Monday, August 31, 2009

Memorial Drive and the King of Pop

As scared as I was of Memorial Drive, I have to say that I'm growing fonder of this particular part of Atlanta. The lights of the jail at daybreak can be quite lovely against purple clouds as you drive up the exit ramp from I-285. The traffic is never an issue in the mornings (possibly because I am there before 7am). It is only in the afternoons that I have a problem with Memorial Drive traffic. Also, I have one word for the fine pedestrians of this area: CROSSWALK.

Friday was the beginning of the Blue Devils' football season. The school got in the spirit with a pep rally on Friday at the end of the day. I suppose it was a typical pep rally for DeKalb, although it looked nothing like my pep rally days back at Fellowship Christian High School. Even the Avondale tuba players were dancing in a way that would have gotten a Fellowship cheerleader expelled. Not to mention the Blue Devils Dance team. Wow. It's a good thing I wasn't asked to sponsor them. I clearly have a different vision of "appropriate" than most of those around me. Even so, I felt like the rally was a success. It certainly got me excited about the football season. I wish I had more time to enjoy the "school spirit" part of this job.

Kenneth and I decided to attend the game Friday night, and were joined by his parents. As we entered the stadium, I discovered the one perk of being a teacher; free admission. All my students on the team had worn their jerseys to school, so I wrote down all of their numbers in order to recognize them on the field. Everyone looks the same in shoulder pads and a helmet, you know. The Lithonia Bulldogs got off to a quick lead, but never scored again after the first quarter. I watched several of my students help lead the team to a 24-6 victory. It was pretty exciting, despite the fact that both bands' halftime shows featured the music of.... Michael Jackson. I'm not anti-Thriller, but seriously.

One interesting side note about the football program: Avondale apparently has one of the best football histories in the state. The winningest coach in Georgia achieved this title while coaching at Avondale in the 70s. Unfortunately, the team's recent record has been pretty bleak. Due to the school's successful past, there has been a recent push by alumni and coaches to restore the glory days of Avondale football. These alumni have formed the Touchdown Club, which raises money for the team and recently purchased new jerseys for the boys. The late middle aged white men all come to the games, sit together, get really into the game, and stick out like a sore thumb. Well, I guess I stick out too. It's nice to see lots of different people excited about the program. I think AHS needs all the support it can get.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

38 Hot

It's getting harder. I can't make the kids start studying and stop talking. Most of my freshmen all did miserably on their test today. I had students in 2 different classes tell me that I needed to be louder in order to get everyones' attention to make them stop talking. I tried it. It still didn't work. The primary effect of my talking louder was me almost throwing up after trying to give directions because I had been straining so hard to talk louder than the kids. Really not feeling like I'm the correct person for this job right about now...

So, I'll focus on something else. I learned some new vocabulary today. My big brother Ben has been asking me for some new vocabulary words since I started teaching at Avondale. This one's for you, Benny. The term: "38 hot" (adj.)

Here's the conversation where student #4 explained the meaning of "38 hot" to me.
#4: I'm 38 hot! Isn't that right Mrs. Camp? You know what that means?
me: Um, no. What does it mean?
#4: Like, really, really hot. You know what hot means?
me: Yeah, like good looking?
#4: No. Um, like when the police are chasing after you.
me: Oh, hot, like, stolen?
#4: Yeah, if you were in a stolen car you'd be 38 hot.
me: Ok, so it means highly sought after, wanted.
#4: Something like that.

There you go.

Monday, August 24, 2009

FIGHT! (almost)

Well, I was wrong. I thought my first period World History class was going to be the easy one. Those students are pretty low-key, usually pretty quiet and/or sleepy. That changed today. The class was working on an activity at their seats when Student #2 got up to sharpen his pencil. While he was up, Student #3 came into class with a late pass and went to sit down in Student #2's seat. Now, Student #3 usually sits there, and I don't know if he realized that his seat was already taken when he sat down. Either way, Student #2 walked over, demanded his seat back, and was unapologetically refused by Student#3.

I looked over to see the two boys standing inches apart, nearly yelling at each other. I had missed the whole seat-taking incident, and thought they were joking around (their voices were at the same level as many of my other students who play-fight with one another). I walked over to ask them to stop goofing around and suddenly realized that neither one was smiling. Fortunately, the teacher whose room I use during that period, an intimidatingly tall coach, happened to be in the corner of the room doing some work. Just as I figured out that I was about to have a serious rumble in my room, I heard the coach yell, "Separate. Do not touch each other! The first person to touch the other is going to jail! Back off guys!" The coach was immediately next to the guys, forcing them out of the classroom and down to the discipline office. They followed him out of the room, trash-talking and pounding their fists in their hands the whole way. Close call.

After they left, another student said, "Ms. Camp, why'd you get so close to them? You could've gotten hurt." Well, I didn't know it was a fight. I couldn't understand what either of them were saying. It would be helpful if the students could give me a heads-up next time I walk into a danger zone. So anyway, I'm really looking forward to having both of those gentlemen back in class in a day or two. I wonder who will get that seat???

In other news, my 4th period finally figured out how short I am. I'm surprised it took them this long. Student #1 walked up to the front to ask a question and promptly began waving his hand over my head, saying, "Uh, Ms. Camp, you're pretty short." Thanks for the input. Of course, the other students heard his comment and made the shortest guy in the class stand up next to me to compare height. And of course, I was shorter. I hope this class disruption helped his self-esteem.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week 2

Week two is over, thank goodness. Now I'm hoping things will begin to settle into a routine, although there are still students being added to my rosters. I still have a ton of work to do at night and on the weekends, but at least now I have an idea of what I'm supposed to be doing. Also, I have now learned of all my students names (well, I know what they are, but there are still a couple that I'm not sure how to pronounce).

I also just learned that student #1 from my last post is the starting quarterback for the football team. Apparently there are a lot of 10th grade varsity football starters in my 4th block World History class. I guess the school isn't really big enough to have all of the first string be upper classmen.

I've discovered that there are several Canadian students who moved here over the summer. I've met at least 4 of them and teach 2 of them. They all play football as well. I'm not sure why they moved from Canada to Avondale.... socialized health care must be really unpleasant. One of my Canadian students was telling his classmates how difficult it is to understand them when they speak. He said that they all have accents and they run all their words together. Then he told me that I pronounce everything correctly and that he can always understand what I'm saying. He is now officially my favorite student because no one has ever complimented me on my ability to speak. He didn't even mention my lisp. Talking with him made me feel so much better than that time at day camp when my 1st grade campers asked what was wrong me and why I didn't talk correctly.

In other news, the administration decided that we were using too much paper, and decided to restrict us all to 4 packs of paper per semester. Well, we can use more if we buy our own. This is an interesting decision, considering that we are all required to provide each of our 90+ students with a syllabus, print out multiple copies of our weekly lesson plans, and they still don't have the computer/projection screens in the classrooms working, which would drastically reduce the amount of things we would have to copy and hand out. Premier DeKalb County Schools...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Hands and Feet

First, I just want to say how thankful I am for the friends and family that the Lord has placed in my life. I've always been thankful for them, but the past few weeks have opened my eyes to just how precious these people are. My parents and Kenneth's parents have brought huge meals, played with Amos, and offered prayers, little notes, and lots of encouragement. Friends have called to check in, offer advice, and Lauren Haws hand-delivered a massive bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Calls from grandparents, texts from brothers, messages from cousins, and a letter from my sweet aunt have all reminded me that, as tough as this job seems, I'm really not doing it alone. Not to mention my near-perfect husband who has kept me from hyperventilating every night with long hugs and cherry coke. These people are an answer to prayer.

I tried a little classroom management tip from Rachel Hyder this week. I noticed one particular student, let's call him student #1, sleeping in my class and being slightly disruptive while he was awake last week. On Monday, for some unknown reason, student #1 stayed awake and was actually participating in class, even raising his hand to answer most of my questions. So after school, according to Rachel's advice, I called #1's mom and told her that I really appreciated his participation in my class. I told her that I know he is a football player and that I think he really has the ability to be a leader in the class and set a good example. She sounded appreciatively shocked. The next day, student #1 tapped me on the arm as he walked in and said, "Hey Mrs. Camp!" He has continued to participate and hasn't fallen asleep since. Thanks Rach!

One down, 89 to go.....

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Routine

I like to have a routine. This might be my little way of feeling like I have some sort of control when everything else seems crazy. Though I'm only 6 days into the school year (less than 17 weeks till Christmas break!) I've already started trying to establish some sort of routine. So far, I've been at school before 7:00 am every day. Since the official school day doesn't begin until 8:10, I am usually one of the first in the building (the custodian and ROTC teacher always beat me there.)

My first stop is the teachers' lounge to put my lunch in the fridge and check my mailbox. Next, I usually have to make some sort of copies. The copy machine is in the very back of a room located at the very back of the Media Center. Since I'm there before the librarian, the media center is always completely dark. Unfortunately, I haven't located the light switch for the media center yet, so I fumble along in the dark till I can feel my way into the copy room. After making my copies (on days when the copy machine actually works) I make myself comfortable in my department chair's classroom, preparing for the day and pretending that I have my own room- until he shows up at 7:30. Fortunately, he is on saggy-pants duty in the mornings with most of the male faculty, so I have the room to myself again from 7:35 until 1st period begins.

I'm also discovering that teachers are required to do much more than lesson plan and teach. For the first 20 minutes of my planning period, I'm required to be on duty at the "Tardy Table." Basically, I sit at a table and record tardies and give passes to students who didn't make it into their classes before the bell. I actually look forward to this part of my day, because it's perfectly acceptable for me to sit and think about nothing in particular for 20 whole minutes.

I haven't set my routine for the second half of my day yet, no two afternoons have been the same so far.

Interesting conversation in 1st period World History:

-Me: What is a fortification? Does anyone know what that word means?
-Student: Isn't that like, having sex before marriage?
-Me: Um, no. That would be fornication. I'm referring to a wall or some form of defense....

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Kids these days...
I'm sure I'll have many observations to share in the coming months. This is just the first one that drew my attention. When I was in school, if I needed something from a teacher, I was expected to ask, "May I borrow a pen?" Or, "May I use the restroom." It wasn't really even acceptable to say, "Can I borrow" or, "Can I go," but the lenient teachers would let that slide. Well, my students have taken it a step further. If a student needs a pen, he says, "I can have that pen." If a student wants to use the restroom, she says, "I can go to the bathroom." I hear this statement-request form of asking permission multiple times a day. I'm considering correcting them, but it still throws me off so much when I hear it that I usually just respond with, "yes, you may."

The Michael Jackson sighting count has gone up to 6. And I've already lost count of the "Obama is our savior" references.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Toto, we're not in Dunwoody anymore

Well, I knew this would happen. I've been completely overwhelmed since the second school began, which leaves very little time for my cathartic blogging.

The first 3 days of school are thankfully behind me. Here is a brief snapshot of this week so far. All teachers are required (and evaluated on their performance) to enforce the new dress code. Now picture me telling a 6'3" black 18 year old young man to, "pull up your pants." It seems that the majority of students in the Avondale district wait till the first day of school to begin registering for classes, which means that our original class rosters were completely wrong. Even on the third day there were many new students in my classes. The fact that I wasn't on the attendance/grading system until this morning has also presented a few challenges. All of this plus the fact that, as a new teacher, I have no idea what I'm teaching, so my entire evenings are consumed with planning, studying, and soon, grading. Oh yeah, and I cried while talking to one of the Assistant Principals today. That was a shining moment...

There are no good stories to tell about my "crazy kids" yet. Unfortunately I am too stressed out to see the humor in anything school-related right now.

The ONLY reason I have made it this far is through the strength of the Lord, the prayers of so many family and friends, and the much-needed encouragement from so many people. It is tough, tougher than I expected, but I have hope. I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the people that love me can see it, and they keep me going.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ready or not...

Here it comes! So, it's the eve of my first day. For some reason, I am so much more nervous than when I started mid-semester last spring. Well, I say "for some reason," but I know exactly what the reason is: this is MY school year, from the beginning. I'm not picking up after someone who left. I'm in it for the whole year and I'm accountable. On one hand, I can't wait to meet my students, to talk to them, and to listen to them. I am definitely counting on them being the best part of this year. But on the other hand, I am stressed out about the no classroom, no desk, no idea what I'm doing situation.

In church this morning, the pastor called all high school students to the front so he could pray over them as they begin the new year. When he said, "Teachers, you come on up too," I jumped out of my seat and quickly made my to the front. I needed that prayer! It was such a blessing to see our Young Families pastor and his wife stand up behind me and put their arms around me during the prayer. I am so thankful for all of my family and friends who have been praying for me during this transition. It is such an encouragement to have support, real support, outside the world of public education.

Despite the stress, I am confident that this is where the Lord has placed me. It won't be easy, but we aren't called to live easy lives. I am thankful to have a job and am looking forward to getting into the swing of the school year. It seems daunting right now, and Kenneth will probably have to deal with a tearful wife pretty frequently for a little while, but it really will be okay. Maybe even enjoyable.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Premier DeKalb

Thursday was, by far, the most enjoyable day of pre-planning. Originally, I wasn't looking forward to the Professional Development day, especially when I found out I had to go all the way out to Stephenson High School from 8-4 that day to get "professionally developed" with all the middle and high school teachers from the county. But, the day started looking significantly better when my mentor teacher from my student teaching days at Chamblee emailed to see if I wanted to carpool with him and another Chamblee Social Studies teacher. So, not only did I not have to drive myself all the way out past Stone Mountain, I also got to catch up with some friends on the ride. The majority of the event was actually pretty good too. We got to select which sessions we wanted to attend. It surprised me how many people I know in DeKalb Social Studies. I ate lunch with the Chamblee High teachers, got hugs from the Dunwoody teachers, was able to catch up with some former classmates from GSU, and waved to some acquaintances from my days of subbing at Chamblee Middle. Too bad none of that had anything to do with Avondale....

Day 5 of pre-planning consisted of a yawn-invoking speech from the DeKalb superintendent, followed by a lot of running around and meetings. I have no idea if I'm ready for Monday. I am becoming more and more aware of the insufficiency of my own ability. I am only confident that the Lord placed me here for a reason and that He alone will get me through this year. And nothing will steal my joy...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Roller Coaster

I might have secured a desk and a laptop! If this is true, then my expectations for this school year (at any DeKalb school) have already been exceeded. Also, since she presented the possibility of a laptop, I am quickly becoming a fan of the purple-haired, Obama-button-wearing librarian. Although the politically correct term is now "teacher librarian." Hey, if she can get me a laptop, I'll call her whatever she wants.

I met no parents today at the Open House, but I am pretty sure it's because no one knew where to find me. This is just one of the many gripes of a floating teacher.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tougher than I expected

Today's pre planning schedule included another long meeting followed by some time to "work in our classrooms." The second part was particularly difficult for me when I found out that I don't actually have a classroom. Or a desk. I instead checked out a cart from the library, got permission from a couple teachers to leave some materials in their rooms, and tried to take deep breaths so no one around me would realize that I was freaking out on the inside.

On a different note, I think the purple-haired librarian with an Obama button on her i.d. badge will be an interesting character to watch this year. And I am keeping count- including this i.d. badge, I've had 3 Obama sightings and 3 Michael Jackson references.

The most surprising part of this experience so far is the number of "War Eagles" I've received from my colleagues. I've met several Auburn fans and a few others from Alabama who respect Auburn football. One man even knows Damien Craig. The other new member of the Social Studies department is from Opelika and, after a brief discussion with her this morning, we discovered that she and my mother were best friends in elementary school. Small world. So, I'll have something other than school to talk about with some co-workers- at least until football season ends.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Rest of the Story

So I learned a little more about the circumstances surrounding my reassignment while talking with my old department head from Dunwoody this afternoon. My assumption that I was transferred due to a drop in enrollment was wrong. I was replaced. By a basketball coach. Yeah.

However, I was comforted to learn that the DHS Social Studies department was upset to see me go, and that the department head even called the county to see if the principal really did have the authority to replace me just so they could hire a coach. Boo. They didn't even ask me if I wanted to be the head basketball coach- what were they thinking?!

Moving On................................................

Today was my first day as an AHS Blue Devil. Pre planning got started with a combo icebreaker/tribute to Michael Jackson. Do you know all seven #1 hits on MJ's Thriller album? Neither did I. I met my new department head who promptly informed me that AHS would be a "culture shock" for me. It was one of those moments where I felt like any response could be misinterpreted, so I just smiled.

I was thankful to be sitting next to another first year teacher and think I may have found a friend. I am sure this seating arrangement was not an accident, but an answer to prayer. I have also been befriended by an older African American gentleman, 2 years away from retirement, who has taken it upon himself to make sure I know what to do, who to talk to, the shortcut to the school, etc. It's nice to have someone looking out for me, although he did a poor job explaining why the Blue Devil's logo is a flying "A."

The entire day was one long training session. Apparently the DeKalb Superintendent wants all schools to pay more attention to discipline. The goal of the day was for the faculty to decide on 5 rules to post in all of our classrooms. We accomplished this mission in approximately 8 hours (including the Chick-fil-a lunch). The downside was that the program presenter from the county found it necessary to use me, the newest of the new teachers, in multiple role play examples. As if I needed something else to push me out of my comfort zone...
Here's my new home (except it is currently surrounded by fences and construction materials as they quickly prepare for DeKalb School for the Arts to move into a third of the building)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Bait and Switch

Maybe I shouldn't jump to conclusions. The whole purpose of this blog is to document my experience as a (mostly) first time teacher. I'm entering this school year with the assumption that it will be tough, that my students will present many different challenges, and that my efforts to adjust to this new setting will exciting enough to write about on a regular basis. Maybe I'll be wrong. Maybe it won't be hard to adjust. Maybe my high school students will all love me and will behave and study hard in order to make me happy. Maybe this year won't be a challenge. Maybe.

Here is a summary of the events leading up to this school year. After receiving my B.A. in History and my M.Ed. in secondary social studies education, I found myself in the all-too-common state of unemployment. I began substitute teaching in DeKalb County, Georgia, hoping to be first in line if a high school social studies position opened up in the middle of the year.

After many frustrating months, with no ideas as to where to find a real teaching job, I began praying that the Lord would just drop something into my lap. Last March I was subbing at Dunwoody High School when the Assistant Principal informed me that the school was suddenly in need of a social studies teacher. Within 2 days I was a full-time, real, live high school teacher. The experience of starting my first teaching job with only 9 weeks left in the school year is a whole different story, but the important thing is that I was finally employed.

I made it through those 9 weeks, signed a contract with the county for the 2009-2010 school year, was told that I would be returning to Dunwoody in the Fall, packed up my school supplies, and went home to enjoy my first summer as a teacher. Dunwoody is consistently cited as one of the best schools in DeKalb County. It is closer to the suburbs than most of the other schools, and is in a nice, well-kept part of town. It has a very even mix of students and faculty members, and is only 4 miles from my house. Some might call it ideal.

With only 3 days left until I was supposed to report to Dunwoody to begin pre planning, I received a short email from the DeKalb Human Resources. "Miriam Camp, teacher at Dunwoody High School, is reassigned to Avondale High School. Please make the necessary adjustments in the system." And with that, I was transferred from one of the best schools to one of the worst. If you aren't from Atlanta, this may not mean much, but Avondale High School is off of Memorial Drive in Southeast Atlanta- very near a prison and a MARTA station. It is a failing school, which means that many students in that district who can afford transportation have transferred to other schools.

From what I can tell, this is a very different sort of situation from my brief time teaching in North Atlanta. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet, but I'll be there bright and early on Monday. I was angry at first, but am beginning to see this as an opportunity. Maybe I can make a difference. Maybe some of those students need me to care about them. Maybe this is a ministry. Maybe.