On Egypt.

Two tires burn in the streets of Cairo

Here protestors burn tires in front of riot police... protestors have also burned two of the ruling party's headquarters across the country. AFP PHOTO/STR/Getty Images

map of the protests and major events.

If you are inclined to follow the protestor’s updates on Twitter and other sources.

A detailed list of latest developments inside Egypt.

And a beautifully written story on the situation

In photos.

A Personal Update

  • Things are moving along with the Teach for America application… my mind is pretty blown that I’ve made it this far.
  • There are details to be sorted out for the trip to Swaziland. At this point it seems that if I go this year, it will only be for a short visit of about two months. If I want to stay for longer, I need to apply through their Board of Directors.
  • In case the application process for Teach for America falls through, I have also started an application for  CIEE to teach English in China.
  • I temporarily closed down my FB so that I could focus on applications, writing, and drawing.

Now. I have personal thoughts to attend to. Before I start, let me put out two points.

1. I am an atheist.

2. New Life Homes, the orphanage in Swaziland that I want to volunteer for again, is a faith-based organization.

After staying in Swaziland for about two months, I had begun making comments about wanting to return and how much I loved it there. My mentor at the time told me that it was unlikely I could be part of their long-term plans, because I’m an atheist. It is a very important part of their project to instill Christian values and philosophy in the children there. And although she has told me I am welcome to come back for a visit, I know that my requests to stay longer are being looked at with feelings of apprehension.

To say that I fell in love with those children would be an understatement. At this point I’m positive friends and family are tired of hearing me talk about the farm. There is not a day that goes by, that those children don’t cross my mind. Literally. So, my feelings are hurt. It makes me feel as if I’m being told that my presence is not a good one for the kids. I’ve never been told I couldn’t do something because of my own personal beliefs before… But, the orphanage is their project and I ultimately will politely respect whatever decision they choose to make, even if it hurts.

The thought process culminates in this: It is my own personal philosophy that a common/shared desire to help mankind should transcend cultural and religious boundaries. Basically, I don’t care who you pray to at night if by day we’ve joined together for the common good.

What is your take on their position? Are they justified? To what degree is it acceptable to make these sort of discriminatory choices?

Financial Obstacles and The Achievement Gap

A funnel of money...

Going down.

I’ve been going through the application process with Teach For America. Quick summary is that they train professionals or recent graduates, and then send them to teach in disadvantaged schools. The goal is to close the “achievement gap”. The achievement gap is the basically this: students in low-income and poor communities pass standardized tests and graduate from high school far less than students in affluent communities. Trouble is doubly compounded if the student is black or Hispanic.

Some statistics provided by TFA:

  • By the time they reach fourth grade, children living in low-income communities are already two to three grades behind their higher-income peers.
  • Just half of students in low-income communities will graduate high school by age 18. Those who do graduate will perform on average at an eighth-grade level.
  • Overall, only 1 in 10 students growing up in poverty will graduate from college

So… my application process and learning process throughout all of this has been filled with the achievement gap. The last blog was about creative ways to change teaching and education in the U.S. Most people will probably agree that teachers need to be better trained and better paid.

But then, how does one carry out these things in a state where the government isn’t interested in allocating funding to the school districts? This article on kut: news explores the deficit issues within Austin ISD. A potential of $100 million. They’re talking about closing schools. Also, lawmakers are conducting studies on TFA, questioning its value in Texas.

Do you know how much Texas pays their superintendents? Information provided by the Texas Education Administration.

Austin ISD Superintendent: $ 283,000
Dallas ISD Superintendent: $328,000
Houston ISD Superintendent: $300,000
El Paso ISD Superintendent: $280,000
Waco ISD Superintendent: $174, 000

This article explores how much we’re paying coaches in high schools. It would seem that on average coaches in schools are making about $20k more than teachers. There are about five coaches who make around $100k.

So why is it that we’re looking to close down schools when there is room for cuts on all different sides? Erm. Obviously I’m not very happy about what’s going on. At this point it doesn’t feel like anyone is trying to improve the quality of education in Texas. And really, it was so great to begin with. Le sigh.

Limbo: The state of “in between”

I have now been without a job for about a month. And so, since the original purpose of this blog was to record my adventures as an educator, obviously things are going to change a little bit. I am thinking about making this blog a hodge-podge for awhile. Some of it will be about my daily life (and the ever lasting hunt for another job in education or working with children) and other parts will be about news articles and events that interest me. But for the most part, expect the theme of children to continue.

What’s going on now?

I am waiting to make a final decision about returning to Swaziland. (For those that don’t know it’s a little tiny country on the Southern end of the African Continent that I spent about four months in, working as a teaching assistant in an orphanage.) They have told me I am more than welcome to come visit… but I need to know for how long. My thoughts are this: If it is only for a month or two, then I’d like to wait. I need employment and steady income and a trip to Swaziland is expensive. If they tell me I can stay for an extended period of time, and help out again, then well you can bet your bum I’ll be on that plane to Swaziland.

In the mean time, I am filling out job applications and sending out my resumee. I have a newly vehement dislike for the application process. Maybe this is just me, but I don’t enjoy the feeling of going through some screening process where they examine you for surface level qualities and then either you go to the trash or they send you to the next level where someone pokes you for a stick for a while. Places that I have applied to over the past two weeks: Groupon, Teach for America (that application was sent back in December), and to substitute teach for Austin Independent School District. I have also sent my resume to a variety of people looking to employ freelance writers. Deep breath, right? One of these days something will come through.

And finally, if you have the time you should check out this article:

The New American Academy

The article is about a new school in a low-income community in New York. All of the students are in one large room together, and there is about 60 students per teacher. The idea is to foster independent thinking and initiative. To encourage students to explore on their own while the teachers give them the basics they need to begin that exploration. During some of my training sessions I went to last semester, we had one which also focused on this. There is a new movement that believes telling the students how things work isn’t enough, they need to discover it on their own.

This pushes heavily against our current educational infrastructure and standardized testing. How, in the end is one going to measure a students level of knowledge acquisition when students learn and discover different things at their own rate? Perhaps this is the beginning of a shift that will eventually over turn our current education system?

And finally, think about it like this: Out of the “developed” countries across the world, the United State’s education system is in the bottom ten. According to this chart the U.S. is last in reading, and close to the bottom with all the others. So maybe… even if this idea by Mr. Waronker in his New American Academy doesn’t quite pan out, isn’t it about time that someone has begun looking for ways to improve our education?

Two Weeks Left

I only have two weeks left at my job. This makes me sad on so many levels. One of my teens told their little sister, who is one of my fifth graders. I have known her since she was in second grade… now she won’t stop coming up to me and giving me this look of sadness. GAH. I don’t know how to tell all the rest of the kids really… I think, maybe… I will do it on the Wednesday before I go, and then do something for them that Friday. Makes my stomach hurt.

On a related note, my little brother (I say little, he’s only a year younger than me) is going to take up my job! Pretty cool I think! I brought him into work one day with me, just to hang out and get out of the house… and my supervisor was duly impressed with the way he worked with the kids and handled himself. There was another test day and an interview… and now it’s all in place. I think my fifth graders are going to like him a lot. Pretty awesome that he is taking up residence there, really.

I have played a lot of Capture the Flag with my teens… I’m amazed at how much they like it!!! And damn if some of them aren’t super fast. I can run for the long haul, but I’m terrible at sprinting. Since the weather has been cold we sit outside and our hands go numb while we attempt to dart across lines in the dark. My legs have been sore for a week… probably a sign that I need to be outside more… erm. How do I say goodbye to my teenagers? Maybe we will have a party on that Thursday before the semester ends. Ok ok. I have to stop thinking about these things it is getting pretty ridiculous. I hope that the Teen Program manages to stay strong after I leave the Learning Center.

Tough Cases

If I’d have to pin down a group of kids as the most difficult to deal with this year, it would be the second and third graders. Last year, it was my fifth graders… a bunch of sassy girls fighting over the new boys. This year, it’s second/third grade filled with sassy girls. Don’t ask me how someone as young as seven manages to be sassy but they do it quite well. The more I think about it, I should probably have been put with them so that they could have someone calm, strong, and just as stubborn as they are. My fifth graders are pretty calm this year. Comparatively, anyways.

Instead of me, my coworker Sarah has had the second graders. Sarah is naturally quiet and very sweet natured. I don’t know what it is about most little girls, but if they sense any sort of weakness or potential for exploitation they will run with it like nobodies business. It’s absurd. The spitting image of what people are saying when they tell you that little kids are naturally mean. I’ve seen them snicker and whisper and flat out ignore Sarah. This is their teacher!!

But it’s not just the girls. Sarah also has Joey. I mentioned Joey back in September, he is one of our special needs kids. Over the last few months we’ve learned something about Joey: If anything presents itself as remotely challenging, Joey will shut down. But it’s not shut down in the “I’m gonna sit here quietly and pout” sort of way. It’s shut down in the “I’m gonna cry and make a big scene” sort of way. I haven’t figured out where it stems from, but I think Joey is sensitive to his inability to complete things as easily as the other students.

Yesterday was rough for Joey. We played foursquare outside and he couldn’t quite grasp how to control hitting the ball. The first time Joey got out, he was super surprised, I think perhaps he didn’t understand that he wasn’t hitting the ball with in the lines. By the third time he was throwing things and attempting to storm off. I made him sit down and we had a little talk. After that, he controlled himself. At least while I was around. Then later, Sarah’s group was doing the art project. Simple enough, they just had to trace leaves they found outside on white sheets of paper and color them brightly. Thankfully my supervisor was there to help Sarah, and so he dealt with Joey when he began to cry.

This is what Sarah deals with on a daily basis, mean little girls and a boy who can’t control his emotions. The events with Joey from Monday occur regularly, just from different triggers. Sarah has told me that she now knows she doesn’t want to work hands on with children anymore. She wants to design educational programs for them, but she doesn’t feel confident or comfortable as a teacher. Not gonna lie, this bums me out. She really loves them one on one and comes up with so many wonderful activities for them to do… those kids have no idea how lucky they are to have her as a teacher. She is leaving in the Spring. We will need somebody made of steel but with Sarah’s heart to take her place.

When Things Get Ugly

Surface level differences.

Last weekend, I was supposed to have a Thanks Giving/Going Away party with my teens. Instead my coworkers had to sub in my place because I had to leave town for a family emergency… Saturday night, I started receiving text messages from one of the teens, Ally.
“When r u getting here?”
The first one I ignored, I assumed my coworkers would eventually tell everyone that I wasn’t coming. And then thirty minutes later she sent it again. I responded, and asked if everything was o.k., I thought it was a bit strange she was sending me texts. In the end she just said it was more fun when I’m around, and I thought that was the end of it.

The next morning I get another text message from Ally: “Your kid Ian got Javier stuck on house arrest.” I wrote back and told her that they were all my kids, not just Ian, and then asked her what happened. She said it was complicated, so I told her I’d call her on the phone later. Then, that afternoon I get a phone call from my supervisor.

Apparently, Ian and his little brother Kevin feel like they’ve been singled out for their skin color lately. And they have been before, by Javier and Allen. Earlier in the year, at the beginning of the summer program I had to tell Allen that if he didn’t stop harassing Ian and Kevin that he wasn’t going to be allow back at the Learning Center.

That night started with perhaps a little too much aggression (one of my coworkers had to yell at Allen for pushing Ian) and escalated with a poorly timed and inappropriate joke by Javier and a friend. Ian felt out numbered as the other kids laughed, saying that the only reason he and his brother had won a certain game was because they are black. And before any of the staff caught on to what was going on, Ian ran home crying to his mom and older brother.

The Learning Center then closed for the night and  all the kids were supposed to go home. As my coworkers are taking out the trash they find a crowd outside in the parking lot. Javier’s family and Ian’s family. Ian’s older brother, a sixteen year old, was there to confront Javier (who is also sixteen). No physical confrontation occurred but the police were called. There was some confusion, miscommunication, and difficulty with Javier’s family. Now the boy is actually on house arrest, though I’m not sure for how long.

These are very difficult situations. Parents aren’t going to want their children to come to the Learning Center if there are continual fights, even though the actual “fighting” didn’t even occur at the Learning Center. I had to have a talk with the rest of my teenagers, about how that sort of name calling and racism could easily lead to the Teen Program being shut down and limited to only home work.

How does one convey the seriousness to a group of kids, when much of the issues come from their parents? Austin is very segregated. All of the wealthy white people live central or West, most of the Hispanic community live either East/South East, or South West. There is a very limited African-American community, and for the most part it is North East. Ian and Kevin belong to one of maybe five African-American families in the complex. I am fighting against systemic issues. Whereas I grew up being indoctrinated with White “guilt”, these guys are being taught how to fend for themselves. It’s a completely different environment, and I’m scared that eventually the program will be closed after I leave the Learning Center.

Balance of Power

As I have mentioned before, this past semester we’ve accrued new staff. First, it was three women. We were all finally situated aaaaaand then one of them had to leave. So now there is a guy and two women. Even though children don’t articulate it, it does take a considerable amount of time to build a good solid foundation. It is very rare for someone to be able to walk in a class room and instantly command their respect.

As such is the dilemma in my work place at the moment. Over the summer, the students lost three staff that had been around for a year or longer, in one case she had been there for five years. That leaves only two of us who have been at the Learning Center for about three years or longer. This December, will be the end of my time there.

I need to move on, and find a full time job. I also want to travel a bit before I come back to start a Masters degree of some kind. I don’t like thinking about leaving, and I am regretting telling my teenagers ahead of time. At least once a day someone comes up to me and says some version of “Don’t go Miss Cassie!!!” To call it heartbreaking would be the understatement of the century.

Anyways. I keep wondering what things will be like when I’m gone. Especially since some of the new staff are having a very difficult time managing their class. When the children are particularly bad, usually the other staff will come find me or my other senior coworker. How will the balance shift? Who will be the staff person who manages to get everyone quiet? Who is the person that the kids will seek out when they want to call home or when they are upset about something? I just wish I be a fly on the wall for a day or two and watch these transformations.

Some times, time is all a person needs in order to form the right relationship with their students. Time to build that trust. But, there are other ways… people work in jobs all the time where the kids are always in flux and there isn’t room to develop a relationship slowly. How do you work to gain the trust of kids who are used to authority figures leaving? Is it more about respect or is it about friendship? What is the best way to go about cultivating that balance so that a group of unruly third graders becomes at least somewhat easier to handle? I need to look up tips for these things.

Healing Powers

This is going to be a bit personal. You have been warned.

Friday before work, I got a phone call… a good friend of mine died on Wednesday morning in a crash at an intersection. For awhile, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t speak and I didn’t cry. Two traffic lights down, I started shaking. By the time I got to work it was all but impossible to keep myself under control. I tried calling my brother, in hopes that he could help me calm down. No answer.

So I sat in the parking lot and waited until I thought that maybe at least the crying was under control, even though I knew I still looked a mess. You can just hope that no one will ask you “Are you ok?”.

I walked into the office to put down my purse, and the very first thing out of my boss’s mouth was that damn question. But I couldn’t speak and I didn’t know what to do, so I went and hid in the bathroom. Like such a woman. The friend who told me about the accident, about his death, called me again. She was also crying.
“Do you want me to come get you?”
“Are you sure, I can come get you…”
“No… no…. I need to be here. I need to see the kids. They will… they will help me feel better.”

I went out the back door and sat on the picnic table. And there I waited, where none of my coworkers could really find me unless they absolutely wanted to, and looked for the school bus with my kids.

I’d like to say that children can sense when you’re sad, and as a result their behavior changes a for the better… but I’d be lying. They can’t read your mind and if you’re not crying they are no more aware than the next person. This is to me, is just fine. The first ten minutes were filled with dramatic five-year old wobbly chins, and Kevin being angry because someone else farted in his face. Yes. There were face farts. Do you know how difficult it is to keep a straight face when you’re admonishing someone for not paying attention to where they are farting?

It was three straight hours of giggles and hugs and laying in the grass. And it was everything I needed for that time. I love my kids so much. I think maybe I will back something and bring it in for them on Monday, they won’t know why it’s there, and they probably won’t even ask. In fact, only two or three of them will say “thank you” even. But none of that matters, because they’re my kids and they make me feel great even on the worse days.

Staying Cool

One of the components of working with kids is being able to relate to them. If they feel like they can’t connect with you, and that you’re just this looming disciplinarian of doom, then things can be pretty rough. The biggest thing that a person can use to stay in the know, to stay “cool” is pop culture. To go even further with that notion, music. If they mention a song, and you know what they’re talking about… or you can sing with them, then man you have made it halfway in the door. This is even more important with my teenagers than with the elementry kids.

But you see, I have this problem. Even when I was their age… I wasn’t very mainstream. My father raised me on Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Who. Although, I will admit that for a time I liked the Backstreet Boys and The Spice Girls (don’t laugh, we all have something). But still. All throughout junior high and high school, I listened to various forms of rock. Rap music and pop were very much on the back burner. I was not in the “in crowd” music wise. So now I’m twenty-two (almost twenty-three, gah) and I still don’t care about pop and rap. But, I should. There are two different circles of music that I should at least pretend to care about… but don’t.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga at MTV Music Awards

Major Pop Icon Lady Gaga

I don’t know how I feel about this one. I love what she means for mainstream pop and for the gay community, which absolutely adores her… but it really does make me a little nervous when I hear a seven year old girl singing out “Wanna take a ride on my disco stick…”

The thing is… that I know most of the children have no idea what her songs mean or are implying. No idea. The only ones who might even come close are the fifth graders. So how harmful are the lyrics in the long run? However. My brain can take only so much “Ra ra, ra ra rah…”


Justin Bieber

Teen heart throb Justin Bieber

Sings like a girl and has terrible hair.

Now. I’m not going to be nearly as nice about this one as I was about Lady Gaga. He is not talented in any sort of unique or spectacular way. Instead, he was picked up by Usher because he can sing like a girl. Yes. He is just a mass media project in order to make large amounts of money off of girls under the age of fifteen. A pretty boy.
And his music, is terrible. It’s just garbage pushed out to appeal to the masses. I truly hope he fades into the background asap. He is fueling absurd notions of physical appearances and unrealistic ideas of love. Like a Disney movie, but somehow worse…

Katy Perry

Katy Perry

Somehow both innovative and mundane.

When Katy Perry first came out with Hot N Cold, I thought the woman had a lot of potential. The song had some pretty quirky lyrics, and the music video was absolutely hysterical. But now she is rapidly turning into just another pop artist. Which is disappointing. I’m sure she’s pretty unique, especially considering she’s in a relationship with Russell Brandt. And we all know that guy is crazy.
There was a lot of commentary about Katy Perry and kids when she appeared on Sesame Street not too long ago. Even though I might not enjoy her songs… I’m also not one for shielding children from the human body. The body isn’t dirty, it’s what the songs and messages the artists send about the body that matter.
Do you have any pop artists that you absolutely hate? Or maybe, have you heard everyone talking about someone, but you don’t really know anything about them? Mainstream media making you feel old like me?

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