and the subsequent writing projects that the students have to complete. How are we doing? I think our co-planning meetings have been successful. Not only are we able to bounce ideas off of each other, but it has helped me fill in some of the gaps in my own plans.

Let's hope this continues.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Going beyond the classroom

Two weeks ago, our school started showing a documentary called "Darius Goes West" to the entire school. One of my co-workers coordinated the effort, sold snacks and drinks, and raised money for Muscular Dystrophy awareness. The movie focuses on one boy from Athens, Georgia, who has the diseases. It shows how his friends went on a cross-country road trip so that Darius would have the chance to see parts of the United States before the disease takes his life. It's a tear jerker.

After showing the film, we had our students write letters to Darius, who is still traveling around the country promoting awareness and raising money towards finding a cure for the disease. Several of my students wrote about how inspired they were by Darius' ability to focus on the positive aspects of his life and how he didn't let the disease hold him back from achieving his dreams.

On October 14, Darius and his team stopped by our school. The visit was a complete surprise for the students. Each grade got to spend about an hour talking with Darius and his friends about their trip and the struggles they have had during their cross-country journey.

You can read their blog about their visit to our school here: Darius Goes West Blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Writing class adventure

So in my last post, I talked about my first step towards differentiated instruction. I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical about just how effective it would actually be, but, after my first day as a differentiater, I am proud to say that it was a huge success.

To review, I made each of my 90 writing students a "top secret" folder with a collection of five various assignments inside based on their writing level. To top it off, I wore my aviator sunglasses to class (to pretend like I was some type of secret agent).

When I plopped the box of manila envelopes on the table, their jaws dropped to the floor. They thought I had a huge package of papers for them to do. When I put on the sunglasses and showed the cover of the folder, they were ecstatic! Then, I explained the directions and handed out their assorted folders.

Now, for the seven weeks we've been in school, I've struggled to get my writing classes to produce any meaningful work. Well, that has finally changed! Of the 30 or so students in the course, about 25 of them finished most of the assignment... in class. One student finished all five of her assignments before the end of the day -- thus becoming the first student to get a "free meal on Mr. V."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Differentiated Instruction

The headline is a link that will probably better explain the concept of differentiated instruction than I am about to, but after a heated debate with my school's literacy coach on Friday, I've decided to give it a shot.

The idea behind differentiated instruction is that students are able to complete activities that are on their own learning level and based on their own learning style, even within one class.

Let me provide some background to our discussion on Friday. We were talking about the once-weekly writing classes that I teach and their overall effectiveness. My point was that it is difficult to teach the concepts of grammar and writing with one class period per week and that the students need more direct instruction than what is available. Fortunately, or unfortunately, our literacy coach got the brunt of my frustration. I expressed my concerns that 45 minutes a week was not enough to see significant improvement in writing. She suggested that I try differentiating my instruction to try and move forward.

Well, after a few days to mull over her response, which I wasn't very happy about, I have decided to give it a try. Starting tomorrow, my writing students will receive "top secret" folders with a variety of activities in them according to the students writing levels based on an assessment I gave them at the beginning of the year. The assignments are aligned with state standards (I hope), and encourage students to complete as much as possible. There's even a reward for those who complete all of the assignments!

We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My classroom.

Here are some updated photos of my classroom.

One month in

So I've finished my first full month of teacher, and to be honest the experience has been kind of surreal. Never in my wildest teacher dreams did I expect to have a student say, "Mr. V! I love your class, it's my favorite!" But, after my first month, I hear it way more than I should. To say the least, compared to my summer teaching experience, this year has been a complete 180. Not only are my students more engaged and invested in the work, but I find myself exuding more passion in the classroom. It's odd.

I think what has made all the difference has been my attitude. During the summer, I was a recent college T.A. and refused to adjust to varying learning styles. All I wanted to do was lecture and have my students listen attentively. Ironically (or not), that approach doesn't sit well with middle school students. So I've had to be more creative with my approach and with my classroom management (nine kids have had detention with me so far).

I don't want this post to be a huge rant about classroom changes and teaching expectations, but I do want to highlight some of the things my students have done so far this year:
1. My seventh graders have read The Diary of Anne Frank and compared it to the movie version. In a few weeks, we'll be visiting New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage.

2. My seventh and eighth graders are exploring meaningful events in their lives by writing memoirs highlighting key events in their lives.

3. All of my classes have created individual goals to determine where they want to be by the end of the year.

This is just a small list of accomplishments so far. Let's just hope that things keep progressing the way they have been.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Assessments, measurements, and setting big goals

The last few weeks have seemed like such a blur. Not only am I at school for seven hours a day, but work has been following me home five or six days each week. On average, I'd say I'm working upwards of 15 hours per day. Sheesh, I feel like a financial investor (but who wants to be one of those these days?).

The first weeks have school are supposed to be a little chaotic -- at least that's what the seasoned teachers tell me. Aside from learning 115 names, organizing massive amounts of papers, and setting up a classroom, things are going fairly well for me. Plus, on a positive note, all of my literacy students are on grade level for reading comprehension according to the McLeod reading assessment I gave them. The McLeod asks students to read a series of paragraphs with miscellaneous words missing. The students are to fill in the missing words by using context clues to figure out the words that fit. My students, being the pros I know they are, passed the test with flying colors, and because of their success on the assessment, we're working towards having a high school reading level by the end of the year (that's for both my seventh and eighth graders).

Here is a shot of my classroom library. Don't worry, the bulletin board is now covered with summer reading projects. Go Gators!?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two weeks down

So I have successfully (at least in my opinion) finished my first two weeks on the job as a full-time teacher. I'll admit, there have been some trials along the way, but I've had a number of successes too.

I think the most interesting thing that has happened so far has been the drastic difference in student investment and behavior since the summer. Granted, I have spent a great deal more time explaining to my seventh and eighth graders that they are able to complete high school level work. In fact, investment is going so well that my seventh graders have begged me to let them read and write on a daily basis. Ha! In many ways, they hold me just as accountable as I'm trying to hold them.

I was also asked to take on a position on our school's inquiry committee. As a member of the committee, I will help track student data to determine how affective our school is at preparing students for high school and the state standardized tests. I'll admit, this sounds a little worrisome since I absolutely loathe quantitative data. We'll see though. I'm working on being more optimistic.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First day of school

So the first day of school went off without a hitch, and I have to admit that I am more excited now that I have been all summer about the year ahead. Now I'm sure that my attitude might change after a few weeks, but as of right now I'm pretty optimistic about the coming school year.

The day started off well with my homeroom class of 30 seventh graders. Now, that's the biggest class I've ever taught, at any level, so this morning, before school, I was worried I wouldn't be able able initiate strong classroom management routines. Fortunately, things went well considering I kept 30 seventh graders in their seats, and quite for the most part. **Pats myself on the back**

However, my good will towards the year was fully fostered during my seventh grade literacy (reading and writing) class later in the day. This time, I only had about 15 students, and they all seemed genuinely excited about our goals for the year. I explained to them that it was our job this year to make sure that they're ready to apply for high school at the beginning of eighth grade (in NYC, student apply to go to high school). At one point, one young lady's eyes were so big with anticipation that I thought they were going to pop out of her head (okay, I exaggerate a bit, but they seemed interested in our October/November unit on speech and debate (to go along with the presidential elections).

We'll see what tomorrow brings. I get to meet my eighth graders and my newsletter class for the first time. Again, I'm optimistic!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Preparing for the year

I forgot to mention, in less than 12 hours, I get to start setting up my classroom for the year.

How cheesy do I want it to be?

My summer is over

It's hard to believe that my six weeks of Institute are over and starting tomorrow almost be a full-time teacher...almost.

Just to catch everyone up, I moved into my apartment in New York about two weeks ago. After a brief trip to Florida, my parents and I took a road trip up the East Coast to bring all of my stuff to New York. After a few hair-raising minutes driving through Midtown, we finally arrived, with a U-haul and a car, to my apartment on the Upper West Side. A few hours later, it was unloaded and I was officially home.

However, my move is not the point of this blog. I wanted to take a few minutes to sum up my experiences at this summer's Institute.

To be honest, I never thought I'd miss my students. There were moments when I thought my patience would break and they would finally crack my shell. Surprisingly, despite all of the tribulations, I made it through four weeks of summer school and all of my students made their gains for the summer. Some of them went up two grade levels in reading! Pretty awesome.

Actually, my summer experience can be described in two short interactions with a couple of my students. The first came early in the last week of school. One of my students "forgot" my name, so one of my other students chimed in and said, "Hello! Are you stupid? His name is Mr. Van Owen, like Ms. Vo, our math teacher. Her name is V.O. because they're married and didn't want us to know. Right Mr. Van Owen? You leave your ring at home right?" I ALMOST lost it. It was the funniest moment of the entire summer.

The second came on the last week of school. My co-teacher and I through a small party to celebrate the end of the summer for our students. One of the boys came up to me and told me I was "thugness." Though I'm not sure what that means, I was flattered nonetheless.

If anything, my students taught me a lot more than I taught them -- despite my best efforts. I learned that being prepared was the best way to engage a group of middle school students, because regardless of how hard I tried to "keep it real" they always saw right through me. What I learned was that I had to think like a 14 year old and remember what it was like to be full of hormones with a relatively insecure teacher. After that, we made decent progress.

I also learned that teaching young students is not as easy as teaching my college students. My college students knew that they had to work hard to succeed. With middle schoolers, I have to convince them that working hard will lead them to success. Once again, it's all about my mindset as a teacher.

During the weeks since Institute, I've been trying to enjoy myself and spend some time with my family before they went back to Florida. The bonding was cut a little short with TFA Orientation, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.

I don't want this to drag on forever, so I'll end with this anecdote:

On our last night of orientation, the Chancellor of Education for the City of New York, Joel Klein, spoke to us. He said that teaching was a lot like sex. Ironic you say? Well so did I.

He continued:
"Teaching is like sex. Think about it...the more relaxed you are, the better it's going to be!"


Saturday, August 2, 2008

The results

So I'll give a more detailed reflection on the summer later, but I wanted everyone to know that all of my students that completed their final assessments made their summer growth goals. That means that they grew by at least one grade level in reading and writing!

What do teachers really make?

Someone shared this with me the other day. I found it amazing. Did I mention I love Def Poetry Jam?

What do teachers really make?

It's worth watching, and if I was tech-savvy enough, I'd upload it directly!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Do I look official yet?

So we're winding down our time at Institute (we've only got two teaching days left), so I wanted to document our lives at school. Here are some photos of our posters, classrooms, etc. We've been teaching our students how to write personal experience narratives. For my class, I turned our room into a mini newsroom and had the students write "on deadline."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Start of week 5

So we're moving onto our last week of teaching for the summer, and things are getting a little sentimental around here. Granted, anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows I'm the most sentimental stooge on the planet, so you can imagine how I'm feel after spending five weeks we some of the most amazing and inspiring people I've ever met.

It's hard to believe that Institute is almost over. With only four teaching days to go, we can all sense that the end is near, but we all realize there is still a lot of work to be done. Not only do we have to lesson plan, but we also have to assess our students to make sure they learned the material they need to in order to move on to their respective grades (mine start high school in the fall, they're so grown up!).

I'm looking forward to teaching tomorrow though. We're learning how to edit, which, oddly enough, I find great joy in (yes, I'm a nerd, begin hurling insults now).

Should be fun.

Here's a picture of my CMA group on Mean Girls (pink shirt) Friday. Please note how we are ALL wearing pink.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Small victories

So I was having a discussion with my friend Meredith today via e-mail. She's one of my best friends, and since I moved to NYC, she and I have started a little ritual of e-mailing each other throughout the day. It works well since I get e-mail on my Blackberry and she sits at her desk at work.

Well today, I was writing her an e-mail after I got done teaching my lesson on descriptive writing and using adjectives to make writing more engaging (surprisingly, my students got really into it!), and I told her how excited I was that ALL of my students completed today's assignment. Sure this seems like a minor accomplishment, but considering we've been in class for two and a half weeks and this was the first time, I was amazed. I told her, "It's all about the small victories every day." She responded, "As a teacher, that's what you HAVE to focus on." At the time, I didn't realize how much truth there was to that statement, but it was truly inspiration in hindsight. Thank you Meredith for helping me focus on the small accomplishments we make each day. Teaching is one of those day-by-day professions; or, as my friend Joe calls it, "a hard privilege that you HAVE to love doing." So true my friends, and thank you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

By the way...

did I mention that I love this job? Weird huh? A few years ago I never though I'd be a teacher, and despite all the learning opportunities, I still look forward to going to work every day.

Hands up! Three good class ready! IMPROVE! (my CMA group's motto).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Finally...a breakthrough

I've learned during Institute that as a teacher you have to relish in the small accomplishments just as much as the big ones.

Well today, I had one of those breakthroughs.

I have a student that loves attention. Seriously, they love to have the spotlight on them -- all the time. Well, up until this point I had a hard time getting them to even attempt their in-class assignment.

Now get, she finished it! I was amazed.

At long last.

Oh, and my mentor teacher said, "Today, you had control." HA! Again, at last!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Week two is nearly over

So week two of teaching is officially over (there is no summer school on Fridays), and I'll admit that it feels good to have the weekend upon us again. I'll admit though, it's kind of bittersweet. Sunday marks that one-month anniversary of our arrival in New York and it has truly flown by.

But the flight of time is a relative experience. I've gotten less sleep on average than I ever have, but my days are filled with more work and challenges than at any time of my life.

I made progress in my teaching this week though. Sure I still haven't gotten all of my students to actively participate in class, but most of them are engaged. And what I find most interesting is the compassion that I have for the kids. Sure they drive me crazy from time to time, but they have become "my students." It's like a sense of ownership has swept over all of us (apparently I'm not the only one that feels the same way about their students). It's hard to explain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It was Teach for America Day

So yesterday was a nice break from our day-to-day routine of teaching, going to class and working until the wee hours of the night. However, the change of pace came as a total surprise to all of us.

The day started like most others. I was up until 2 a.m. finishing lesson plans and all that jazz, and woke up at my normal 5:30 a.m. to get breakfast and prepared for the day before my bus leaves at 6:30. When we got to campus at I.S. 143, there was a four-hour chunk of time schedule that afternoon for a meeting with a representative from the Department of Education about "Managing the Politics of the DOE."

Well, our Curriculum Specialist said that it would be the most boring part of Institute. Top that off with the three hours of sleep from the previous night and you've got a recipe for sure disaster.

So I made it through my lesson plan for the day and managed to teach my students something (I hope) -- I still worry that I'm not being as effective as I could be, but that's another blog post in its own right. Anyway, after teaching, we had a "working lunch" schedule so that the DOE rep could get right down to business. The 36 TFA teachers at I.S. 143 piled into one classroom and literally inhaled our stale lunches. At that point, our advisers warned us to put all of our food in the trash, drinks away, and have out a piece of paper, a writing utensil and pay CLOSE attention to everything the DOE rep was supposed to say.

I'll admit, I felt tense from the get go.

At that point, the rest of the TFA staff working with us at the school stormed in and told us that it was actually TFA Day and that we had the afternoon off -- sort of. Instead of sitting through a four-hour session, we were going to have a field day back at St. John's University (and still finish our work that was due the next day, oh the irony).

So we loaded up the bus that was waiting for us outside and went back to St. John's. I'll confess I was relieved to have a day off, and being outside was a nice change of pace from sitting in a dank classroom all afternoon. I did, however, take a nap before I joined in the festivities. Here are some pictures of my school's teams dominating at three-on-three basketball, a Saltine eating contest, tug of war, and just hanging out (we're best at the last one).

Until next class....

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The apartment hunt goes on

So finding an apartment in New York City really is as hard as they say it is.

I'll confess, I'm being a little fussy with my apartment search (aren't I always?), but I can't believe had starkly different things are up here compared to Florida. Not only are the apartments half the size of those back home, but they're often double, even triple the price.

Now I'm not completely naive, I know this is NYC and things are different up here, but I can't believe that people actually charge $2,400 for a 400 square foot studio. My closet in Gainesville was about that size. Sheesh.

So today I went out with my pal Sharon (she's my no-fee broker) to look at apartments. We started in Washington Heights, which is where I'll be teaching in the fall. Washington Heights is a flavor-filled neighborhood with a lot of culture. I liked the apartment she showed me, but I have some reservations about living that far north on Manhattan and that close to work. To be honest, I don't want my students to follow me home! HA.

Next, we hopped on the train and went down to Harlem. The area was nice, but the layout of the apartment was funky. There was a sitting room attached to the bedroom by a narrow, five-foot-long hallway that seemed awkwardly out of place. The bedroom was also barely big enough for a twin-sized bed. Sigh. On we went.

Finally, we ended up in the Upper West Side. I had never ventured to this part of the city before and immediately fell in love with it. Not only were we a block from Central Park, but the area seemed safe, well kept and the apartments decent. I may have found on nearby that I like. I'll keep you posted on the apartment hunt.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weak one complete

Yes, the word "weak" was intentional in the headline. I chose to use it because I think in a lot of ways it symbolizes a lot of the trials and tribulations we all overcame this week. Not only did we finish our first week of teaching, but we are all physically exhausted from the long house, little sleep, and sub-par food. To say the least, I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Now I blame part of my exhaustion on my trip to Connecticut last weekend. Don't get me wrong, the trip was amazing, but I definitely did not utilize last weekend to catch up on sleep. This weekend however, I will be in bed and resting as much as possible.

I've decided that at the end of each week, I will type up my reflections from each day of teaching. I figure writing and typing them would be too redundant for me too handle, so if I put a few days between them I'll be making progress. Also, I think this will give all of you a snapshot into how I perceive my role as a teaching and how I've improved/regressed from day to day.

But, before I sign off and head to bed (yes, before 12:30 a.m., it's amazing), I have to say that today's lesson was by far the highlight of my week. I don't know if it was because it's the students' last day of class for the week or if I over planned, but they were actually engaged in the lesson and willfully participating. It made my day and my week all worthwhile, despite the tiredness and the aches and pains. Even as I write this, I can't feel my legs.

Sweet dreams!

Mr. Van Owen

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

First day teaching and other reflections

Wow, sorry it's been so long since I've posted, and unfortunately this will be a fairly brief post because I'm running on four hours of sleep and am on track to only get four more tonight.

Anyway, I had a great weekend in the Hamptons and Connecticut celebrating the Fourth of July and seeing Lisa Lampanelli. I'll add a pic or two later. This goes down as one of the best, random, road trips ever!

Today was my first day teaching summer school. I think it went well all things considered. THe students seemed interested in the lesson, and I had a "grasp" of what I was doing. I'll elaborate more later.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Me and the governor

So, like I wrote the other day, I got to briefly meet NY Governor James Paterson. Well, come to find out, he lives in the same apartment complex I am thinking about moving into. This is it.

Lesson planning my life

So the last two days have been filled with sessions all about lesson plans.

We've learned the ins, the outs, the ups, the downs, even the inside outs of good lesson planning. I never realized how much effort teachers put into all this stuff (I should say, the "good teachers,"). It's a lot of working mapping out what goals you want for the course and the mini-steps you have to take to get there. Actually, it's pretty exhausting. Throw in the fact that teachers are among the lowest paid professionals out there and it's pretty scary.

Anyway, I've managed to plan out an entire week's worth of reading lesson plans in the last two days. Along the way I've met and grown close to some pretty amazing future teachers. Sure we're all tired from getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day, but I rarely see anyone walking around without a smile or a positive outlook. It's quite the change from graduate school.

Technically today is the Fourth of July (since it is after midnight). So to celebrate, I'm actually leaving the confines of St. Johns University and heading out to the Hampton's for the weekend (I feel rich and famous just saying it). I'm spending a few days with friends from UF and going to see one of my favorite comediennes in Connecticut on Saturday. Then it's back to work on Sunday, and on Monday I teach my first class of middle schoolers at I.S. 143 in Washington Heights. Woot.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Day one rumitions

So today was our first day of Institute, which is the intense, four week, training session where we essentially learn the basics of being good teachers. Things started off well considering I was up until 1 a.m. and had to wake up by 5:30 a.m. I am NOT a morning person.

Anyway, I wasn't nervous about the first day. We don't start teaching students until next week so I knew I wasn't up against anything I couldn't handle. For the summer, I am working at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School in Washington Heights, NY. Ironically, it's less than three blocks from the school I will be teaching at in the fall. For the next few weeks, I will be co-teaching with four other corps members to help students increase their reading comprehension and other English-related skills. The title of this blog post will link you to a map of the school's location.

I think Teach for America is trying to get us back into the mode of being in lower school again. Not only did we get lunch boxes filled with sandwiches, chips and soda today, but they also transported us to our respective schools in un-air conditioned, yellow school buses. Oh the irony.

Today was filled with various discussion groups and other training sessions that focused on the basics of good teaching technique: setting big goals, being effective, etc. I found most of our discussions interesting and most of my fellow corps members had some interesting perspectives about setting goals.

Tonight, we had a session back at St. John's University where we learned how to diagnose student reading and reading comprehension. Again, it's an interesting process, but I'm starting to deconstruct the practices my lower school teachers used on me. HA! They thought they had me fooled. Now I know their secrets (sorry about the random outbursts, it's 10:40 p.m. and I'm about to go to bed -- yes, I am an old man now).

One of our activities today was to make a first draft of our vision for our classroom. I kept mine fairly simple: to create a 100 percent inclusive classroom environment where teacher, students and parents are engaged in the educational process; students should be able to recognize the major genres of literature, and 100 percent of them will reach their growth goals this summer.

That's it.

Memo to myself

So tonight we had our welcome ceremonies for institute. From here on out, things get serious, and we'll be teaching real students in a week. Our key note speaker was a '93 TFA alum and current superintendent for NYC public schools. She told us to always remember what our "corps" is (and yes, the double meaning was intentional). Part of the process, she said, was writing a memo to yourself to remind you why you "teach for America." So I am going to take her advice and write myself a memo about why I teach for America. Sure this one might seem naive and need revising after I start teaching, but I think it will be fun to reflect upon later. So here goes:


To: Gordon Van Owen
From: Yourself
RE: Why you teach for America

Gordon, you're about to embark on the most challenging and rewarding experience of your life. Just imagine, a week ago you were living in a different state and unsure whether or not you could make it in New York City on your own. Well, you've survived the first week and seem to be on the right track.

But I think it is important that you remember why you are in New York. Sure you've always had ambitions and dreams of living in the big city, but it's not about you just yet. You're in New York to ensure educational equity for a group of students that might not otherwise get it without your efforts. You are in New York to not only change your life but to change the lives of a middle school in Washington Heights. You will make a difference.

Don't get me wrong, there will be points along the way when you can enjoy yourself and your time in the city. But for the time being, you must remember to dedicate yourself to your cause every day, otherwise you risk loosing site of the greater goal: ending educational inequality.

When the going gets tough and it seems like you can't keep going, remember Kipling's poem that says, "Hold on," even when every sinew in your body tells you otherwise. And when it's hard to tell if you're meeting your goals, just remember why you're teaching for America. You're teaching for America to change lives. You're teaching for America because of students like your sister who struggle with school and seem lost in a broken educational system. You're teaching for America because you wanted to be a part of something that is greater than yourself. Finally, you're teaching for America because it is the right thing to do.

Stay strong, stay focused, and just be.

Institute Starts Tomorrow

So tomorrow starts the big day; what we've all been waiting for since we got to New York one week ago. Tomorrow, we venture off to the schools where we will be teaching summer school for the first time.

We won't be teaching this week; we're still in training, but it's still a nerve-wracking experience. It's midnight, and I have to be up at at 5:30 a.m. and on a bus bound for Washington Heights an hour later. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a morning person, so this should be quite the experience.

I am excited though. For the summer, I will be teaching sixth grade English. I can't wait to meet my first students and learn the basics of being a great teacher (notice I said good, not great).

Wish me luck...oh, and keep your fingers cross that I find an apartment soon. The anticipation is killing me. My favorite so far has been a one bedroom as Lenox Terrance in Harlem. Click here to take a look at it. If you happen to know of any other apartments, please let me know!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

So I met the governor

So as I was walking the streets of Manhattan today, I walked into New York Governor Paterson and is entourage. He stopped and shook my hand as well as those of the other Teach for America people I was with. I have a picture that I'll upload later. I fell like it was my first run-in with a quasi-celebrity in New York.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New York, New York

It's interesting being in a city where virtually everyone is different. I come from a place where most of the people look and think just like I do. But one of the things that makes New York the world's greatest city is that there is such a diverse group of people here.

Don't get me wrong, I always realized that New York was very different from Florida; I'm not that naive. But what has amazed me is how this city has grown. For those readers who don't know, I got a minor in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida, so I have a general idea of how cities have developed over the last couple of centuries.

But what I find most fascinating about New York is that while it is so different from every other city I've ever been to, it has developed in much the same way as every other city across America. Not to mention it faces the same social and cultural problems that many other cities do too.

What I've noticed most is the rebirth of New York's inner city neighborhoods. For example, following 9-11, residents were petrified to live in Downtown Manhattan or anywhere near the Financial District. Simply put, they were afraid. Similar trends were seen in areas like Harlem, Washington Heights, and various parts of Brooklyn. However, studies have shown that younger Americans are craving city life and are actually beginning to move back into these once desserted areas of our cities. This is just as true in New York as it is in Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, or even certain parts of Los Angeles.

I was walking through the streets of Harlem the other day and was amazed about how much it had changed in the few years since I had last been there. 125th Street, considered Harlem's main street, now has a Chuck E. Cheese across the street from the Apollo Theater, as well as a Gap, Children's Place, and a Starbucks. Some scholars refer to this process as gentrification while others call it community revitalization. Either way, for social observers, it's interesting to see how New York really is like other cities in the United States.

So this is Teach for America

So here I am, in New York City. To say the least, it's been a long journey that's gotten me here, but I'll admit that I am excited about the future and the potential to change the lives of students.

To catch everyone up, I graduated from the University of Florida with my master's degree in mass communications in May 2008. After writing a 145-page thesis, I realized that I needed a break from school for a while. So after some soul searching, and job hunting, I realized that I had fallen in love with teaching as a teaching assistant during graduate school. Granted, teaching college students is completely different than teaching middle or high school students, but I still felt like now was the time for me to make a difference in the lives of students. Plus, the media job market was looking a little slim, so I decided to consider doing Teach for America.

I didn't apply for Teach for America (TFA) on a whim. I had heard about it as an undergrad and was asked to apply several times my senior year at UF. However, graduate school was beckoning, so I decided to stay in school. However, after several of my friends joined the ranks of TFA, I learned a great deal from their personal experiences while working with students to help end educational inequality across America. I listened to their stories with great interest and felt called to join their mission.

Once the interview process was over and I learned about my placement in New York City, my excitement continued to grow. Living in New York had been a dream of mine for nearly a decade. In fact, I almost attended college in the city immediately after high school. So in many ways, my acceptance into TFA was a realization of a long-time dream.

I decided to start this blog on the eve of my formal induction in New York City. The rest of the corps and I arrived in New York on Sunday, June 22, and have been engaged in interviews and various other personal outings the last couple of days. But, starting tomorrow, formal training begins. So this blog is my attempt to share my experiences about learning to be a better teacher and my transition to life in NYC with all those interested.

Happy reading, and I'll fill you in on the details of the last couple of days in future posts.