Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Month’s Worth of Reflections in One Post

Excerpt from Conversation Type A

Setting local cafe (or library. This time it’s the cafe). I’m sitting at a table with my computer and a textbook.

RANDOM GUY: What school do you go to?
ME: Oh, I’m a teacher in South Dakota.
RG: Wha? You never…
ME: Yessir, just finished my first year. Working on planning some lessons right now. Holds up textbook to read cover. Algebra, teacher’s edition.
RG: South Dakota? What are you doing down here then?
ME: Visiting family over summer vacation.
RG: Okay...When do you go back?
ME: Well, I’ve just got a few more days in town before I go on a trip with my family.
Awkward silence
ME: I’m working on writing my “Welcome to Algebra” letter to students. What would you have wanted to hear from you teacher on the first day of school?

I hear other people talk about how little time they took to write and reflect during their first year teaching. The end-of-year comments on blogs that started enthusiastically in the fall only to be pushed aside by October. Compared to some of the people who are dedicated bloggers, I’m an irregular presence here. But between my writings here and elsewhere online and my actual journal, I wrote more details about last year than I remember at given moment.

Then summer came and I stopped.

Few entries here. Fewer there.

During my writing sabbatical, I’ve been talking more.

Excerpt from Conversation Type B

Setting Stitch and Bitch at a yarn store (or book club at the library or local church. This time it’s the S&B). I recently joined the conversation and made everyone else introduce themselves.

CONVERSATION LEADER: So what school do you go to Sarah?
ME: I just finished my first year teaching.
CL: What do you teach?
ME: High school math.
CL: And where do you teach?
ME: I’m teaching on a reservation in South Dakota.
CL: Wow. How’d you get here?
ME: I’m visiting family in town for a few weeks. My parents moved here after I left home, so I don’t really have connections in the area. I found your website and came here tonight.
CL: And what’s it like in South Dakota?

I’ve been telling stories. Trying to convey my experience truthfully, but hopefully. Trying to separate my experience of the place from my experience as a teacher. Trying to keep teaching separate from first year teaching.

I don’t know how to do it.

Instead, I talk about students. I talk about the weather. I talk about teacher housing. I talk about the drive to the grocery store. I talk about the insanity of not knowing whether a student has dropped out or just isn’t in school for a month. I talk about the student who threatened to get me kicked off the reservation in the fall and invited me to his confirmation in the spring. I talk about how far behind they are. I talk about how much progress we made. And sometimes, sometimes, I talk about how uncertain I am.

Excerpt from Conversation Type C, Part I

Setting local farmer’s market (or book club at the park or wherever I find people closer to my age. This time it’s the farmer’s market).

CUTE GUY: How’d you end up in South Dakota?
ME: Well, I joined Teach for America and wanted to go someplace rural and not in the South, so there I was.
CG: I’ve been thinking about doing a similar program. What’s it like?
brief pause
ME: South Dakota’s pretty different than other regions, so I can’t say what it’s like elsewhere, but... lots of the aforementioned rambling...

The thing is, my identity this year has been framed by being a math teacher on a reservation in South Dakota, not by being TFA. The program is very much present, but it’s not what I name first. For this year at least, I think it’s claimed me more than I’ve claimed it.

It has shaped how I teach. But so have the education courses I took in college and the people I’ve found online.

Excerpt from Conversation Type C, Part II

Farmer's market. The conversation draws to end. I scribble on a piece of paper and hand it to CG.

ME: Here’s my e-mail address if you have any more questions. I’ve also included the address for my teacher blog. You can find some links to other people in my area there. Get a larger sense of things. I haven’t updated for a while, but I will once school starts again.

This blog has suffered for lack of definition. Any guidelines I tried to impose on myself here disappeared pretty quickly. I’m going into the next year with a different approach--an approach that I think I’ve already taken, so I don’t think anything will change. I’m stating the guidelines more for my benefit than yours, but writing them here so you know what we’re getting into.

I’m going to let this be my space to share what I feel comfortable about my life. About being a math teacher on a reservation in South Dakota. It will have stories from the classroom, both student anecdotes and reflections on teaching. It will almost certainly will have requests for help (which may well be accompanied by comments on others’ blogs so you know I’m asking). Posting will probably be irregular, so if you have a feed reader go ahead and subscribe. We’ll see how much I reflect about my second year.

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