Perspective

I know I have not written to you in a while, but the busy days and the long hours, stressful classes, and daily challenges really got me distracted for a while. Each day is immensely challenging, full of new obstacles to jump over. Whenever I get home from school, I collapse into a heap on the couch, make dinner, and watch tv or the latest episode of West Wing. I was becoming pretty numb to my purpose until today.

I was informed early in the school day that there had been a shooting at a car wash not two minutes from school. It was a young man that was killed, and I was shocked that I was so close to something like that. My eyes had partially opened to what was going on around the community. There was an obvious stillness in the day that I was not used to. Tallulah is very small, so the community obviously was shaken from this. Not thinking much more than how shocking it was, I went on with my day like nothing had happened until my students came in.

One of my students came into the classroom and walked up to me.

“Mr. Calabro, my cousin was shot last night.”

I immediately lost any words that I had left in my throat. Instead of something that happened two minutes away, I was dealing with a student who’s family member had just been killed. The tears were real, the hug was real, and the sadness was real. What in the world would I say to my student to help support him/her? No amount of training, charisma, courage, or heart can prepare you to talk to a 3rd grade child about why someone was killed or why it was their family member.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post. It is so easy to become frustrated and without grace when I teach everyday. So many days are spent going over and over directions and discipline issues. I have had many days that I want to rip my hair out. Today helped me realize that my students are dealing with more than ANY of us reading this post have EVER dealt with. No dinner when they get home. No breakfast when they wake up. Challenges at home. Shootings in the community. Violence on the streets. All of these are things that MY students deal with each day.

No wonder they focus on things other than school at points in the day. We would do the same exact thing. I realized that the most important job in my classroom is for me to be an encourager, a supporter, a rock, and a steady positive force for my kids in a pretty shitty world. Through no choice of their own, my kids have to deal with immense obstacles, and I must do whatever it takes to get them through those each day. My students will be able to dream and see their future in their hands. A future not full of sadness and loss, but of hope and fulfilled goals and achievements. Oh and if we learn some math and reading along the way, great.

Training Olympians

Well, it’s the Sunday after my first week of school, and I am proud to say I survived. We had quite an interesting week, filled with meeting parents, establishing (and re-establishing) rules and procedures in the classroom, and setting up the kids for the year! The theme in the classroom is “Going for the Gold.” Each of my 27 (yes, 27 3rd graders) kids are all Olympians training for the final gold medal run at the end of the year ( or the state testing). Each of them is capable of achieving the best grades in the state, we just have to train them up the proper way! My class is grouped into clusters of desks. Each desk cluster is a different country in the Olympics. So far, Italy has been leading the pack and obliterating the other groups. Each day, the countries are given gold medals on the wall if they are doing the best out of everyone. The kids are also given gold medals when they master a state standard or do well on a homework or quiz! My kids are a lively bunch, and truly are reminding me of myself when I was in elementary, and such a handful for my teachers. But that can change with a little love and care from me! I am excited for the year ahead of me. It will be challenging, tiring, and stressful. I have realized that if I can make a difference in one classroom and the lives of 27 kids, the stress will be worth it! I will leave you with a few quotes from the week!

-“Mr Calabro, your arms are furry. You need to shave them.”
– Did you shave your mustache?
– Mr. Calabro, you look like Jimmy Neutron
– Mr. Calabro, I wrote you a note, but its probably spelled all wrong
– OH MAH GOD…I think I just realized that I left my homework on the bus (I saw the kid trying to fill it out at his desk, give up, and throw it away)
– Are you going to give us goldfish every day of the year?!

Let’s Go for the Gold! Go Bucks!

Better Late than Never!

I am so sorry for my latest disappearance. It seems that I became quite busy during school. Who knew 20 5th graders could keep me busy?! I thought I would update you all on my latest happenings.

The last two weeks of school were hectic! Everything was building up to the end of summer reading assessment. The goal for each class was to get 80% of our kids to improve their reading level by 6 points. This was a daunting task, because I had students at all different levels of reading. In a 5th grade class, I had two students at a 1st grade reading level, who could not write. I also had two students who read at an 8th grade level. This presented many challenges for me, because I had to cater each lesson to so many different types of readers. The days were long, and the reading was difficult, but after the 5 weeks of summer school, all but three of my students met the goal of 6 more points!

The last day of school reminded me of why I am teaching, and why this work is SO important and close to my heart. I joined TFA so that I could be a role model, and an inspiration to my children each day. More than the grades, I want my kids to believe that they can do more than they have ever dreamed. They can have hope, and someone who truly cares for them. Here are some short stories from the last day of school.

-Desiree, one of the leaders in the class (also the sassiest), was always someone with a huge personality, and lots of love. After telling me that she would be in my wedding someday as a bridesmaid, she quickly added, “Mr. C, can I have yo number. You better be calling me at 8pm tonight.” I have received numerous txts from her over the last few weeks, making sure that I am okay, and that I know what she is up to.

-We gave each of our kids awards. Things like “Fearless leader, Quiet Strength,” and other titles. After we were done, the kids yelled “Give us some paper so we can give you awards!.” We were showered with notes and awards of “Best Teacher” from the kids. This is the point I started to smile really big.

-We had each kid’s name on a paper, and other students could write nice notes to their classmates on them. The teachers had them as well. I went to look at mine at the end of the day. These were some notes: “Acts like a child.”
“Kind, sweet, and makes you laugh. He has good hair and gentle eyes.”
“Love you Mr. Calabro. You are my best teacher. You make me smile when I am upset.”
“Best teacher in the world.”

I don’t share these stories to brag, or to attempt to prove my worth. I had more days where I was lost than days where the students learned. But I share these to show how 20 5th graders are already changing my life more than I could ever imagine. I share these to show that these kids are READY and willing to accept someone who can inspire hope in them. These kids are READY to succeed. These kids are READY to fight. They just need someone who believes in them.

These next few weeks bring with them a little more training, Staff Development at Tallulah Charter School, and the first day of school (August 11). I will be teaching 20-something 3rd graders for the year. I am excited, energized, exhilarated, and ready to go. Although I have had a difficult time transitioning to a small Southern town and all its quirks, I am driven by the fact that I will be changing the lives of these kids starting August 11, and they will be changing mine as well. IMG_0703

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The Civil War and other Interesting Lessons

This Friday marked the end of my first week in the classroom, with real kids, on my own.  Monday morning, I was nervous, excited, and enthused, all at the same time.  I was growing weary of endless sessions on “How to teach kids 101.”  I wanted the real thing, real numbers, real voices, real kids I had to teach and improve.  Monday morning I remembered why I was here.  I walked into my classroom to 17 bright, smiling faces.  Two or three of of them had looks on their faces that were quite sinister. “Its time to rock Mr. Calabro’s world this summer,” I knew it was what they were thinking.  To spare you all the boring details of the objectives I taught, and the results of their tests so far, I thought I would share a few good stories from the week.  I love my kids.

 

1)  One of my students quietly tapped me on the shoulder during silent reading, and informed me that she would be going to sit at the reflection table (normally a punishment) for 10 minutes because she was so annoyed with the students that she didn’t want to hit them.  The next day, I received a note from her, reading,  “Dear Mr. Calabro, I am sorry for being angry yesterday.  I did not mean to not talk.  Please talk to me whenever you would like.  Yours Truly….”

2) A student informed me that he “loved the Civil War and Slavery” because he thinks it would be fun to be outside all day…had to give him a short reality check of the situations that slaves endured

3) A female student, who is a particularly avid dancer, will randomly stand up in the middle of class and begin doing dance moves to songs like the “NeNe” or various other hip hop songs.  These moves include twerking and her version of “booty popping.”  

4) I caught another student with a list of each student’s name.  I asked him what he was doing with it, and he just said he was writing names.  Later in the day, one of the girls yelled for me to come see the list again.  The boy had been giving students checks and minuses based on what he thought of their behavior

5) I was told that I looked like a Ken Barbie doll

6) My students informed me that they had stalked me on Facebook and Google, and that I had a girlfriend who “looked nice and had pretty black hair.”

7) A girl told me that “my lesson was wack because we ain’t do no popcorn reading….”  We started to popcorn read

8) I am greeted by 17 hugs every morning at breakfast

9) My students are adorable

10) Bring on week 2 in the classroom

 

Go Bucks,

Drew Calabro

We are Bearden

When I last wrote to you, I was about to head to bed for my early wake up call of 5am to start my first day of Institute.  Talking to previous and current corps members, I had heard mixed reviews of Institute.  “Take what you want from Institute and forget the rest.  You get too much information anyway.”  “Institute isn’t really bad at all, just a lot of learning!”  “Institute is like fraternity life…it’s something you learned from but never want to do again.”  With all of these varying opinions and OpEds about TFA’s Institute, it is an understatement to say that I was a bit uptight about the whole process.

 

I was led around to literally 15 different registration tables and given sheets of paper at each and every one to read later.  After that, I was ushered to my dorm, where I got to meet my CMA (corps member advisor), who is in charge of going over my lesson plans and any other things I need help with.  She is the person we turn to if we have any questions or issues.  Once I finally got settled in and read the papers, I knew this was going to be a long five weeks of boot camp, but an unforgettable one. 

 

I was placed teaching 5th grade literacy at RH Bearden Elementary school for the summer, and I have 14 kids that I will be teaching.  This past week we had intense days, starting at 5am and going until 8pm, with one hour for lunch in the middle of the day.  Tomorrow, Monday, will be my first day of actual teaching.  The cool thing about TFA summer school is that each classroom has 3 teachers.  One teaches literacy, and the other two teach two different math units.  We are never in the classroom together, but it allows us to get our feet wet with actual teaching for an hour or so per day before we step into a classroom and teach all day.

On Friday, we met our students for the first time.  They were required to come to school for a reading assessment to determine their reading level, so that we could then set realistic and strategic goals for their learning over the summer.  Once we had finished that for the day, we found we still had an hour to teach, so we thought it would be a good idea to have the students write “Letters” to the class about what they have been up to this summer.  The most precious part was the moment when one of the little boys decided he wanted to share in front of the class.  This example was followed by all 14 students reading theirs aloud as well! 

 

Here are some thoughts for this past week

1) The kids at RH Bearden are as adorable as I thought they would be

2) I can only talk about feelings for so long before I explode

3) I can only talk about logistics for so long before I explode too…

4) My students called me Mr. Slick because of my hair (I am starting to sense a trend with the hair down here)

5) I now have 45 bug bites from the mosquitoes that are larger than my hand down here

6) After being tired all week, I was BEYOND refreshed when I met my kids on Friday

7) I realized that each day, no matter how tired I am, I will be refreshed with my students

8) Lesson planning has a very rigid structure, and it takes quite a bit of practice to get the hang of!

9) A boombox can break down barriers

10) Life is good, no matter how tough the road ahead looks

 

Ill let you know how my first week with the kids goes!

 

Go Bucks,
Drew Calabro

 

 

Crawfish, Hushpuppies, and a Little Southern Culture

You know those movies that we all watch, where the locals in the neighborhood all know one another, wave at one another, and know each other’s business?  Welcome to Tallulah, Louisiana!

As my Jeep pulled into Induction 2014, reality started to set in.  I was no longer with my family.  I was no longer with familiar landscape.  I was away.  Far away.  From my perspective, I could see a large metal bridge, traversing what is the Mississippi River.  To my right was the hotel we would be staying at for the week.  I was nervous, and sick to my stomach, wondering if I had made the right choice going so far away.  Was this right for me?  Was small town rural America something I could handle?

After my initial heart attack, I was able to meet the fellow Corps members in my group.  Teachers from all over the country, just like me.  Everyone was scared, nervous, and everything in between.  Once everyone settled down from the frenzy of a new place, we were able to truly relax and understand that we would continue living and breathing.

Throughout the week of induction, we had so many reflection sessions I truly could be certified as a psychologist.  These were great to understand why we were in the region, why we are teaching, and why we were chosen to do the job.  Aside from these sessions, we were able to get out into the community.  One of my favorite times was called “60 Minutes in Tallulah.”  We were told to take 60 minutes and walk around the community.  There were no rules, no lessons, no restrictions.  Experience Tallulah how we would each like.  I wandered through the streets and found a nice seat in the shade of a willow tree outside of the courthouse.  I was able to take 60 minutes and take in all the sights and sounds of Tallulah.  I was able to relax, reflect, and remember my purpose with TFA.  One of the most memorable aspects of my 60 minutes was the fact that, no matter the car that drove by, honking horns could be heard throughout the town.  People honk and wave at LITERALLY every person they see, because everybody knows everybody.

 

Aside from these experiences, I wanted to list a few other activities we did this week, or lessons I learned from being in the Delta so far.

1) Beer is cheap, praise the Lord. ($1.25/ beer)

2) Crawfish are actually good… (although I will never “suck the head”)

3) I accidentally said “y’all” yesterday.

4) Quite similar to Sochi Puppies, there are stray puppies all over Tallulah, called Delta Dogs, and they are adorable.

5) The sweet tea is much better.

6) Community is vital in the South.

7) We had a lunch with some of the elementary kids one day, and I fell in love.

8) We are desperately needed down here.

9) After a dinner with parents of current students, I was told  “Y’all need to tame your hair, its too big”

10) The people of Tallulah are proud of their community, and expect us to be proud as well.

11) We work in this area for each and every child who deserves a role model and leader to inspire and excite them about life.

 

Now starts my five weeks of hell at Institute and training. Send as much good luck and prayers as you can my way… my wake up call tomorrow is 5 am.
Go Bucks,

Drew Calabro

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Beginning an Adventure

Throughout the past year, the natural progression of weekends in May kept rolling through my mind.  

Weekend 1: Indianapolis 500

Weekend 2: Brother’s graduation festivities

Weekend 3: Teach for America Institute

 

Much to my surprise, the first two weekends of may snuck up on me rather quickly, leaving the last weekend looming over my head.  What was formerly a distant date in the back of my mind was now punching me right in the gut.  In three days I would be pulling out of Carmel Indiana and onto the open road facing south towards Louisiana.  Better get packing.  

Tomorrow marks the first day of Induction.  Induction, for those who aren’t familiar with TFA and it’s common use of uncommon words, is a week-long regional introduction to where I will be working and teaching for the next two years.  I will be located in Tallulah, Louisiana, at Tallulah Charter School, teaching 5th or 6th grade depending on how badly God wants to punish me for all the harassment I gave my 5th and 6th grade teachers.  Tallulah is a small rural town in the northeastern tip of Louisiana, just a few minutes off of the Mighty Mississippi River.  This is obviously a huge change from the Disney property that is Carmel, Indiana, and an even bigger change from the bustling streets and campus in Columbus, Ohio.  

 

I am looking forward to getting to my location and really settling into the Southern culture where community and relationships matter.  This week will be a perfect primer for my energy levels as I head off to Institute Sunday (more on that in the next post).  It will give me perspective and context to why I will be teaching and why this matters that each of my kids has a shot at a quality life.  Before I head into Induction, I thought I would share a few lessons I’ve already learned after having an entire day of driving to think to myself.

 

1) There is nothing harder than leaving your family and loved ones when a move is fairly permanent

2) I need to do better in this heat (so does my hair)

3) Dear god I am truly frightened at the amount of seafood that I will have to consume

4) I cannot WAIT to have 25 kids to mentor and teach

5) This will be one of the hardest, but most rewarding challenges of my life.

 

Until Institute, and Go Bucks,

Drew Calabro