1. I spent last week at a conference in Chicago. I spent seven hours a day in the type of classroom learning we're not supposed to practice: open and pour. The first day was very intimidating, as we were just given dense material and they started going through it. But the more I learned, the more I got sucked in, and really, the more fun I had.
I spent last week learning the basics of the new program at my school: AVID (Achievement Via Individual Determination). I had never heard of the program before my principal mentioned it last April, but it turns out it has been around for over 20 years. High schools all over the US and some other countries practice it with much success. I'm excited to be one of them soon. It is a program to help middle-level students go to college, when they otherwise might not. They must have a GPA of 2.0-3.5, and have a circumstance that might prevent them from going to college (low income, minority, one parent, unsupportive/unavailable parents, first generation, etc.). The program enrolls them in rigorous coursework like honors and AP and helps them get through it and ultimately get to college. Levels upon levels of support and classwork and tutors get them there, and it is harder to explain than just this, but you get the idea. I'm very thrilled about it.
One of the best parts of the week were hearing the testimonials from students who have successfully gone through the program in the Chicago area. They talk about their AVID families. The connections they make with these teachers is supposed to be the best. In September 2009, I'll be one of those teachers. This fall, I'll be interviewing 8th-graders for admittance into my class for the next year. One student, Desiree, shared her story with me: her dad had split, and her mom was always either working or out with someone. She has no support from home. She told me she's been in AVID for 3 years, and her mom doesn't even know what it is. She was an amazingly articulate young lady who shared her story very openly. I asked her what advice she would give to me, a new AVID teacher. She said to be patient and understanding. These are huge demands to place on a high school teacher with 150 students to keep track of. But, ultimately, she's right. And it's the skill I lack the most in my teaching: patience. I always try to be understanding, but I usually rely on the student to come talk to me. I need to engage all of my students beyond just teaching them public speaking. I'm excited to be going back to school in a few weeks. I want to use everything these students taught me. I asked Desiree what she'd be doing in the fall. She's going to be attending SMSU in Marshall and majoring in Communications. When I left, she gave me a hug (and we had only spent 20 minutes together). She said hugs were really important in her AVID family.
(BONUS: Outside of classes, I befriended two of my colleagues. I've worked with them both for years, but we'd never had the opportunity to really talk and get to know each other. I'm very excited for this as well, because after Molly left (tear), I really didn't have any friends, and spent a lot of time last year feeling sorry for myself. So yay for new friends!)
2. I have officially taken action. I wrote on my last blog entry that I was volunteering with the political group to whom we donate money each year. I followed through with that last night. I spent over two hours on the phone calling people in support of a candidate for the State House of Representatives. It was really fun. Okay, not like jetskiing fun, but doing something good and discussing important things with other people fun. It was cool to see how the dialing computer system works (hence the delay when surveyors, telemarketers, etc. call you). And I was actually very surprised at the number of people who were willing to talk to me. More than not. Some people had way too much to say, and I had to keep myself from laughing a couple of times. One time I laughed out loud, and she appreciated it. After listening to the woman rant and rave for about five minutes:
Me: Well, Norma, you really seem to have the kind of conviction in your beliefs we value in our voters. [Blah, blah, blah, statistics about the candidate that are relevant to her rants.] I hope as you make your decision for the vote this fall, I hope you consider [candidate].
Her: Hmmmm. [Says candidate's name.] I remember every time I talk to someone in support of a candidate, and I have voo-doo dolls for them. What did you say your name was, dear?
Her: Well, Emily, I will remember you. If I vote for [candidate] and he ends up stinking, I am going stick your doll with pins.
Me: [laughing uncontrollably]
Her: [starts laughing, too]
Me: Well, Norma, if I am in pain in November and December, I will remember you. I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me tonight.
Her: No, thank YOU. Most people would've hung up on a crazy old lady like me.
Me: I'd never do that.
Her: Well, I'm glad.
Me: You have a nice night.
Her: Okay, bye. [click.]
GOOD TIMES!!! Another guy spent about ten minutes telling me why we should only vote for politicians with the same moral and religious values as our own. I wanted to hang up with him, if only to get my call count up (he was wasting my time!), but I was compelled. Plus, it is my job to keep the candidate I'm supporting in a good light. And since I'd already said who I was calling to support, I couldn't hang up. What if in November all he remembered about the name when he saw it on the ballot is that someone from his campaign hung up on him? Nope. Had to listen.
Overall, we had a good night. We made over 1,000 calls, and 43% of them were in support of our candidate, 53% were undecided and only 4% were for his opponent. (We called people with a history of spotty voting, declared independents, and consistent split tickets. It's amazing, apparently, what you can get from voter registration.)
This weekend, we head to the BWCA for four days. I've never been and am rather nervous, but I am more excited than anything. One friend had this to say, "I've never felt closer to God than I do when I'm in the Boundary Waters." Well, that's something to look forward to. I shall report next week. Hugs, friends.