Posts tagged ‘Teach For America’

August 6, 2012

The Misfit Piece

At our Teach For America summit today, we had to bring in a 5-7 minute story about ourselves.  There weren’t a lot of guidelines beyond that, so I wanted to share what I came up with.  It’s pretty personal and discusses how I struggled a bit before finally getting into teaching.

My Story

Have you ever made a really big puzzle before?  Not those kid ones that have a two-digit quantity of pieces, but those huge ones that you work on slowly for weeks?  Well, I have made a bunch of those.  I was raised on puzzles as a kid, and my family almost always had one out in the dining room for all of us to pop in and work on for a bit.  It was a good bonding experience, but that’s not the story I want to tell today.

I brought up these challenging puzzles because of that misfit piece.  There comes a time when you get really frustrated with a the puzzle you’re working on, and even one fitted piece would make you feel as though you’ve made significant progress.  You come across the piece you think you’re looking for, and it really looks like it should fit where you had planned.  But then you notice that the edges aren’t quite matched up.  You realize you can either leave the piece there, and hope that maybe it is the right piece in the end, or you can accept defeat, take it out, and find its true home.

Well, until October of 2010, I was that misfit piece.  I was determined to keep trying different places to see where my perfect fit was, but I constantly found myself stuck where I didn’t quite match up with my peers.  This started in college, when before freshman year started, I gave up on my dream of teaching and opted for a better financial future by majoring in economics instead.  Sure I enjoyed my econ classes and did really well on my exams and projects, but was my heart in it?  No.

After a summer job at a hotel, I realized that maybe I should veer into business instead.  I really enjoyed working with people, and felt that a Masters in Economics might trap me behind a desk, while a Masters in Business would keep me interacting with all different kinds of people.  I applied to a private college with a great reputation for its business school, was granted a sizeable scholarship, and found a way to commute from home to save for the remaining tuition.  Everything was lining up, and I was ready to finally feel like I was in the right place.

Unfortunately, figuring out logistics doesn’t mean you’ve figured out your life path.  In my two year MBA program, I completed three internships, one full-time summer HR job, and three graduate assistantships.  At three of these positions, I was told by a manager that while I was doing fantastic work, I needed to change my personality to fit better with the company.  Yes, I cried over this.  It’s hard enough to change your work ethic, but your personality?  I was basically told that “we like your work- we just don’t like you.”  That was tough.

I also faced a lot of challenges fitting in with my peers.  The team I was put on for the first year was very frustrating to work with because it took us so long to decide on how to complete projects, and often times, I ended up doing more than my fair share of the workload.  My second year was even harder because we had to choose our own teams.  I had one class where I was almost certain I was going to drop it to make room for a consulting project instead, and a girl still refused to allow me on her team.  All I could think of was “is this seriously still happening when I’m 22 years old?”  I can understand if someone didn’t want to work with a slacker, but I was hard-working, dependable, and rarely got lower than an A in any course.  I hated this girl for humiliating me for a while, but perhaps I should thank her for what happened next.

There I was, sitting in the back row of a Technology in Business class, occasionally adding comments to the heated discussion on social media in the workplace when I had one single thought: “I wish I was teaching elementary school kids right now.”

To this day I can’t tell you where this thought came from, or why it popped up in the middle of that class.  But suddenly, I was scouring the web for ways to become a teacher.  I figured it was a phase that I would forget in a week, but I kept feeling a pull towards the classroom.  I ended up applying to Teach For America the day I saw Waiting for Superman in the theater- not because the movie is amazing, but because the whole time I thought “I WANT TO DO THIS!”

I was so scared when I sent that TFA application in.  I didn’t tell my parents because I was afraid they would be upset that I wasn’t using their generously funded MBA wisely.  I didn’t tell anyone at business school because I was afraid they would look at me like I’m crazy- “You’re going to apply for WHAT?”  But January rolled around, and I found out I had skipped the next step in the application process and had to schedule an interview two hours out of town.  This meant it was time to fess up.

Lucky for me, my parents ended up being really supportive.  They were surprised at my decision to be a teacher, but I think they could see it was something I had put a lot of thought into.  I completed my interview and was sent an e-mail a few weeks later saying I would be teaching elementary school in Tulsa for the 2011-2012 school year.

While my classmates discussed which job offers they should take- three figure salary at Corporation A, or two figure salary plus stock options at Corporation B, I was visiting local classrooms and furiously taking notes about how to manage a small group during centers.  I kept worrying that this huge risk wouldn’t pay off, but I can tell you standing here today that it did.

Yes I’m poor.  Yes, I’ve had days where I feel like I’ve completely failed a child.  And yes, I’ve even burst into tears a couple times in the teacher’s lounge.  But I did the impossible- I found my place in this big puzzle we called life.  I get along great with my co-workers.  I created my own family of wise owls with my class.  I found a job I enjoy getting up for every day.  I get excited about coming up with engaging lessons, centers, and projects for my kids.  And I feel like I’m genuinely helping people every day.  After 23 years of indecision and heartache, I’ve found a place where I can be the best version of me- and if that isn’t a perfect fit, I’m not sure what is.

August 1, 2011

School Daze

This week I began my orientation back in Tulsa with Teach For America.  On the first day, we were released to go check out our school assignments and meet the staff and principal.  My mom and I had driven out to the school the week before, but we had just driven past it without going inside.  It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, and is located at the dead end of a residential street.  I went out there on Wednesday with another corps member, Morgan, who’s assigned there.  We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it was definitely surprising.

The elementary school is an open school, meaning there are no class rooms.  There are these big open spaces with dividers that make up each class instead.  It’s so different than anything I saw growing up.  A few Tulsa schools recently closed, so a lot of schools are taking in new kids.  Our school is absorbing a whole other elementary school, so a lot of rearranging is currently going on, including the addition of some classroom trailers.  Because of the limited space right now, me and Morgan will have to share the gymnasium as our classroom for the first month until we get our own trailers.  I’m excited to eventually have a trailer because it would be hard to adjust to the open school areas.  However, teaching in the gym as a shared space will be challenging.  I’m going to just stay really positive about it and collaborate as mush as possible with Morgan to make sure we are quiet for each other when we need to be.

The staff we met were really nice and very welcoming.  They all offered to help us as we transition to the school.  The principal sat down with us and also explained a lot of things and answered our questions.  My class will have between 20-30 kids, the school day runs from 7:45-2:50ish, there are a lot of resources on property we can use, and all our students get donated supplies from a local news station at the beginning of the year.  I’m excited to find out more as we get our curriculum and meet the other 2nd grade teacher who will lead us (me and Morgan are both assigned 2nd grade).  I need to start making unit plans ASAP, but I do need the curriculum guide first.  In the meantime, I’m planning out procedure/classroom culture lessons for the first couple weeks and gathering resources.

I spent about $60 at Target today on their Back to School discounted items.  I now have some crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors, pencils, and pencil boxes for back up classroom supplies.  I also got a bunch of Play-Doh since it was on sale, too, with some number cut outs for the kids to practice math using Play-Doh.  I figured it could be a good center activity at some point.  We’ll see.  I tried to get a class set of composition notebooks (they were 40 cents!), but they only had 12 left that were wide ruled.  I’ll have to check again tomorrow to get the remaining 12 or so for my students.  I had a journal I had to write in often for school when I was in 1st grade, so I figured I could use this for 2nd grade, too.  One of the things I learned over the summer is that kids need to practice writing a LOT.

I also have been hunting down books for a classroom library.  I was able to get some at a great used bookstore here in Tulsa, but I also made a wishlist on Donor’s Choose.  If you haven’t heard of the website, it’s designed so teachers can post projects they need funding for and have anybody search through the projects and make a donation.  If you’d like to donate a few dollars to my class library project I have posted (or at least can spread the word a bit to others who might), you can go to my project page here.

I’ll keep you updated on my school and classroom adventures as the year goes on.  Stay tuned : )

June 25, 2011

Yes, I’m alive.

As you can see from the title, I haven’t completely fallen off the face of the Earth.  I’m teetering on the edge occasionally, but I’ve managed to stay grounded her at the Phoenix Institute thanks to a really good group of friends.  Brianna, Natalie, Victoria, Dante, Chelsea, Angela, Katie…and several others, you guys have all helped me find sanity these past couple weeks, and for that I am grateful : )

For those of you who have not experienced Teach For America Institute training, just FYI, IT’S HARD.  My typical schedule last week looked like this:

5:45 AM- Wake up, get ready to go, pack up all the materials I will need for class.

6:30 AM- Get in the “Pack Your Lunch Line” and then go to Breakfast.

7:00 AM- Bus ride to the school I’m teaching at.

7:30 AM- Get classroom ready, sign-in, turn in final copies of lesson plans, meet with my Faculty Advisor, report to morning duty, etc.  These tasks vary depending on the day of the week.

8:30 AM- Class begins. Spend first hour teaching procedures or testing students for diagnostic data.

9:30 AM- Report to info session about a teaching topic.

11:00 AM- Free time to enter in student data and prepare for lessons (so not really free time…).

11:30 AM- Teaching block begins, including an hour of support teaching, taking the kids to lunch, and then an hour of lead teaching (this week’s subject: Math!).

2:00 PM- Report to 2, hour and a half info sessions on more teaching topics.

5:10 PM- All school meeting including short reflections and logistic info.

5:30 PM- Bus ride back to Arizona State University.

6:00 PM- Dinner at the dining hall.

6:30 PM- Shower and pack up bag to work on lessons in the computer lab.

7:15 PM- Arrive at computer lab to write and revise lesson plans, make and print worksheets, try to stay awake, etc.

11:30 PM- Leave computer lab to go back to dorm.

12:00 PM- Sleep.


Having this typical schedule has been rough.  Especially trying to get through a day this packed on only about 5-6 hours of sleep.  But as I said, having some good friends helps.  We vent, we go on mini-food outings (frozen yogurt- yes please!), and see who can look more zombie-ish during late night lesson plans.

You know what else helps?  The kids I’m actually teaching.  I LOVE being in the classroom.  I was a bit afraid my students would dislike me because I’m more of a hard ass than my fellow teachers, but just as my advisor said would happen, my kids love me for my own style, too.  I think I’m pretty good at designing lessons to keep students engaged, and I’m also good at keeping the class in line (though our class consequence system needs some work).  I already know I’m going to miss these kids a lot when we leave Phoenix.  I’ve had them for math all week, and next week we switch to reading.  Should be a refreshing change, but we’ll see.

I never thought I’d say this, but my focus this week is improving my time management.  I need to get more work done on the weekends to free up my week.  As much as I need a day off, I need sleep more.  But before I dive into lessons, a big group of us are going out to see Bad Teacher.  I’m thinking it will be very therapeutic : )

For all my friends and family I haven’t talked to, I miss you like crazy.  I’m three hours behind Orlando, and that combined with my busy schedule makes it very hard to keep in touch.  If you can, please send me anything- post it note messages, letters, “Hang in There” Kitty posters…I really could use all the support I can get:

Kelly Schrumpf/Teach For America
Mailbox #2228
711 E. Lemon Street
Tempe, AZ 85281

I promise to send something back.  Maybe I can start writing letters on the bus ride home?