Taking Notes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 03 2011

on How it’s Time To Get Personal, Personal

So I realize I have hardly talked at all about my placement school, my classroom, etc.  Since most of the people who read this blog are my family, friends (whom I pay) (I pay them to be my friends, the blog they read voluntarily), or wierd cyberbots, I thought now might be a good time to start including those personal details in this my blog. 

On the off chance you don’t fall into either of those three categories, maybe these personal details will help you start to feel like you know me, and that way if we ever meet in person it can be awkward beyond your wildest dreams (of awkwardness).

Where to begin?

Well, in true TFA fashion I will start from the biggest chunk and work my way backwards. 

My district: I am working in Gwinnett County Public Schools which is a county tangent to but northeast of Atlanta.  Parts of Gwinnett are very affluent, but other parts are extremely poverty stricken.  Atlanta, like a lot of cities, is experiencing what basically amounts to the reversal of so-called “white-flight” a generation or two ago in that the city is going through a gentrification process in which more affluent groups move in, property values go up, and the po’ folk get pushed on out to the ‘burbs. 

According to everyone who spoke at our new teacher orientation, Gwinnett is one of the largest public school systems in the country with a student population I don’t remember but I know was substantial.  How substantial? I told you, I don’t remember. The biggest number I can remember is 525,600- but only because that number is set to a really catchy song from a really popular musical (first person to guess it correctly gets the song stuck in their head all day).  Since I can’t remember the number of students in GCPS, it logically follows that it must be more than 525,600 (minutes).  Gwinnett last year (how do you measure a year?) won the Broad Prize for Urban Education and has implemented a lot of county-wide policies that are aligned with TFA approved “best-practices” so I’ve been pretty cautiously optimistic about district-level leadership.

My School: I teach at an elementary school in Lawrenceville, GA.  It is a Title I school which for the uninitiated means that it is a high-poverty school.  You wouldn’t know it from the facilities and resources, though, because the other aspect of being a Title I school is that we are entitled to extra government funding each year, provided we make certain benchmarks.  I am also cautiously optimistic about my school leadership because we have been making those benchmarks, and it seems like they have mostly chosen to invest that extra cash money wisely.  We have multiple literacy/math/ESOL specialists (seriously there’s a full-time staff of like 10 of them plus part-timers).  Any teaching resource I could want I seemingly have access too including curriculum guides, full class sets of leveled readers, big books, smart board, manipulatives, and even a wooden play kitchen set (in my room!). We even have a fully staffed parent resource center.  The physical facilities are new, beautifully maintained, and I feel like I’m missing something here… oh yeah… GINORMOUS.  It’s basically as big as my high school only all the desks and chairs and toilets are miniature, so it seems even bigger. Oh yeah, and the people are miniature, too! Especially, my kids because I am teaching…. drumroll please…

KINDERGARTEN: First off, for those who haven’t heard me shouting from the rooftops (I know, some of you are very far away right now… and some of you are cyberbots) I AM SO EXCITED TO TEACH KINDERGARTENERS. You can tell because I just typed like half a sentence in all caps.  Before I get into the more serious reasons why, let’s just put it out there: they are so freaking cute! 

But aside from their cuteness, I am excited about Kinder for one major reason: I get to set the precedent for their whole educational experience.  I get to set the bar for what they should expect from school, from a teacher, and most importantly, from themselves.  None of my kids will come to me with a history of failure, of negative school experiences, a terrible behavior record, or low self-efficacy.  It is my task and my privilege to make sure none of them leave with any of those things either.  Oh yeah, and they’re so FREAKING CUTE.

The other Kinder teachers are really great, all 9 of them (yes, 9!) and have been so helpful, welcoming, and open-hearted. I am excited to learn from them because they are all so different from each other and from me- most are married and have kids or have kids on thwe way- which is a completely different place in life from me. The para-professional I get to work with is also really experienced and nice, and so far we have been getting along and working really well together.

The theme of my classroom is community or citizenship.  If that instantly calls to mind patriotic decorations and flags everywhere, you are only partly right.  I started down that road, looked at my class roster, discovered I had literally zero “white” kids (but almost every other ethnicity is represented) in my class and changed course a little bit.  My decorations now include a giant earth labelled “our community,” and a culturally diverse sampling of firefighters, policemen and other community figures on the wall.  I will try and add pictures to this post eventually so you all can see.  As you may know I am an unusually gifted artist so I hope you enjoy my decorations.  All I can say is thank god for die-cutters.

Also, quick(ish) tangent on the no-white-kids-in-my-class thing.  It got me thinking about MY elementary school, because although I went to a really wonderful elementary school in a predominantly well-off area, there was always that one teacher on every grade level that was just not as good as the other teachers; and without fail, the affluent parents would complain until their children were all in the “good” teachers’ classes and only the children whose parents weren’t privvy to the situation or just didn’t know how to advocate for themselves, wound up with the “bad” teacher. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. I was a little worried that this might be the situation in my class, with all the savvy parents avoiding me, the new teacher.  But then I decided it is (mostly) in my power to make that NOT the situation in my class.

Anyways, I guess I can give more details later on what my class is ACTUALLY like, and not just the lofty ideals I have for it, once school starts (on Monday). There’s a lot more I can and want to say right now, but this post is already too-long for all the cyberbots, plus I am getting up early tomorrow to check in with my awesome former physical therapist to make sure I didn’t tear my ACL again… not to mention I want to be on my “A” game for Meet-the-Teacher tomorrow afternoon! Lots of work to do before school starts (on Monday)! Did I mention school starts on Monday?

School starts on Monday!

(And for those who didn’t guess, the title of this post is to the tune of “Let’s get phys-i-cal, physical.” In retrospect this post wasn’t that personal… Or was it?)

5 Responses

  1. Hi takingnotes,

    I’ve been lurking for a while, but I feel compelled to finally comment. (Weird cyberbots don’t comment, do they?) I live in the metro Atlanta area, and I could tell from your past posts that you will be working in GCPS. I still think it’s a bit weird that TFA now places CMs in GCPS, but you’re right. Because Gwinnett’s ever increasing population of children, especially those from working-class families, they have many Title I schools.

    However, “reverse white-flight” is not what is happening in our area. In Atlanta proper, there are limited numbers of places where gentrification happens. For example, Vi-Hi, Buckhead, and Reynoldstown. Gwinnett has always been a county of mixed SES; I went to middle school and high school here.

    I commented for two reasons. First, I really wanted you to know why Gwinnett is so diverse, in terms of SES. It has little to do with gentrification and movement of affluence. In fact, if there is “white-flight” in Gwinnett, it is towards the northern parts of the county and to other northern counties close by (i.e. Forsyth. Look up how many Title I schools they have. Also, look up the population growth over the past decade.)

    My second reason is to wish you luck in your first-year teacher. I will also beginning teaching (in the metro area!) on Monday. Having benefited from an excellent high school education and an even more excellent college education, I thought about how some of my (equally bright) classmates would have a harder time getting access to life-changing, positive life experiences all because of the track that they were placed on or because of their SES. Enraged by this inequity, I decided to teach in Georgia. Why should the state where most of my education occurred be the laughing stock of the nation? If I got a great education, why can’t every other child in GA get one?

    I’m not a kinder teacher, but I have the UTMOST respect for them (I teach middle school). You have the ability to set the stage for the rest of their academic careers. Kinder kids come in with such fire in their eyes, and I get sad when I see middle schoolers who lost that fire years ago. No pressure or anything, but good luck :D


    Fellow New Teacher

    • Yuck… typos. “…in your first year teaching.” Better here than my syllabus.

    • takingnotes

      Thanks for pointing that out. That was how it explained to me, apparently in error, I guess that’s what I get for not fact-checking! I’ll be sure to fix that when I have chance!

      Good luck to you as well!

  2. Leah Rozen

    Song mentioning 525,000 is from RENT, yes? Fred and I are going to see a new revival of the show that’s about to open on Bdwy next Wed.

    Good luck on Monday!

  3. Hope you’ll considering entering our contest to get help from a reading expert — the Chief Academic Officer of Scholastic! (any all others that read this blog :) )

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