The Ballerina Mathematician

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 03 2010

Meeting my School/My First Cheeto

In the crazy, hotel-living homelessness that was the transition from Institute to Colorado I failed to update as consistently as I wanted.  Now that I’m through with Institute and Round Zero, I’ve begun training with my school.

It’s is a turnaround school with a transformation grant and part of that is a week-long school retreat. Two days in and I already feel such a part of the team.  My co-workers have been welcoming, encouraging, supportive, and have mentioned numerous times their appreciation for the new energy on the staff.  There are a lot of newbies, including three more TFA-ers.  One is the other 8th grade math teacher, and the other two have classrooms right next to me.  I’m happy to start the year with fellow energetic ladies who are going through the same thing as me.

One thing I thought was amusing was the fact that the four of us CMs showed up on the first day in professional dress.  We were the only ones!  Everyone else was in jeans and t-shirts.  I met another staff member today, who commented on it.  “Who else is from Teach For America? … Oh right, you guys are the ones who dressed up yesterday.”  Yes, TFA trains us to be quite professional.

It’s been interesting to really delve into the reality of what’s happening at our school.  Not just with the students’ troubles, the staff’s baggage and history of broken communication, and cut programs, but the fact that we may be closed next year if we don’t improve.  Wow.  So there’s a sense of urgency and pressure to get things right.  The first day, I wasn’t sure about how we were going to resolve all the issues that have kept the staff from successfully working together but that changed today.  The staff came together and make some serious commitments to change.  I believe it, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.  It’s not something I can easily explain.

I’ve also received a lot of positive words regarding my desire to integrate math with art!  Everyone pretty much knows I’m from TFA so I have no problem saying I have a dance background.  I talked to the after school program coordinator and his eyes lit up when I said I loved dance.  He wants to get some dance programs going and I am all about it.  Also, the school’s art program was just cut and my team leader is interested in how we can make up for that in academics.  She thinks I might be a good resource!  To top it all off, our G/T teacher said that the kids I’ll be teaching are almost all on an arts track (like band) and she’s so happy I’ll be teaching them.  That kind of support, instead of the “why are you teaching math?” response, is great.  All in all, I feel welcome and very supported.  My principal is fabulous and I’m excited to be taking on these challenges with this team!

I feel bad for not finishing off my Institute experience, so I’ll sum up.  After we gave the class the math assessment, our student who struggled the most actually asked if she could do MORE math (this was after 2 hours of review and a 1 hour test).  What a great moment! The last day was the most fun I had all summer.  We played Math Olympics and had a pizza party with the 7th graders.  Our most apathetic and challenging student fell out of her seat laughing with me as we played games, and I had the privilege of telling her she met her goals in both math and reading.  I made her laugh all summer with my aversion to cheetos (I have no idea why she found that so hilarious) and on the last day, guess what my kids had?  Cheetos!  In front of the 7th and 8th graders and my fellow CMs, to chants of “Miss D! Miss D! Miss D!”…I ate my first cheeto.  It was epic, and disgusting, and I made a good show of it for everyone.  Where else can you have that kind of experience? Overall I left training truly believing the saying that “Institute is what you make it.”

Round Zero happened.  It’s over, and I’m not sure I have much to say about it.  I like my PD a lot, and I enjoyed finally planning for my own kids and my own classroom.  I’m more excited about my new apartment, and all the awesome things around Denver.  I spent hours reading at the Tattered Cover, visited Red Rocks and sort-of climbed my first mountain, bought non-dairy ice cream at the farmers market, had a ton of fun at the Colorado Dragon Boats Festival, and rode my bike through City Park with a view of the mountains.  I love it here!

I may not end this day feeling confident in my abilities to succeed in my classroom (does any first-year teacher come in with unshakable confidence?) but I am sure of the awesome support I’ll have through my PD, my fellow CMs, and the great staff at my school.

3 Responses

  1. It’s great to hear that you have a nice support group around you when you need it. God only knows how that type of setting has helped me throughout the years.

  2. How’s it been since that first Cheeto?

  3. Hey –
    I see that you’re teaching 8th grade math at a turnaround school in Colorado, and I’m actually desperate for information on exactly that. If you have a couple free minutes, would you be willing to email me ( and tell me what you think about working in a turnaround school?

    Thank you!

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a dancer's adventure in teaching math

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