Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Did Sinatra Sing About Los Angeles?

I got to thinking this morning that Sinatra has songs about Chicago, New York and San Francisco. But, he doesn't really have a song about Los Angeles that I can remember. Since I'm going to Los Angeles in a few hours, I thought it would be nice to quote Sinatra. But alas, I don't have any songs about LA by Sinatra readily available in my head. Am I forgetting something? Fill me in!

I was so exhausted yesterday afternoon after a difficult day subbing at Tioga middle school that after an early dinner, my eyes closed and I have been asleep since 6pm last night (it is now 6am, I woke up at 530am). I figure I should get as much shut eye as possible before clinicals begin and I'm awake for DAYS. But I digress. Point is, I still haven't packed for LA - so I better get to doing that. The other point is that I will be at my aunt's house in Thousand Oaks - aka, no internet readily available. I will try to make it to a library or some place that offers internet, but no promises. Of course, I will have my cell phone if anybody must reach me in dire straits.

As is my custom, below you will find my Travel Itinerary, also for my Seattle Trip:

Fresno to Simi Valley: Tuesday, 9/30/08 on AMTRAK
Depart Fresno at 9:50 am on Amtrak “San Joaquin” Train 702
Arrive Bakersfield at 11:58 am

Depart Bakersfield at 12:05 pm on Amtrak “Bus” 5902
Arrive Simi Valley at 3:10 pm

LAX to Seattle: Wednesday, 10/8/08 on Virgin America Airlines
Depart LAX at 5:00 pm on Flight 793
Arrive SEA (Seattle) at 7:50 pm

Seattle to LAX: Wednesday, 10/15/08 on Virgin America Airlines
Depart SEA at 3:35pm on Flight 792
Arrive LAX at 6:20pm

Saturday, September 27, 2008

House Cleaning..and Stuff

This happened last time I took the USMLE, also. For weeks I woke up at 630am and was unable to go back to sleep. In fact, I didn't just wake up gradually - it was a full on, heart thumping, WAKE UP!!!! moment...for weeks. And like last time, I had the goal that after the exam, I would do some house cleaning - some rearranging and overall interior designing, if you will.

So, as I currently stare at the mounds of mess that is our home, I am doing the same thing as last time. Wondering what the heck I was thinking in the first place and gradually losing hope that I am even going to lift a finger to start the project.

And one more thing: I have basically lost all respect for the People's Church Administration. They are all wonderful people, but we have called them for YEARS - since moving into this house - to find a solution to the noise problem. Don't get me wrong, we NEVER complain about the kids and their noise during the school hours - that is something we expect and would not even dare mention, and frankly, find it as a joyful noise. But it is the noise of a leaf blower that started at 7:36 am on a Saturday or the noise of the Maintenance staff loudly talking, laughing, and even using profanity at 6:38 am on a Sunday or the sound of them closing up the shop at midnight that has gone on too long and not been rectified despite repeated efforts on our parts. Any time we call them, the office staff says, very VERY nicely, by the way, that they will not start the noise before 8am. While not ideal on a Saturday, it is a wonderful compromise that we are willing to accept. But yet, the leaf blower is going as we speak - currently at 7:45am.

Life in Fresno continues...

Friday, September 26, 2008

With Kids Like These...

As I type, a group of about 35 very nice kids - I mean truly kind and nice - are taking a quiz. I'm subbing at Tenaya Middle School today and these kids are absolutely amazing. I don't mean academically, although they all strike me as hard-working, also, but I especially mean inter-personally. They are just so kind! You can have conversations with them and there is no mistrust of the teacher - so you can talk with them in a professional instead of adversarial way! And you can talk about their future in college and how academics pays off and get into deep discussions about future plans. It is so rewarding that I told one class that if I had kids like this, I might have stayed in teaching longer.

I know some of you are going to read that last sentence above and try to mischaracterize the wonderful and awesome children I had in Baltimore. Please don't do that. That is not my intention at all - and I'm not selling out on the mission of providing an excellent education to EVERY child in our Nation. They deserve it and as a society we must strive to make this happen. I'm just saying that the job is challenging. Teachers who purposefully step into difficult and challenging school environments with high-needs kids, like I did for two years, do it knowing that they have accepted a much more difficult challenge that is taxing on the soul. And if I had the choice, I would walk right into the lion's den again.

All I'm saying is that it is also nice to see what schools and teaching could be like from the other perspective, of working in a school with a much easier student population.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judgment Day Has Arrived

11:34 pm: Man, am I glad this day has finally arrived...and passed! I feel confident, I feel happy, and most of all, I feel SUPER EXCITED about putting USMLE Step 1 behind me and being able to start my third year of medical school. It is going to be much more real now - I have been looking forward to this year since day one of medical school. Why? Because third year means I get to be in a hospital. It means I get to learn hands-on instead of only from reading books and listening to lectures. It means I get to work side by side with consummate professionals, all with one goal - save a life, help improve a life, guide a person to health. What could be better?!?!

I want to sincerely thank all of you who have been sending your prayers and well wishes! My success is due to support and love and encouragement - so THANK YOU! In the meantime, while I wait for scores to arrive, I am busy planning a pretty exciting couple of weeks to relax, rejuvenate, see people I haven't seen in many many months and pump myself up for what is to come. Here is a sneak peek of my upcoming schedule:

September 29 - October 7: Los Angeles
--Visit will include trip to Thousand Oaks and Pasadena
October 8 - October 15: Seattle
--Visit will include being an utterly giddy tourist in a foreign land and checking out the sites with my friends from Teach for America who now live in the area!
October 15 - October 19: Los Angeles
--Visit will include trip to Whittier and attending Whittier College's Alumni Weekend

If I'm coming to your area, please get in touch with me - I would LOVE to see you!

5:30 pm:
I'm done!!!! I'm back at home now, feeling quite confident. In fact, I feel downright giddy and excited. There were many more questions this time where I felt like I knew what was going on - that was because I obviously had more time to study the last two months, but also because, due to the luck of the draw, I was given lots more questions that were straight forward this time around. Here is one example for those of you who know:

"In what organ is Angiotensin 1 converted to Angiotensin 2?"

Yes, I'm not exaggerating. That was a question this time. I didn't have ANY questions like that last time (by the way, the answer is the lung). This is what I would unequivocally call a "God-send question"!!!

So now, the waiting game begins. USMLE people officially state that we get results "within six weeks" - they tend to under-promise and over-deliver so we are all happy in the end when we get results within around 3-5 weeks. I feel happier and more confident this time around - and I look forward to starting clinicals pretty soon. That being said, PLEASE continue to send good thoughts and prayers!! I will continue to need them!

7:55 am:
Elvis has left the building. I'm heading out - time to make this ish happen! If you happen to stumble upon this blog right now, PLEASE say a little prayer for me!

7:15 am: I woke up about 30 minutes ago without the help of the alarm clock. My heartbeat was a bit fast and I felt pumped - something that never (NEEVVVVER) happens at 6:45 in the morning. I took care of some personal business (ahem), reviewed a couple more odds and ends and am now about to hop in the shower. I feel different this time as I get ready to jump into the hot seat again to retake the USMLE. I KNOW I'm not going to miss it by 3 points this time - I KNOW I'm going to PASS it this time by many points.

I'm pumped, I'm excited, I'm ready to make this happen today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Why I Teach for America..."

Back in 2004, after graduating, I spent the summer in New York City, teaching high school Biology during summer school and learning all the tricks of the trade in order to enter the classroom in Baltimore City in the fall as a proud Teach for America teacher. At the end of our training institute, there was a powerful pump-up rally; there, a few new TFA Corps Members did a presentation where they read entries from their personal journals they had kept during the weeks of our training. And at the end of several journal entries, when the presentation was coming to an end, each person ended their last reading with the words, "and that is why I Teach for America..."

Emphasis was placed either on the word "I" or "Teach" by each person and the dramatic endings were followed by sustained applause as we were all so pumped to enter our own classrooms.

Well, what follows in this entry is a "Why I Teach for America..." moment. Enjoy!

Today, while subbing at Edison High School, from where I graduated in 2000, I had the opportunity to return to a Bio class for which I subbed on Tuesday as well. Third period came along and all was going well all day - the kids were beautiful and dedicated (for the most part) to learning. I explained the project to 3rd period and started passing out the handouts. My style as a sub is akin to being a stand-up comedian - we get our business taken care of, but we also spend a lot of time laughing! I tell jokes and I'm willing to put my pride aside to let the kids laugh, both at me and at funny things about my life.

So imagine how touched I was today when one of the kids in 3rd period, let's name her Elizabeth, announced in between laughs to the class, that when she came in to class on Tuesday (the other day I subbed for her class), she was having a SUPER lousy day. She said she was extremely pissed off and was just waiting for me to say something to her, anything, so she could be justified in letting me HAVE it. But then, she said, I was so funny and fun and lively and happy, that in her bouts of laughter she totally and completely forgot about what she had been mad about from earlier in the day. She said I helped her feel totally better about her day and that she appreciated me very much for that.


Friday, September 12, 2008

On the Subject of Quality Teachers

Every education study and article on reform mentions that one of the key ingredients in student success is having a top-notch, quality educator leading the class.

My heart broke today, listening to a promising young student-teacher describe how disillusioned she is with teaching, the "system" and all the pressures she feels to focus solely on test scores at the expense of any sort of rich learning experience for the kids. I listened to her while student's in the last period class for which I subbed and for which she is the student-teacher, worked; and it broke my heart that somebody who had dedicated years to becoming a teacher was suddenly seeking to be anything but.

We spoke at length and I did my best to offer her suggestions for schools where she would feel happier - like Charter or Private schools who may have less challenging students. But even as I offered those suggestions, I looked over my freshman charges and felt blessed - they were all quietly working, most were struggling trying to read a fairly sophisticated story, but were at least trying, especially when I walked around and did my best to cheer them on to achieve great things. These were not advanced academic or GATE kids - they were basic level Freshman in a basic level English class. And, as is often the case with my thinking, I just felt they were figuratively SCREAMING for help and for a teacher to challenge them and push them and do their best to interest them in something, anything!

And then I got hit with a one-two-punch:
1. this student-teacher said that she enjoys creating and implementing curriculum and learning experiences, but doesn't really care for working with the kids. (My response: excuse me?!?!)
2. she offered very little to no encouragement to the kids as they worked. She was not acting like their cheerleader, something these kids absolutely need!

And so, I had an epiphany - not every person should be a teacher. We encourage anyone who expresses interest in becoming a teacher to pursue it and we have such a shortage of great teachers that we go too far and accept anybody into the profession. But I must advocate that we stop this practice. To be an effective teacher, you have to have "it" - that indescribable something that allows you to connect with students, explain difficult concepts in understandable ways, put aside your own pride and be a cheerleader who employs every possible effective tool at his/her disposal to ensure kid success! Education schools can teach you techniques to effectively apply the "it", but if you don't have the "it" in the first place, "it" is not something that schools can teach you! You should NOT be a teacher! Please find a different profession because our kids deserve better.

In other news: my first two periods were Seniors - about 45 to a class. Again, not the AP or Honors class, but regular level. And yet, when pushed, they performed. When challenged, they achieved. When told to strive for something higher, they rose. I told each of the two classes (the High School I was at has block schedules, so 2 classes of hour and half each) that they were definitely at the top of the list of students I have met who impress me and make me want to keep working in the field. They didn't let excuses about life get in the way of them continuing to work hard and step up to the challenges and excel.

And kudos to their regular teacher, who invigorates them and piques their interest (the teacher I was subbing for today, whom I have not met). The articles he left today for us to work on were very interesting and relevant to their lives - and it showed in increased student interest, attendance, and general happiness. I pray they will continue to make life choices that guide them toward further and greater successes!

Today, indeed, was a great day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Guess the Grade - Answer Now Posted!

Hello folks! Time for a bloggeractive moment.
Today, I was teaching the following:

3 + (-2) = ?

Guess the grade I was teaching and earn a cookie (from your own cookie jar).

UPDATE: The blog has been buzzing with anticipation to find out the answer to the above question. The grade, as it turns out, was 7th and 8th grade. In the defense of the children, it was a "remedial math" class and about 80% of them were able to answer the questions on the worksheets with only some difficulty. Quite interesting to me was that multiplication of integers with positive and negative values seemed a bit easier for most than the adding of integers. Perhaps because with the multiplying, they had their multiplication chart for numbers 1 through 12. Most distressing, however, was when students had difficulty spewing out the answer to 3x5 or other simple multiplication problems without the use of their charts.

We must do better!

Monday, September 8, 2008

And Another Reason Elementary School is Winning Me Over

Reason #3,538 why elementary age kids are slowly but surely winning my heart and turning me into a convert: they go "did you say c-r-a-p right now? That is not very nice!"

Yes, I told the class today that soda was "a bunch of crap that you shouldn't drink." The message against soda was lost because after the word "crap" my miniature charges became wide eyed and open-jawed in amazement that a teacher would have the audacity to, GASP, cuss!!! I apologized and said since I usually teach middle/high school that I missed the memo not to use that word. Little Cerina told me it is ok, but "don't do it again!"

On a side note, I have learned that early third grade curriculum includes:
  • Types of sentences. (this would be a statement, therefore ending in a period.)
  • Syllables (did you know the VCCV rule helps you determine where to split up a word to figure out how many syllables it has? Try this word: Camped
  • Rounding numbers: 3,538 reasons converted to the nearest ten?
  • Simple Addition. If 4+3=7 then 3+4=7

This all begs the question: at what point are we losing these beautiful, curious, academically courageous, inter-personally gracious, absolutely awesomely adorable kids to street life and anti-school culture? It makes me want to have the ability to take a class of kids and work with them from first grade through sixth grade (I'll leave kindergarten to souls braver than I). I want to make sure we build such a strong interpersonal relationship that I can then follow them from middle school through high school and all the way to college to ensure they make it onward and upward without hiccups.

That being said, I must make absolutely clear that these last several days in elementary schools, I have had the honor and absolute pleasure of observing and learning from some of the most amazing educators I have ever met. The faculty at Slater Elementary School, at least in the sphere of 2nd and 3rd grade teachers whom I have met, is unarguably stellar. The kids adore them and with good reason; they really are top notch. So, the problem is not the teachers.

In my opinion, all that leaves is the corruptive brand of American poverty that places higher value on materialism (nice possessions now) as opposed to the long-term value of learning. Give me my fish now as opposed to teach me how to fish so I can forever enjoy the fruits of my own labor.

I don't know about you, but I want our kids back.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jon Stewart is Awesome!

Regardless of your political stances, I think this clip by Jon Stewart is very telling about our politicians in America. Well, I suppose I can't say "regardless of political stance" because this clip specifically showcases Republican flip-flopping.

Does this brand of flip-flopping by politicians and bias Fox News reporters really get past Americans? Ummmm, YA!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Test Retake

Big THANK YOU to all of you who have been so supportive and helpful as I continue to study and prepare to retake the USMLE. I am scheduled to retake the exam on September 25.

In the meantime, I continue to study hard and sub. I was able to sub at EDISON!!!!! yesterday. It was awesome to see my old teachers again, but the school is basically completely changed from when I attended. The campus is renovated, but the bigger change seems to be in the culture. I recognize that every past generation says this about the next generation that follows them, but EHS was not the same place it was back in the day.

That said, I met some really awesome and interesting kids, with all sorts of dreams and aspirations. I pray that they all achieve their goals!