Saturday, September 7, 2013

Everything Happens for a Reason

The blog post I wrote that I had originally planned to submit was all about how things happen for a reason.  I wrote about the the crazy interview process of Teach for America and how, while my placement subject was originally math, I got hired to teach social studies, my forte. I wrote about how I got placed at one of the most promising new charter schools in Detroit.  I wrote about how I found the best place to live, and how on top of teaching 9th grade world history, my principal wants me to start and coach a debate team.  I even included a bit about how David got placed in one of better placements in China.  Yep, I had it all written out.  In fact, all I needed to do was click “post”.  But that was before my laptop got stolen. 

3 weeks ago, while I was at the Staples across the street from my new school, buying school supplies for my new classroom, my back car window door got smashed and my laptop was stolen.

This all happened in a matter of minutes.  The day before school started.

In a flash, my digital life for the past 4 years was gone. All of my photos, all of my music, and all of my documents, all gone.  Most damaging of all, I lost all of my lesson plans, unit curriculums, and every other teaching resource I had compiled throughout the summer.

Needless to say, I was pretty shaken up.  I had no idea how I was going to go to school the next day, and I thought long and hard about whether I could make it through these next two years.  I hate to sound melodramatic, but it probably was one of the lowest points of my life.  I knew teaching in Detroit would be difficult but I didn’t expect this. 

It took all the energy I had to get up out of bed the next day and go to school.  I was finally a teacher.  This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but it didn’t feel the way. 

Upon meeting my kids however, all of my worries melted away.  To come face to face with my students was life-changing.  I knew instantly that these kids were the ones I was meant to mentor and no lack of resources was going to get in my way.  I instantly thought about how petty my concern over my stolen laptop was when most of my students go through much worse everyday.  If anything, the experience opened my eyes a little bit more to the world my students have lived in their whole lives.

So instead of lecturing, I improvised, and focused on getting to know my kids.  Without my extensive lessons, detailed powerpoints, and comprehensive guided notes, I was obligated to adopt a more personal approach teaching.  And at the end of my first three weeks, I feel like I’ve made lasting  connections with my students faster than I would have from teaching from the text. 

So although I will never get back the original entry I had planned to post three weeks ago, I figure I might as well stay with the same theme.  After all, everything happens for a reason.

Mr. Shack's World History and Geography

my school

view from my school

The faculty in student dress code
first school football game.  Go Cobras!

My bedroom 

my closet

my office - or the lions den

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Story of Institute

My story of Institute is about Kenyon.  From day 1, I knew Kenyon was one of my most intelligent students.  However, Kenyon struggled behaviorally and it was hard for him to focus in class.  He never acted SMART and it was tough to get him truly engaged in class.  It seemed like I was always reminding him to stay on task and giving him warnings.  I’d say “I know you can do better than this, you’re an incredible student and just need to focus.”  He’d nod his head and get back to work, but soon, he’d get rowdy with the students sitting next to him.  In the school I taught at this summer, whenever a student disobeyed directions, they would earn a demerit.  I don’t remember how many demerits I gave Kenyon.  I knew he was one of my students who struggled behaviorally, but he really didn’t stand out from any of my other students.  Unfortunately, I found out halfway through Institute from my Faculty Advisor that because he acted out in the hallway, he earned his 13th demerit and wouldn’t be with us for the rest of the summer.  I know that the reason Kenyon didn’t feel invested behaviorally solely did not rest on me.  But I knew I played a large part in not making my classroom environment expectations clear enough.  I knew I failed him, and I knew I didn’t want to do it again with the students I had left. 

Joshua was another one of my students who found it difficult to behave appropriately in class.  He never completed his work, and would often make jokes or talk to the other students around him.  Because of this, he was the only one of my students failing my class.  At the rate he was going, I knew he’d earn his 13th demerit in no time; if not from me, then from another teacher.  I decided I’d speak to Joshua privately during lunch.  I told him what it would take to improve his grade, and he agreed to come in during lunch every day for extra tutoring and the chance to make up some of his work.  On the first day, I was shocked to see the difference in Joshua’s focus when there was no distractions for him.  He’d listen to my instructions, and in no time he was actually calculating slope and graphing linear equations.  The confidence he received due to his small victories at lunch soon helped him improve behaviorally in class.  I realized that his tendency to act out wasn’t because he sought attention, but rather he didn’t understand the material when he was unfocused.  I thought back to Kenyon. I thought about the learning that was lost, and how much more Kenyon could have grown the last weeks of the summer.   Was a one-on-one session during lunch all he needed?  Could I have reached out to him sooner?

I know that as a teacher, it may be impossible to reach every single one of my students.  I know that with only a class of 15, I had trouble doing it.  However, during my 5 grueling weeks at Institute, I learned a lot.  I know the importance of catering to every student’s needs and to never give up on any of them.

By the end of the summer my students made 53% growth.  But my story of Institute isn’t only about the progress I made as a teacher, but also about the personal relationships I made with my students and colleagues.  My story is about Darrion who at the beginning of the summer knew little to no algebra, but made the most growth in my class because he actively sought out help.  It’s about Busayo, who has excelled academically, but learned to help his classmates succeed as well.  And it’s about Aaron, who struggled behaviorally at the beginning of the summer, but turned it around once he was invested.  I love each one of my students and I wish I could continue to teach them and watch them grow.  I know its cliché, but I learned a lot more from my student than they learned from me

I also learned a lot from my colleagues this summer. 

Shout out to the math team: Johnathan is one of the smartest people I have had the pleasure of meeting and I know he’ll transfer his knowledge of content onto his students.  Carl makes guided notes like a machine, perfectly scaffolding and thinking how his students will interact with the material. Michael has an incredible ability to connect every single one of his lessons to the real world, always explaining why students should care.  I’ve never seen someone who work harder than Sarah which shows how much she truly cares about her students.  And last but definitely not least, Ellen!  Ellen makes every single second of every single a day a blast.  Both inside and outside the classroom, she makes life fun and its been so great hanging out with her.

Megan, Jenny, James, Jake, Claire, and Ali of the science crew also astounded me with their teamwork, cooperation, and the ways they found to make each lesson engaging

I’ll miss you all so much when I’m in Detroit, but I have no doubt that Chicago (and Indiana) will have nothing but the best teachers in all of you

                                                                      My CMA group

Also here is a link to a video we made for our adviser Chase

I also was the luckiest man alive in that I got the coolest roommate in all of the Detroit Corps.  Not only was Adam the funniest, most intelligent, and hardest working Corps member I had the pleasure of meeting, but he was always there for me and made me feel better after a long and stressful day. Also he can rap like a maniac

I also had the best school team:  Special Thanks to my CMA Chase, my FA Justin, my CS Kristin and SD Emily.  I can’t thank these people enough for how much support they gave me over the summer. 

I could go on and on about all of the terrific people I met in my students and in my colleagues, but this post is already rather lengthy

I just want to end by saying my time this summer at Institute has been absolutely life changing. I've never done anything so challenging yet so rewarding in my life. I learned so much from my kids and I know every single one of them will make their dreams come true. Now off to Detroit!

                                                               Some of my students

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Into the Lion's Den

A common response to hearing that I am moving to Detroit to teach was "Wow, you're going into the Lion's Den."  I figure this response is usually provoked for a couple of reasons: one could be because it references the Bible parable from which I was named and another could be due to the fact that Detroit’s NFL team are the Lions.  However, I know that these two reasons aren't the only things that come to mind when thinking about my move to Detroit as entering the Lion's Den (mostly because my gay atheists friends don't often think in bible verses or know the mascot of any national sports team).  Most think of the harsh and gritty environment that teaching in the inner city will likely entail.  

With only a third of its students graduating high school, Detroit's education system can indeed be classified as bleak.  But its important to keep in mind that it isn't Detroit's only classfication.  Detroit is innovative and constantly looking for ways to bring itself out of its rough past.  Detroit is filled with hard-working individuals who have pride in their diverse community and rich history, and want to see their city shine as it once did.  Detroit truly is the city that hustles harder.

So while I recognize that these next two years in Detroit will be one of the most challenging times of life, I also know that it will be as equally rewarding.  Instead of the vicious and violent image a "Lion's Den" usually brings to mind, I aim to bring a new perspective to Detroit.  Lions are courageous in the face of fear and proud to be fierce animal the are.  In these respects, the people of Detroit are rightly associated with lions.  Never have I met so many individuals who are truly proud in their diverse community and work to do everything in their power to keep their den together.  It is for this reason, that I can't wait to be in the Lion's Den.

Thus, I’m writing this blog not only to keep family, friends, and loved ones up to date on my mission in Detroit, but also to spread my experience and new perspective of this incredible city. 

This past week has been one of the most life-changing experiences.  I have made so many great friends who are all just as excited as me to help end education inequity.  We've laughed, we've cried, and did enough "think, pair, share -ing" to choke a horse, but we've made strong bonds towards lasting friendships. Vandemonium4lyfe!

                                                                       Views from my room


Joe Lewis Monument

Tigers Game!

They won on a homer in the bottom of the  9th!

Spirit of Detroit

So now I'm in Chicago for the next 5 weeks at TFA Institute Boot Camp.  They work us hard so I likely won't be able to get another post up for awhile.  But wish me luck and thanks for reading!