Monday, June 30, 2008

Great success

What a fantastic weekend. I got to escape Institute and go back to Charlotte, Spain won the Euro, and... oh yeah, my awesome roommates and I signed an awesome lease with the most awesome landlords for the most awesome house ever, and it's totally awesome.

Yeah. That's ours. All 3 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms of it. Did I mention it's awesome?

Here are some pictures I surreptitiously took of the inside. Click on the pictures to get a bigger version:

Our gorgeous Kitchen

Our cozy Breakfast Nook

Our spacious Dining Area
Our excellent Living Room
What the pictures don't really show are the following things:
  • Fireplace (surely to be used during the bitter Charlotte winters?)
  • Balcony (hopefully with a to-be-installed porch swing)
  • Bedrooms with vaulted ceilings.
  • HUGE bathrooms and closets. Seriously. If anyone comes to visit, you might get a better sleep in the Master Bathtub than on a couch or air mattress.
Every mile we drove on the way back to Atlanta was more painful than the last. We just can't wait to get back to Charlotte. The good news is that it's just about three weeks away. Book your tickets now--the Hotel 1924 is filling up fast!

Semi-related note: Why is it just a breakfast nook? Why can't it be a lunch or dinner nook? Or coffee nook? This is a question I have never asked myself until now. Think about it and get back to me.

Friday, June 27, 2008



I'm off to Charlotte to find a place to live. Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I've got to admit it's getting better...

... A little better all the time.

(It can't get much worse)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The most ridiculous thing I have ever witnessed...

I know what you're thinking: blogging at 1:30 in the afternoon? Miss McCallie, you must be breaking the rules! Rest assured that I am back in the comfort of my room and no, I'm not playing hooky. I just wanted to give you all a shockingly hilarious picture of what the mentality is right now.

A week ago Friday (i.e. at the end of our first week of teaching), our elementary school got the terrific news that our bus would be leaving at 6:50 instead of 6:15. I never thought I would see a group of people happier than we all were that day. Boy, was I wrong.

According to our calendar, our first afternoon session today was called "Creating a Welcoming Environment." Great. We're two weeks into this thing, and NOW you're going to teach us how to welcome the students? There was much grumbling in the halls. We file into the *freezing* cold auditorium and are greeted with a "Do Now"--usually a moment for reflection or discussion in partners or groups. The question for today: "What does TFA mean to you?" We're all feeling like we've answered this question a few times, so there's a bit of eye rolling. Nevertheless, we all turn to each other and start to "discuss." Snark abounds.* A few people are asked to share, and we get some standard responses. "TFA means being a catalyst for change." "TFA means hard work." etc. etc. Our facilitator nods her head. Good work, good work. "Well," she says, "to us, TFA means Totally. Free. Afternoon."

The place erupts. It was like Oprah's Favorite Things episode: "EVERYONE IN HERE IS GETTING A NEW CAR!" I'm pretty sure our decibel level rivaled a jet engine at 100', or at least a Pneumatic Riveter at 4'... No joke, people were crying at the thought of having four "free" hours this afternoon. Obviously, it's awesome, and I'm *so* happy to be sitting here instead of in a session. I just got such a kick out of the overall reaction. The look on some people's faces was like, "The birth of my first child will not rival the happiness I feel at this moment." It's like that scene in Shawshank where they get to have a beer on the roof after they've re-tarred it. Never you mind that we soon will have to go back into prison--for now, there is elation. Thank you, TFA!!!

*Snark Abounds: good name for a band? Better or worse than The Pneumatic Riveters?

Monday, June 23, 2008

See how they run!

Well, as I alluded to in the last post, I'm getting better and better at determining exactly what is frustrating me about this little shindig. I unleashed my theory on poor Dad the other day, but I think it boils down to me feeling stifled. Or stymied. Or some other sti/sty word that I will perhaps think of in the middle of the night. Basically, I find myself bereft of the ability to be creative. Muffled. Forced to think inside the box. I understand why I feel like this, and I also understand that TFA has an incredibly hard job teaching 600 novices how to become decent teachers in 5 weeks (a job I very much appreciate). But still.

Since I'm still trying to enforce my self-imposed moratorium on complaining, I'll cut it off here, and instead let you know what I've been doing in order to avoid thinking about how frustrated I am:
  1. Baking. My roommates love me.
  2. Watching Movies. This is pure escapism. I have purchased no fewer than 11 movies while at Institute, and I'm slowly making my way through them. Something to know for the future: I think my greatest weakness might be $5-7 DVDs. Do not let me near the Wal-Mart entertainment section or I will go crazy. I don't even want to tell you some of the less-than-stellar titles I almost picked up because they were only $5. Also, Amazon was having a great sale (thanks for all the gift certificates, family!)
  3. Teaching Myself to Draw. If talent with a pencil is a genetic trait, I should probably have it. So I'm trying to unlock that part of myself. Today was my first lesson, and--speaking as the teacher and student--I must say it went... OK. At this stage in the game, I'm googling peoples' line drawings and copying them. I found sketches of a cartoonish man and woman on someone's blog and did my best. For some reason, I can only draw sad eyes. Perhaps all the characters that inhabit Imagination Town have had some sort of recent trauma. The woman's ears looked nice, though. The man kind of looked like a cartoon Brad Pitt with Conan O'Brien's hair. I haven't figured out whether or not this is a good thing... Oh, and I'm awesome at eyebrows. Probably the least helpful part of the face to know how to draw, but I've got it down.
Follow-up question for self: Is there such thing as a helpful part of the face to know how to draw? Must think on this one.

DNS: I had sushi for the first time on Friday. Yes, I managed to avoid it in the Greenhouse Cafe for four years, though the end-of-the-year Board Plus Surplus (Board SurPlus?) always tempted me. But I did it right and went to a real sushi restaurant (which was really cool, by the way, though I'm not entirely comfortable with the tagline "Food. Fun. Flirt." for a restaurant... Discuss...) ANYWAY, it was... surprisingly good. I'm 98% sure I ordered the lamest one on the menu (aka the one that tasted most like chicken), but hey, at least I tried!

Totally Awesome Person of the Week (TAPoW): Fellow fontophile Megan, for sending me this link after my last post.

And now, of course, it is well past my bedtime. Must wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

Please let me know how you all are doing, and whether or not your fifth graders are able to make inferences...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Go crazy is what I will do

This morning, we had the kids write what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was like pulling teeth.
Teacher: “What do you want to be?”
Student: “I don’t know.”
T: “You have no idea?”
S: Shakes head
T: “Well, what about a doctor? Lawyer? Teacher?”
S: No, no, heck no (ouch)
T: “What does your mom do?”
S: “She’s a police officer. I don’t want to do that because she’s already doing that.”

Finally, I got one of them to say “builder,” which I turned into “architect.” So now this kid wants to be an architect. But not really. Mainly he just wanted to finish the assignment.

Regardless, the activity got me thinking. In eighth grade, my Enrichment teacher Bob “Bobcat” Metcalf had us write an essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up and why. He said that in all his years teaching (they were many, FYI), not one of his students had ever become what they said they would in eighth grade. I distinctly remember thinking that this was a challenge, and I was SO SURE that I would be the first one to stroll triumphantly back into Blue Valley Middle School (at the ripe old “grown up” age of 25, probably) and proudly, loudly proclaim that I had done it. I also distinctly remember the profession I was so profoundly convinced would be my life’s work: Pediatric Ophthalmologist.


If you will grant me leave to defend myself, I will say that my second choice was lawyer, and if Dr. Dave finally breaks my spirit, law school is something I might consider (See, Dad? I’m thinking about it!) I don’t my think that coming back in with my second choice would satisfy Mr. Metcalf’s challenge, but I’m sure he’d be happy that I’m a teacher.

It just goes to show that you really never know what’s going to come next. Even at the beginning of college, when the teaching idea was beginning to ferment in my mind, I couldn’t have had any idea that I would be here right now, mainly because I had never heard of Teach for America. Also, if I compare the idea of my being a teacher to a bottle of wine, I guess that makes a 2004 vintage. It was a good year for my mind grapes (20 points to the first person to comment with the reference!)

I had some negative things to say today because I think I’m finally getting to the point where I can pinpoint exactly what is frustrating me about this program. However, I think I’ve got to call a moratorium on complaining, at least for the time being. You don’t spend your precious minutes reading this blog to hear me moan about my life, especially not when you could be watching reality TV (::cough:: Marielle ::cough::) If you really want to know what irks me, or if there are any potential applicants out there who would like an accurate comment on this program, please let me know. As a reminder/clarification: I would still recommend TFA to almost anyone, and there is nary a doubt in my mind that at its core, it is an outstanding program. I’m just sayin’.

Now, for our DNS: What ever happened to Fruitopia??? That stuff was so good. I think it was probably less than zero percent real fruit juice, but it sure was tasty. And the bottles used such a cool font. They had Fruitopia machines in some of the lines at Worlds of Fun—I bet they’ve switched to Pepsi now (vom). Another flashback: Who remembers those ads for bottled water that went, “Hungry for life, thirsty for NAYA!” Those commercials were awesome. I miss certain beverages of the ‘90s.

Speaking of the ‘90s, an update on an earlier item: Gina says our generation is called “The Millennials,” while Pat Z. thinks we are Gen Y. The debate rages on…

Well, it’s Thursday afternoon and I don’t have much due tomorrow, so I think I might relax now. What a novel concept! I hope you all are doing well and still celebrating the Celtics' incredible victory.

Miss McCallie out.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Remember Well This Day.

This is the day I officially became a teacher. This is the day when I stood in front of a classroom and delivered my lesson plan. This is the day I finally confirmed to myself that Teach for America was the right choice for me. Whoa...

Some thoughts: It was awesome. No matter what comes in the next few weeks of Institute, no matter what comes in the fall, or next spring, or next year, I need to remember the feeling of today, which--as aforementioned--is awesome.

It's really incredible how much this is preparing me for the fall, and yet how much it is *not * preparing me. For instance, in the fall I will have 15-20 kids, all at different levels of comprehension and fluency. Right now, I have one child (who is incredibly bright and an eager participant when he's given texts that challenge him). In the fall, I will have a self-contained classroom unit* where I will teach reading, math, writing, science, social studies, etc. Right now, I teach reading. In the fall, I will probably be working in Charlotte's "Inner City" (though it all looked pretty nice to me). Right now, I teach in a gorgeous school in the middle of what seems to be one of Atlanta's wealthiest areas. It's not the school most of the kids attend, just where they have summer school. Anyway, that's just what's going through my mind.

Confession: I feel, at times, mildly guilty for not being as stressed as other people. I think Harvard really prepared me for this experience--all the stress going around here makes me think (fondly, to be sure) of dear Harvard during those last days of Reading Period, when all the papers are due and finals are just around the corner. Except here, I can't lounge about all day and then work all night. No, it's quite the opposite. But cut out the lounging about. Yeah, that's it. I'm just trying to stay positive. It's going to be just as stressful come August, but if you get frustrated or spend all your time complaining about how much you have to do, it won't get done. I know, I know, I'm a bit of a hypocrite, since I've spent much of this blog griping about TFA. But... still.

Clarification: I don't actually feel guilty. But I do feel bad that they're so stressed. I'm giving them chocolate.

OK, that was a little too much maturity and relevance. Let's turn to our daily non sequitur (DNS): Atlanta is a shapeshifter. I'm not kidding. Any time I'm driving around (riding, rather, as I have no car), I look out the window and the city looks miles away. 15 seconds later, we're smack in the middle of downtown. Also, there seems to be a vast expanse of low-story buildings between two centers of hi-rises. When we were leaving the movies the other day, I remarked that it was like Atlanta proper and then Narnia over to the east. Of course, we had just seen Narnia, so maybe this wasn't the most creative comment, but it was striking nonetheless.

Happy thought: I think I have found a roommate, and we may have even found a place to live. More coming on this soon...

Sporting thoughts of the day: 1) Tiger Woods is unbelievable. 2) I am so bummed that all those guys withdrew from the draft to go back to UNC. Cam, you're going to have to cheer even louder next year, OK??

Now to do some laundry,

*Self-Contained Classroom Unit: good name for a band?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

These are the days of miracle and wonder

Well. Week One done. Never in my life had I been more excited for Friday than I was yesterday, and that's counting my TGIF-fueled youth (Oh Sabrina, how we miss you and your teenage witchy ways...) That's not to say that the week was bad, just exhausting. Very exhausting. And I'm getting *much* more sleep than a lot of people. I think I'm still averaging 6-7, whereas one of my roommates slept for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES on Thursday night. That, friends, is not even a nap. I think I might be getting used to the whole waking up early thing, but who knows. For a deeper look at Circadian rhythms and sleep cycles, please see Naila's thesis.

Anyway, it's the weekend now, and I have been successful in my quest to avoid work since Friday at 5. Spent today watching the Euro with a few of the Charlotte dudes (side note: I see you, Gina! Other side note: go Spain. Other, other side note: Sorry, Chris. Looks like the Motherland is out). Then I watched "Dirty Dancing" and I just got back from seeing Prince Caspian. Productive day, no?

Some thoughts on "Caspian":
  • Centaurs: awesome. Lady centaurs: lame.
  • Was that river god thingy supposed to be Jesus? Because it looked like Gandalf. I'm sure there's a joke to be made here about good friends JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, I'm just not sure what it is...
  • Old school warfare seems so inefficient. And I feel bad for the horses.
  • Ben Barnes. Also, Marielle, you were totally right about the guy who plays Edmund.
I think I had much more constructive things to say, but I can't seem to remember them now. I'm incredibly nervous for Monday, which will be my first day as an actual teacher. You know, you can plan and plan and plan, but who knows what's going to happen. Also, there's a good chance that due to the fact that four of the kids in my class go to ESL for an hour a day, I will be teaching ONE kid. Yes, one. No child left behind, for real.

I'm sure I'll be back tomorrow when I take a much-needed break from finishing my lesson plans and classroom management plans and investment plans (that's investment as in getting the kids invested in the goal, not what I'm going to do to turn my paltry salary into big bucks). However, now I'm going to go have some fun with my fellow future teachers...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Letters Unlikely to be Answered

Dear You-Know-Who (not Voldemort),

Please stop making me go to these reflection sessions. Life can be challenging--I am aware.


Dear Microsoft Word,

Please stop being completely useless when I need you most. I promise that it is not hard to let my text wrap around the picture. I promise!


Dear Steve Jobs,

Thank you for releasing a faster and cheaper iPhone. I would like to buy one now.


Dear Environment,

I would like to apologize in advance for consuming so many of your resources this summer. Please know that I will recycle as many of them as I can and perhaps make my students plant a tree...

All best,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In the Beginning...

I felt like a teacher for the first time today. Yes, I have yet to interact with the kids. Yes, the amount of things I need to learn is beyond staggering. Yes, I am so exhausted that I was kind of unaware I could feel anything... But despite all this, when I went to the Resource Room on campus today and checked out three books to start lesson planning, I really felt like a teacher. Was it amazing? Sort of. I'm too cynical to be truly moved by all the super-duper feelings that run rampant here at Institute, which may or may not be to my detriment. But it was cool nonetheless.

Let me back up. I realize I've done a shoddy job of keeping everyone informed on the specifics of what I'm doing this summer. Institute is Teach for America's massive teacher boot camp. For five weeks, future Corps Members from Atlanta, Charlotte (that's me!), Memphis, Jacksonville, Eastern North Carolina, and Miami-Dade descend on the Georgia Tech campus in the heart of Atlanta and work absolutely grueling hours in the aim of helping to close the nation's achievement gap. The official TFA literature puts the purpose/mission into much better words than I can, so I encourage you to do a bit of Googling if you're so inspired...

Anyway, at Institute this summer, we not only learn, we teach. I found out yesterday I'll be teaching 5th grade reading at an Atlanta summer school starting on Monday. The nuances of what exactly I'll be teaching are still a bit murky, but I will have real, live students in my classroom, and I'll be the one they're looking to for inspiration and instruction. In a word: Yikes.

Because I want to give you the most accurate picture (and because I want you to feel sorry for me), here is a typical daily schedule for this first week:
  • 5:30 am (yes, ante meridian): Wake up. The only times I have ever been awake this early include those rare nights when I just didn't sleep at all and the occasional morning flight. Do I have the willpower to drag myself out of bed before the sun is up? Hardly. But if we miss the bus, we have to pay for our own cab to the school. Suffice it to say that my stinginess just barely edges out my tiredness. For now, at least. Let it also be known that 5:30 is cutting it really close (duh), and many people are waking up at 5 am or earlier. Ouch.
  • 5:45 am: Eat breakfast. Why, yes, I *do* get ready in fifteen minutes. I have finally learned the importance of preparing for the morning before I go to bed. This might be because I am not coherent enough at 5:30 am to pick out an outfit, let alone pack up my materials.
  • 6:15 am: Load the bus. Don't even get me started on this. The bus has yet to leave before 6:30, though we've been told time and time again that the doors will mercilessly shut on any and everyone at 6:15 sharp.
  • 7 am (ish): Arrive at school. It's a beautiful building, though perhaps more structurally complicated than that Escher-esque room at the end of Labyrinth.
  • 7:15 am - 4:30 pm: Work. It's nearly bedtime now and these nine hours deserve a proper unpacking, so I'm going to fudge this section a little bit. If I ever find the motivation to update this blog, you better believe I'll detail what's going on during this time. As a brief summary, we're spending time learning about TFA's mission and how best to implement it in the schools this summer and fall. We get time to plan our lessons and all that, which is great, but there are severe flaws in the system. I spent a good 40 minutes today detailing said flaws in an email to the School Director that might never get sent, but we'll see. They're working hard and they're working us hard, and I just want to make sure our limited time is being spent well. Is that too much to ask? Who knows...
  • 4:30 pm - 5:45 pm: Travel back to school and eat dinner. Not much to say here except that the Georgia Tech Dining Staff know how to make a mean pasta salad.
  • 5:45 pm - 11 pm: There are usually some sessions in the evening. Today we had Opening Ceremonies and Wendy Kopp (the Founder and CEO) came to speak. I'd seen her speak at Harvard and she's always inspiring, but at the same time, I kind of wished I had been napping. But at this point in my life, I kind of always wish I were napping. No offense, Wendy! As the weeks progress and we get into actual teaching, I assume we'll burn the midnight oil doing lesson plans. The good news is that we're working in groups for a lot of it. The bad news is that none of us have ever planned a lesson before, so we're about as clueless as Cher Horowitz herself (to the old-timers reading this, many apologies for the thoroughly Gen X reference--or am I Gen Y? No one ever taught me this).
  • 11 pm - 5:30 am (for now): Sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.
That's all I have time and energy for now. I need to skim these lovely tomes I've just picked up (including The Twits by Roald Dahl!) and--most importantly--I need to go to sleep.

If you're reading this, you're probably someone I love and miss very much. If I don't know you, you're kind of a creeper, but welcome nonetheless. To those of you who are postally inclined, please email me and I will send you my address here so you can send me lots of letters and pictures and all that good stuff.

For now, Miss McCallie out.