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how to survive delta institute

if you haven’t taught for america or you’re not about to teach for america, this post probably won’t interest you very much. basically,  one component of the program is something called institute. essentially, they put eight hundred of you in dorms & bus you all off to schools at 5am & you sweat through professional clothes & learn to be a teacher. it’s more fun than it sounds.

now for people who know what I’m talking about… this is a little bit belated, because ya’ll are probably just entering the throes of institute. but here are a few thoughts from someone who has been there.

1 :: read teach like a champion before you get there. the pre work is awesome, but largely abstract. teach like a chamption is so incredibly practical. some of the stuff is gonna be hard to conceptualize if you’ve never been in a classroom, but at least read the chapters “cold call” & “no opt out.”

2 :: bring dvds. no, you won’t have time to marathon a season of the wire. yes, you will sometimes want to watch an episode of the office or friends after a long day. it’s a good chill thing to do with your roommate/hall mates. the internet at delta state was super slow last year so unless that’s been fixed, netflix & hulu are not viable options. bring a funny movie or a season of your favorite tv show on dvd.

3 :: if you’re a girl, load up on the cardigans. delta state is cold. buuut the buses are h-o-t (unless you’re one of those people that always manages to score that one bus with AC). to cope with the stifling bus heat, I had a uniform of sorts–sleeveless sundress w/ a cardigan or a button up shirt over a tank top. on the bus i wore either just the dress or the tank top minus the cardigan/button up. then i just got professional when we pulled up in the parking lot. if you’re a guy…. you’re gonna be hot. i’m sorry.

4 :: if you work at one of the sites that’s about an hour or so away (& most of you will), then you will have about 48 total hours of bus time over the course of institute. I probably slept for 45 of those hours. if you can sleep on a school bus, do it. if not, have books or podcasts or whatever it is you non sleeping people do. just realize that bus time is a substantial chunk of time & use it wisely.

5 :: the food situation… i’m not gonna lie, delta state lunches were rough. bring granola bars or something. as far as dinner in the caf goes, the pizza was good and the salad bar was decent. there’s a good breakfast place on hwy 82. airport grocery was yummy. the warehouse took a really long time (& was overpriced for entrees, in my opinion) but their potato soup to go is really good if you happen to get sick for a week like I did. there’s no microwave in lawler hawkins, so you will be disappointed if you bring popcorn (speaking from experience). also: the fridge is small for 250 people to share. don’t be the guy that left his cafeteria pizza to go box in there for two weeks. DO be the guy that got a huge box of those freeze pops & put them in the freezer with a note that said other people were welcome to take one. we liked that guy.

6 :: I am not a morning person & I need a good amount of sleep to be functional. things I did to get around the institute sleep situation: use dry shampoo (I never showered in the morning during institute), & get both breakfast to go and lunch to go.

7 :: fun stuff to do… there’s a pool that you can pay $5 to use if you’re TFA, ask around. that’s really nice to do one saturday afternoon. we drove to the movies in greenville at least twice. we also drove to greenville for 4th of july but it wasn’t worth it– cleveland’s fireworks were WAY better. go eat lunch at the crown in indianola (disclaimer: I haven’t been but I’ve only heard fabulous things). get yogurt at matty & suzette’s frozen yogurt place & then tell everyone else you see to also get yogurt at said yogurt place. if you’re really feeling adventurous (or needy), come to jackson… there’s an apple store (if, heaven forbid, you have computer woes), places to get professional clothes if you need more, ethnic food (!!!), an art museum with a kick butt mississippi art exhibit… & my house, where you are welcome to stay. I’ll feed you chocolate chip cookies. my husband makes good coffee.

8 :: enjoy your institute experience to the fullest. TFA isn’t perfect & institute isn’t perfect. but it’s pretty incredible… not because it teaches you how to be the best teacher ever in four weeks (it doesn’t). but because you will never ever be surrounded by that kind of talent, resources, & coaching again. you will never have UNLIMITED PAPER & COPIES ever again. you will never have that coach to learner ratio again. you might never have in person advice from national specialists in your content area… ever again. you probably won’t have people passing out playdough, popsicles & high fives in your placement school. whenever my teacher friends & i get together, we don’t talk about how awful instute was… we talk about how sometimes we wish we still lived in institute world.

that said, I wouldn’t go back. institute world was fun, but it’s not the real world. I miss all the coaching & advice. I miss free copying & it being ok not to know anything about anything. but I love being in my real community, working with kids that are my kids for as long as I can stay (way longer than 5 weeks), living in a house with an oven & friends just around the corner. when institute seems absolutely insurmountable, take a deep breath & remind yourself… institute is awesome. & institute is temporary.

go forth & conquer, friends. for better or for worse, you’ll remember it forever.


the darndest things


I teach kindergarten through 5th grade spanish at a magnet elementary school. in a desperate effort to get to know some of the 287 kids I teach at the very beginning of the year I made a “get to know you” type survey for the older grades. I discovered a stack of the completed surveys on my shelf the other day. here are some of my favorite responses…

what is one thing you would like ms. broom to know about you?

“I am smart and kind and fun and funny and also good at singing.”

“I have food allergies.”

“I reeeeeally miss my old Spanish teacher but you seem nice.”

if you could go to any country in the world, which one would you visit?

four children responded with, “florida.”

what do you want to be when you grow up?

“a peedeeuhtrishiun. not sure if I spelled that right but I want to be a kid doctor.”

if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?


“the mall.” (dreamin’ big)….

& my personal favorite, “court.” I was a little worried about the child who wrote “court” until I looked up & saw that, for “what I want to be when I grow up” he had put “lawuhyor” (lawyer). at least he’s shooting for the right side of the bench.

what did you learn in Spanish last year?

“I learned that ‘cafe’ is a color and also coffee and also a place to eat.”

what do you want to learn in Spanish this year?

as they were taking the survey, I saw a little girl writing “nothing” in answer to this question. I stopped by her desk & asked her why she put that. she said that she didn’t want to learn anything new in Spanish. I told her that wasn’t a very good attitude to have & Spanish was going to be so fun, etc. then she said, “ms. broom I think you need to look at what I put at the top of my paper.” sure enough, at the top of the sheet she had written, “ms. broom my mom is from nicaragua and we speak Spanish at home so I already know my words in Spanish.” touche, kiddo. touche.

these kids are smart & spirited. & even though they overwhelm me, they always make my days.

life after sandy hook


I live in a neighborhood that a lot of people thought I shouldn’t move to. I don’t like to call it a ‘bad’ neighborhood–because really, what makes a neighborhood ‘bad’ or ‘good’? & even by that oh so nebulous standard it’s not a ‘bad’ neighborhood. it’s full of kids riding bikes, neighbors yelling “HEY SARAH” (even though my name is not sarah), & people walking dogs. I run outside, I eat breakfast on the porch, I stay all night by myself sometimes. life is good.

sometimes there are flashing lights, but they never really bothered me until my car got broken into. it’s kind of unsettling to know that someone was going through everything in your car (which in my case included silly string, a bunch of construction paper, and a toothbrush… score).  after that happened I got a little more nervous at night time. a couple of weeks after, david came over one day & we walked to the park at dusk to throw the frisbee. I normally never walk around alone in the neighborhood after dark, but with david, it felt ok & “safe.” we threw the frisbee (I’m really bad) & eventually walked home. it was nice to be so comfortable.

but as I thought more about it, I was reminded that, although I should be careful & wise, I shouldn’t be fearful (even without david). david is a good boyfriend who loves & protects me. god is an even better father. I love psalm 4 so much & have dwelt on verse 7 since I moved into our house: “in peace I will both lie down & sleep, for you alone, yahweh, make me dwell in safety.” that’s what I whisper at night when I hear creepy noises, when I’m nervous to go grab something out of my car. & then, after frisbee in the park & my car break in, I tacked those words (pictured above) from a prayer book on my wall.

I’ve been reminded of all of that this month as the nation deals with what happened in connecticut.  as a human being, it was gut-wrenching. as an elementary school teacher, it’s been absolutely terrifying. all day on that friday I wanted to hug every single one of my babies so tight. I was so so thankful that they were ok.  but there’s all kind of guilt & fear mixed in– why the kids in connecticut and not our kids? & what if our kids are next?  this kind of evil is awful & the questions it raises are real. they shouldn’t be folded up quickly & quietly, tucked into the drawer of easy answers. the monday after we went back I could hardly think of anything else. all day was spent fighting hard to keep my mind on anything other than what if what if what if?

but that’s the thing about fear… if we allow it to gain a foothold, it will get deep in our souls & steal our joy. whether it’s being afraid to go to work every monday or being scared to go grab something out of my trunk after dinner, fear cripples & robs us of life. & that’s not good. that’s not what God intended. so I’m trying to spend more time playing at kindergarten recess & less time crying at my desk.

draw us into your love, Christ Jesus. & deliver us from fear. please.

p.s. here are some links I found interesting & helpful regarding sandy hook…
rachel held evans, ‘God can’t be kept out
obama’s statement gets me every time
challenging statistics about violence in chicago

tangles & time management


“ms. broom, how come your hair looks like that?”
“like what?”
“you know… like you didn’t brush it!”

it was a three day school week & I was thankful. it’s been full, full with work still… a bake sale for Make a Difference Day, grading 150 tests, professional development, painting a voting booth for election day… you know, elementary school teacher stuff.

but it was also full with non work things. watching the sandlot for the first time. seeing a sweet friend get married. homecoming festivities with the entire family! pizza + $5 movie sunday funday with hannah & wilson. & then thursday night was a birthday party for emily & brandon & derek. so many beautiful friends from college life… they stayed late, eating & tossing our globe around & talking about life outside of the bubble.

life is so very full. & I just wrote out this week’s schedule on our white board & it’s already crammed. sometimes I wish I could take a week long sabbatical. or quit something every thursday like bob goff does. but I’m trying to dig in deep & enjoy this season. thankful that, for the most part, the things that keep me busy are joyful & meaningful. here’s to finding that elusive balance between rest & productivity… because God is glorified through both.

october blues & gumball rings

it’s october. the new has worn off of school… for kids & teachers. people call this stage of disillusionment the october blues. & there have definitely been days these past few weeks where I’ve understood how that feels. in fact, the other day I was kind of a crabby teacher. kids were disrespectful & not paying attention. I was tired of their misbehavior & short tempered & things were just rough. I came home & I was reflecting on the day… on what I needed to do to make sure the next week was more positive. I thought through rewards & consequences & expectations & behavior reflection sheets & all manner of things that are good & practical & will probably improve my classroom.

as I was thinking, I realized… kids do everything big. that’s one reason they’re so often in trouble. they can’t just raise their hands… they wave them until they almost fall out of the chair. they can’t just be mildly disappointed… they’re utterly despondent. there’s not a lot of middle ground. they’re ecstatic or they’re furious. they are open & transparent & really, really loud. they love you or they can’t stand you. & my kids love me deeply. they show me they love me by hugging me with sticky syrup-y breakfast hands, by giving me a treasured rhinestone gumball machine ring or a pecan they found, by sharing their fruit snacks. & they tell me that they love me… they tell me with loud voices on the playground & whispers in the hallway (where they’re really not supposed to be talking but do you have any idea how hard it is to shush a kid who’s proclaiming their undying affection for you?).

children are also incredibly forgiving, always ready to start things over new. I am firm with my kids. when they can’t behave I correct them, I change their seats, I give recess detentions. but the other day, the same little boy who has a recess dention with me almost daily came up to me to tell me, “ms. broom, you’re my favorite teacher.” the kindergartener who I always have to get for talking in line greets me with a giant hug every morning. the very day after I was a crabby teacher with my 5th grade class they found out I was chaperoning their field trip & practically fainted from excitement. they keep no record of wrongs.

& so in the midst of my outlining & planning & making new rules &  reflection sheets, I concluded: one of the biggest things I can to do make my classroom more positive is be a little bit more like my kids… I need to deeply love every single one of them. & I need to be just as excited to see the kid who flipped me off yesterday as I am to see the straight A student. my kids might have a lot to learn about self control. but they have a lot to teach about genuine, ready forgiveness & deep, unconditional love. here’s to hoping I learn quickly. I’m pretty sure there might be a test coming up soon.

black & white

:: when it rains outside, we play chess at recess. the kids get super into it, too. that’s how IB schools roll.

:: went to hear some music on the porch at the cedars with jenna & patrick. it’s been a little cooler at night this week though… enjoying that bunches.

:: a little bit about the history behind this famous black power image at the 1968 olympics. interesting stuff.

:: for lunch the other day I brought little ziplock baggies of spinach, carrots, cherries, strawberries & almonds. I took my lunch out to the playground to eat… a little kid ran up to scope out my food, wrinkled his nose & said “ummm, ms. broom, is that what people would call a ‘healthy snack’?” why yes, yes it is.

:: excited about this 5k.

:: david & I both made chalkboards for our rooms… piece of plywood, can of chalkboard paint, presto. same result but a whole bunch cheaper. I would very much like a whole chalkboard wall but for now this will do just fine.

:: sometimes textbooks are silly.

:: this is my first real saturday as in after a full real-world work week. it’s been spent so far at the farmers market, making breakfast & helping emily figure out her new blog. weekends are good stuff.

a little bit of august

Untitled       Untitled

Untitled       Untitled

Untitled       & these are a few of my favorite things.

Untitled        king of the jungle.

sleepover with the dennis kids. david is home from alaska. trying to put my house back together (it’s going pretty slowly). beautiful little kiddos coming up to me in the hallway & shyly whispering ‘hola senorita.’ goodbye party for some of my favorite people at koinonia. oliver in town on the way to south korea! splitting cheesecake with helen. surprise dinner with mom & sister. secret trail adventures with david. lesson planning. labeling 287 popsicle sticks. nap time.

life is so full. I might be the teacher, but I have a lot to learn about margin & balance & what’s important. a lot to learn about trust & rest. thankful for the God who teaches… gently, faithfully, persistently.