Sunday, March 29, 2009

Living The Dream

For two years now, I have been applying to the "Institute for Literacy Coaching and Whole School Reform" at the Columbia University Teachers College. I have been to Teachers College twice before for institutes on reading and writing workshop, and they basically changed my life. The Literacy Coaching institute was a dream of mine, but I never got in since they only select 50 people from the whole country. This year, I applied, and I got rejected (again). I just an email saying: "You're not accepted." I was like, "NO! This is ridiculous! I am getting in!" So I proceeded to email and call the NY office and ask them why I wasn't accepted because I really wanted to attend. They said they would get back to me. One day later, I got an email saying, "You have been accepted." Haha... I jumped up and screamed. Maybe the squeaky wheel gets the oil?

My first day in New York was rushed, freezing cold, and rainy/snowy. Thank goodness I stumbled upon the cutest French bistro for lunch. I had to take a picture of this lunch because it was so beautiful and SO GOOD. I got onion soup and a prosciutto sandwich. It came with the cutest little dish of grapes and iced tea! It was a great start to my stay in NY.
Basically, the institute was about learning how to coach teachers and lead school-wide reform in the areas of reading and writing. I knew we would be visiting New York schools, but at our very first session, they informed us that we would be teaching a class and coaching teachers at a middle school in the Bronx. I was SO EXCITED. Below is a picture of me after my first day of teaching in the Bronx. It was crazy and fun at the same time. I had never seen a New York school, so it was really an interesting experience. I rode the subway by myself to the Bronx and found my way to the school in the snow. When I arrived, it was about 7:30 and kids were congregated outside the school. As I pushed my way through to the door, the kids were saying, "Ooooh... a white girl!" This made me smile to myself. The school was actually pretty cool. They have a very dynamic principal and lots of young, talented staff. The kids were doing good work, and it was fun to be in classrooms and talk to teachers. Here is me outside the Bronx school:
We also got to visit a school on the East Side, which was a totally different story. SAME population of kids, but I could not wait to get out of there. I spent two days teaching small groups in a seventh grade special education and behavior modification class. Wow. On the second day, I fought back tears as I left the room. It was so painful to see these kids and try to work with them, but to no avail. The culture of the school was such that these kids were not set up for success. As hard as I tried, I could not imagine them going to college. And believe me... I can imagine LOTS of kids going to college. As I worked with one group, they refused to even pick up their pens. They glared at me and smacked their gum in my face while laughing and playing and mocking me. Several students even got up to wander around the room while I was teaching. Granted, I'm some "white lady" they've never seen before, but it was apparent that this behavior was an everyday occurrence. I tried my best to be patient and kind, but I seriously wanted to throw something out the window. What a frustrating situation. It made me so grateful to be in a school where everyone is focused on the same goal and there are systems in place to help kids and teachers be successful. My hat goes off to the teachers who can bear that every single day. I certainly couldn't. When I saw my real kiddos agian on Thursday, I cried. I have never been so glad to see them!!

Here is a shot of the Columbia campus. It is really beautiful and regal looking. I love the old buildings and sense of hisotry. There's something about it that really gives a sense of importance to learning.

We started each day with a keynote speaker inside Riverside Church on campus. It is absolutely beautiful. Not bad for a classroom, huh?

One night I ate at Shun Lee Cafe, a dim sum restaurant right across from Lincoln Center. They had these carts that Asian ladies pushed around the restaurant periodically. The lady would say (all in one breath), "You want some ginger shrimp? pork spring roll? sesame chicken? crab dumpling? vegetable tempura? chicken spring roll? shrimp dumpling?" and so on. Then you can just pick what you want. So fun. Here's what the restaurant looks like:

I was really enjoying myself and having fun being alone in the city... until about Saturday. That's when I realized how long I was going to be there (six nights!) and how much I kind of wanted to see Brent and Blazer and be home. I was really excited, though, because Saturday night I was supposed to have dinner with my good friend Katie Bailey who was in NY for buisness. We planned to meet at 7:00 at China Grill. I made my way over to Midtown and walked in the revolving door to China Grill, scanning the restaurant to see where Katie was waiting for me. Before I could even get in the restaruant, I looked through the glass door and saw:

... That's right. My husband. My wonderful, sweet, amazing, (somewhat liar) husband... who I had just talked to on the phone an hour earlier! And he told me he was walkling Blazer at the park! NO!!! He was in NYC!!! The look on my face must have been pretty funny. Brent said he's never seen me more confused. My brain simply could not process it. I could not believe my eyes that he was there when I thought he was across the country in Houston! So I cried, and it was probably the most surprised I've ever been. He proceeded to tell me the details of his surprise while I had a cocktail to calm down :-) My friend Katie wasn't even in town - he had her set it all up for his surprise. We had a super fun and amazingly delicious dinner. We ordered the Chef's tasting menu WITH the wine pairings. It was amazing!

We had fun in NY together for a few nights after I got out of class. We ate at another delicous Italian restaurant. We also walked around Midtown and the Upper West Side.

Here is Brent standing in front of the building where it all started: The New York Four Seasons where we got engaged. We have some special memories in NYC!

And finally, on my next-to-last night, I made my way to the Magnolia Bakery. I have been reading my friend Tiffany's facebook updates, so I know that she is obsessed with the place. So I had to try it. The cupcakes and coffee were awesome! The picture is me with my coffee because the cupcake was long gone by the time I thought of taking a picture!

... So there you have it! It was a wonderful week. I learned a ton and felt like I was going to explode with possibilities for my teaching when I came home. I also had a blast exploring New York again. It's a fun place to visit, but I still love Houston more :-) When I got back, I hit the ground running and life has been a blur ever since. I think the blur is just going to get faster since we are also moving in about three weeks. I guess that's our life from now on! I'll try to update more frequently!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And then you wake up.... and try it again

When I was trying to decide if I wanted to be a teacher, I went and observed a teacher who is now my very close friend. I will never forget what he said on the first day I ever observed him. I had spent all day with him and witnessed just how much work and frustration went into being a teacher. I was thinking, "Can I really do this? How can he do this?" As we were walking out of the school together that day, he said, "Well, there you have it! And then you wake up... and try it again." Five years later, that rings true.

Today after class, one of my students pressed a folded up piece of paper into my hand and ran out the door. When I opened it up, I found the letter below. Yes, the grammar is deplorable, yes, it's all one sentence, and yes, I'm a writing teacher. But at the sake of my own reputation, I have to show you this letter. It just about melted my heart. To her credit, Fernanda is an English Language Learner who is trying very hard. I taught her sister in seventh grade four years ago. Her sister is now nine months pregnant. It's hard to realize what we're up against, but things like this make me want to get up... and try it again!

Dear: Mrs. Norwood

I couldent wait to right you diz letter I want to tell you how amaze I am that you are my teacher to be honest I love how you teach us miss you'r also a teacher that I trust your a great teacher your pretty, funny, smart, a caring person thats all I have to say miss I got a lot of other great facts about you & there a lot I will probably will right 100 pages of facts about you well thats all miss love you oh also your one of my favorite teacher.

4rm Fernanda


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Idol Infatuation

I am obsessed! I freaking LOVE American Idol. I go through phases. When the first American Idol came on back in 2003, I was all about it. My mom told me I should watch, and I was hooked. Then I fell off the wagon for quite a while. I just didn't care. But lately I am BACK ON!!

The trick is to watch the auditions. If you watch the auditions and Hollywood week, you're hooked! They've got you! You can't escape! That happened to me last season and definitely this season. Tuesday nights are the best nights of the week.

Last season, I was glued to the TV. Last season was awesome. I literally cried through the entire finale because I was just so happy for the contestants that they were living their dreams! The "Idol Gives Back" show was one of the best shows. Getting to watch the contestants sing duets with their singing idols... are you kidding me??? They got me!!

Brent is totally hooked, too. He might tell you he's not, but he is. We have rules for watching American Idol:
1. No judgements until 3/4 of the way through the song
2. Claim it! You have to claim your judgement loud and proud before the judges comment.
3. If you concur with the judges, you win. If not, you lose. Until the next performer! This can cause some pretty intense disagreements if one of us is right and the other is not. (I'm sure you can guess who is right most of the time.) We are getting kind of good. (That might be a sad comment on our life.)
Here are my current faves:
Lil Rounds: Her name is hurtin' - no doubt. Lil Rounds? But she blew me away tonight. Amazing voice.

Scott MacIntyre: He's blind. He's sweet. He's a good singer. I mean... come on!!!! I LOVE this guy. Did his story get me? Yes. Doesn't he deserve a little something????

Mishavonna Henson: She didn't make it through. But I'm holding out for the Wild Card round. I really like her personality.
Allison Iraheta: This girl is not my usual cup of tea. She is a bit punky for my taste. She is also quite awkward in conversation. HOWEVER - the girl can sing. If you heard her singing "Alone", you know what I mean!
Danny Gokey: Again, did they get me with the story? Yes. His wife just died and he is living his only remaining dream. And, he is a good singer. You can't deny the guy his dream, right??? This is Brent's fave.
Matt Giraud: This is my boy. He was one of my absolute favorites to start. When he sang "Georgia" at his piano in Hollywood - I got chills. Like David Archuleta "Imagine" chills. He did not make it through (sad), but I know he'll be in the wild card round.
Anoop Desai: The dude is just flat out likeable. He is so cute! Again, he did not make it through, but I hope he makes it in the wild card round. I think people love him and he just barely missed the cut.

In short... you should watch. Fox has found the magic formula, apparently, to keep a show going for so long, yet make it so good week after week. I heart American Idol!!!


Monday, March 2, 2009

TAKS and Building a House

You thought I was going to make some elaborate metaphor about the TAKS test and a house... Not so much! I have just enough energy to write about tomorrow's TAKS test and the progress on our house. They're really not related. My life is eating me alive!

Tomorrow is the writing TAKS test for my little muffins. They are prepared, but they always insist on giving me a few sleepless nights and the threat of a heart attack or two in the preparation. Pray for a good writing prompt, alert kids, editing passages with grammar rules we've practiced a million times, and sanity for me since I have to circle around my classroom all day like a airplane in a perpetual landing pattern. No reading allowed. No computers allowed. No sitting allowed. No writing allowed. No talking allowed. No thinking allowed. Thank you, standardized testing.


We are super excited about our house! It is going up so quickly. I believe the last house pictures I posted were of DIRT, so you will be quite amazed at the transformation! Below are pictures from the last two weeks. (We visit our baby each weekend.) We are scheduled to move in at the end of April! Isn't she pretty???

Pictures from TWO weeks ago: Brent on our patio
Our kitchen and breakfast area

Framed front of the house

Pictures from ONE week ago:
The kitchen and breakfast area

Bay window in the master bedroom

Front of the house - notice the brick, ready to go!
More to come when life slows down. When will that be?!

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