Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"DCTF, why must you be so good to me?!"

Just decided to formally withdraw from DCTF. (A big step for me in making it for real.) Went to check my mail and they sent me a mug.

Maybe it shouldn't, but it's making me want to reinstate my application and enroll. They seem so nice and could probably be very supportive during the fellowship. Decisions, decisions...

Okay, so I was shaking my mug and lo and behold - DCTF also sent me a key chain, pen, highlighter, and a magnet. DCTF, why must you be so good to me?!/DCPS, why must you scare me off from enrolling?!

Research Links Poor Kids' Stress, Brain Impairment*

* I came across this article through Inclusion in the Classroom's blog. Original article can be found here.

"Children raised in poverty suffer many ill effects: They often have health problems and tend to struggle in school, which can create a cycle of poverty across generations. Now, research is providing what could be crucial clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area -- working memory. 

"There's been lots of evidence that low-income families are under tremendous amounts of stress, and we know that stress has many implications," said Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who led the research. "What this data raises is the possibility that it's also related to cognitive development." With the economic crisis threatening to plunge more children into poverty, other researchers said the work offers insight into how poverty affects long-term achievement and underscores the potential ramifications of chronic stress early in life..."

I guess my question is, we may know it to be true - but does it really matter? There are kids out there everyday that beat the odds, despite their circumstances. Whether it's great will or great support, they do it. And because we know every student can, there's no room for giving slack. This is not to say that teachers shouldn't be sympathetic to the stresses that a student experiences in their lives.

More notable info from Inclusion in the Classroom:
  • Highly functioning Special Education students may benefit from tutoring/mentoring students of a younger grade level. Though they may not be proficient in their own grade level, they are in a lower level and having the opportunity to teach other students would be a great self-esteem booster.
  • Special Education students benefit from direct, intensive instruction.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"If I held a gun to your head..."

Today I went to the PGCTF Cohort Meet and Greet at DuClaw Brewery in Bowie. Some PGCTF program coordinators and current Fellows were there, but it was mostly incoming Fellows. Though the whole cohort couldn't be present, already we seem like a pretty diverse group. There are quite a few career changers, some post-grad students and some cohort babies, like myself, straight out of the great land that we call college. There are fifty of us and I feel very fortunate to have been selected to be one of such a small, undoubtedly life-changing group.

We all got to pick up copies of The New Teacher Project's Teaching for Student Achievement: Special Education Guidebook (all 600+ pages of it! I am super excited to be reading this for the next three months) and mingled among some good food. I met two early elementary ed fellows, a math fellow and an English fellow. Everyone seems pretty sociable (an excellent teacher trait) so it should be a good summer :) The English fellow especially was quite talkative and he definitely had a presence about him - very outgoing and unafraid to ask questions. At one point, we were talking to one of the site managers who was telling us about her experience at a DC charter school teaching intersession and he said, "So if you could teach anything now [for intersession], what would it be?" She said that she really didn't know, because there are endless options, to which he replied with: "If I held a gun to your head and you have to decide right now! What would you teach?"

Stunned. She helped to accept him into the program and now he is holding a gun, albeit imaginary, to her head. I laughed at the awkwardness (finally, not ensued by me) of the situation.

We also got to talk to a first year English fellow and she seems to be really enjoying her experience. She gave some very good, but typical advice:
  1. Be on top of your game.
  2. Don't put things off.
  3. Be persistent.
  4. Get in touch with parents as much as possible.
  5. Plan individual assignments for students of different abilities.
Duly noted, but easier said than done when you are trying to wrangle thirteen kids while trying to excite the other twelve who are bored in their seats.

Regardless of how absolutely terrified I am, I am more excited than scared. I really think this is something that I can do well and if that's true, it's going to make a big difference - in my own life and hopefully others'.

I'm really glad that I got to go to the Meet and Greet today because I have been flip-flopping between the DCTF and PGCTF but being able to speak more with the program coordinators has made me feel like choosing PGCTF is a solid decision. I was (and still am) really drawn to the idea of teaching/being a fellow with DCPS - what I consider the Kilamanjaro of public school systems - but I am smart enough to know that my athletic fitness is just not up to par yet to deal with that trek (although I've tried to convince myself several times that if I have to do it, I will be able to do it). But, I mean, doesn't everyone want to be able to say, "I climbed Kilamanjaro. On a whim." I feel like being a DC Teaching Fellow would be incredible. Scary but such a huge learning opportunity. I've read through a couple DCTF/DCPS teachers' blogs (see semester reading list) and it just seems so rewarding (but again, scary).

As of now, I plan on training for Kilamanjaro through PGCPS, but if I happen to like the scenery and the rush I get here, I'll definitely stick around.

The Battle Surges on... DCTF vs. PGCTF

DCTF: (from what I understand)
  • DCPS is undergoing major reform with a lot of terminations involved. The system is quite disorganized and convoluted. Sometimes, pay checks are late and the teacher's union is unhelpful.
  • The pay is worse and so are the schools.
  • The minimum commitment is one year.
  • Fellows pay $3,000 toward their certification through DC's Professional Teacher Practitioner Program.
  • Housing is more expensive.
  • DCTF seems very supportive - they hold Praxis workshops and help you navigate your way to your decision.
  • (& I would have taught HSA biology here.)

  • PGCPS is a pretty good school system with far less problems than DCPS but they are also undergoing reform and are very, very test and assessment heavy.
  • The pay is better and so are the schools (though not that much better).
  • The minimum commitment is two years.
  • Fellows pay $3,000 toward their certification through Maryland's Professional Teacher Practitioner Program; Special Ed. Fellows pay $5,000.
  • Housing is slightly less expensive.
  • PGCTF program coordinators are there for you: very responsive and helpful, which I love.
  • (& I would have to teach math or biology in an inclusion setting so I would get Special Ed. certified - which I hear is a high need area.)
Both TF's:
Allow fellows to voluntarily pursue a Master's at American University after the first year (~twelve credits).