B is for Blast Off

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 11 2010

B is for Back

I think it speaks to the absurdity of my new teaching life that I have not updated this (b is for) blog in the past six weeks.  I should ascribe to the same rule I use with my students’ homework (“No excuses!”), but I feel justified in my insufficient updates.  Coming off of 90 hour work-weeks at Institute, I have now begun 90 hour work-weeks at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San Jose, CA.

The summer ended in a whirlwind.  In my Stevenson Middle School math classes, the students achieved about 51% of their summer growth goals on average, a number that does not satisfy me, but certainly reflects my first-year (summer) teaching status.  However, four students fully met their growth goals, including Frankie, who scored a 0 on the initial diagnostic.  He grew 40 points on his test and began texting me to send him math problems as soon as I got back to the Bay.  I said (cried) goodbye to him and Stevenson as the Bay Area corps and I packed up to head north and start our two-year commitments in August.

Shortly after returning to the Bay, I began three weeks of professional development with Rocketship.  I am incredibly fortunate that I will serve my corps member commitment as part of a charter network that substantially supports its teachers and coordinates with Teach for America and our credentialing provider to be sure that we are receiving management, investment, and curricular support that is relevant and accessible.  Our professional development (and additional six-day credentialing retreat) consisted of an introduction to Rocketship culture, strategies for teaching English language learners, time to lesson plan, management and investment strategies, and major team-building.  When the first day of school came on August 25, I felt completely overwhelmed, but definitely prepared.

The two and a half weeks since the first day of school have been beautiful and tumultuous, frustrating and incredible.  Teaching math to 2nd graders is almost exactly the same in terms of behavior management as it was teaching to 7th graders.  Both grades have elements of maturity and immaturity that make it absolutely necessary to manage them strictly and love them unconditionally.  On the other hand, relationship building is somewhat trickier with 2nd graders, who are not quite emotionally developed enough to communicate their struggles and joys in the same way that 7th graders do.  Nevertheless, I have taken to writing student names on my hand daily so that they are always on my mind (even though they are anyway) and so that what I do is constantly focused on them and the opportunities I should be providing for the futures.  These kids are completely hilarious and so interesting.  My roommate, who is a 2nd grade literacy teacher at Mateo Sheedy, and I spend many hours laughing over Carlos, who gets his best jokes off the back of string cheese wrappers.

Rocketship is a place of tremendous resources for which I am extremely grateful.  First, Rocketship is interested in its own teachers becoming school leaders throughout its upcoming expansion.  Since Rocketship plans to serve 1 million kids by 2040 by opening almost 2,500 schools, the opportunities to become principal and deans are already available for first-year teachers.  If all goes well, I will apply to Rocketship’s selective leadership training program in the spring and will potentially open Rocketship in another state in 2013 or 2014.  Second, Rocketship has partnered with the REACH Institute for School Leadership to offer a three-year credentialing program that is truly applicable to what is happening in my classroom.  The hours are long (two three-hour sessions a week after eight-hour school days), but I am already grateful for how deliberate Rocketship has been about integrating its own professional development with the required California Teacher Performance Assessments.  Third, Rocketship requires its teachers to communicate constantly with student families, which translates to more than an hour of parent phone calls (positive and negative) each night and home visits several times a week.  Entering a student’s home is profound, even in its humblest form.  Thus far, I have had serious conversations about student behavior, eaten extravagantly delicious traditional Mexican food, attended a student’s brother’s first birthday party, and marveled at Rocketship families’ commitments to ensuring educational success for their underserved students.

The days are long, and the nights are long.  I have little time for my personal life, and my daily exercise schedule from the summer has disappeared.  My family flew into San Francisco from the East Coast a couple weekends ago, and I drove to Los Angeles to visit friends from the summer last week, but that is essentially the extent of my relaxation.  I am assured that balance will come eventually.  However, every morning, the exhaustion is supplanted by the intense inspiration and joy my kids bring me.  All four hundred fifty students and teachers at Mateo Sheedy make a promise every morning through the Rocketship creed, and it guides our work in every way.

I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community.
I am respectful of myself, others, and the environment.
I am responsible for my learning, actions, and achievement
I am empathetic to my world.
I am persistent in attaining excellence.
Together, we are all Rocketship Rocketeers.

For the kids,


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    About this Blog

    Bailey Thomson, Bay Area Corps Member 2010

    Bay Area
    Elementary School

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