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 this...today, 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.