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Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Circle of Life: Why I teach

It's amazing how one person can affect the lives of millions. We've seen it countless times but in today's society I have to be honest and say not enough! How does it start and who does it begin with? For me it starts with God. I could have said parents, but who gave them inspiration to have me?  Hopefully not the music that was playing in the background :-). Either way I'm what you call a testimony. Not the one that is given in a court to determine the fate of someone else's life but the one which inspires a new life within someone else.

The Real Testimony
My daughter Nyla at my Master Degree ceremony
The Court Testimony
Credit: abcnews
My childhood wasn't horrible and it sure wasn't full of glitz and glam either. I have my share of stories that make me laugh, brings a smile to my face and has me wanting to get in a time machine just to have that moment again. On the other hand, I have moments I refuse to relive and ultimately wouldn't want my worst enemy to experience. As a result of both I am today the person who I've never imagined and the scary yet exciting part of that person is she HAS YET to evolve into her completion.

Who I was at a younger age, definitely comes out in my classroom while teaching. This is an advantage I have with my students in which majority of the teachers in my building and truthfully my network or district never will share with my children. It's not that type of advantage that I want to use to better my position but it is the one I ALWAYS use when I feel defeated in a classroom that to the world outside feels to believe nothing is possible. The moment I want to give up on "JR" I remember that I too behaved that way in school just because there was no other way to express my feelings. I understand that "L" isn't ignoring me because she doesn't like me or the content, yet she is in deep thought about how she seriously can she apply what I'm saying to her life now and whatever it will be in the future based solely on what she cannot see. I know how it feels to be in a public school building, that's not funded to complete 98% of tasks yet is expected to do as well as the building in which has billions of reasons to outperform my school because that's just the way it is.

My students during testing time. 
Despite the negative I have to give the joy to what I not only have accomplished but what many more before me and after will continue to achieve. In my short months of teaching in a turnaround this year, I've helped "CJ" who was sent home everyday last year and put on many counselors list for appointments become a student who loves school, enjoys reading and always replies yes instead of yeah or aight to every question. When the counselor comes to pick him up he explains that in the classroom with me teaching will better help him than the strategies he would get if he's pulled out.
My 8th grade teacher

Then there's "TY" who has never spoken to any student because of being bullied, now has taken up for herself but also her peers. Then there's "DK" who has experienced everyone telling him that he was smart just because he could do more than the students in his room, yet now that I've exposed him to his competition outside of the building and outside of the world and instead of feeling incompetent sent me a message through his work that read, "this test is hard Ms. McMillion but I'm going to keep trying". These are the people I live for, this is the work I choose to do. It can be demanding, overbearing, expensive, emotional and down right IMPOSSIBLE at times but I'm confident that the changes I make in my classroom will give my babies the drive they will use to improve their own lives for tomorrow.

I'm trying to give the love that was given to me in the classroom, that has made this change possible. Having the chance to say thank you to my teacher last night at a music concert, made these emotions resurface and at a well needed time of the year for myself and my students.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Time Waits for No One

Wow, I can't believe I haven't even made a post since prior to the beginning of the school year. Well honestly, I can believe it. This school year has been challenging, yet rewarding. Life for me has come full circle in this field of education. I graduated from one of the first turnaround schools in my network during it's first year of turnaround, I trained as a resident in my network and now I teach in a first year turnaround for that very same network. It all has increased my capacity professionally and personally. There are many places that I can start but I'll choose to explore it in depth yet brief. Let's see what I can do!

I began the year teaching reading to 4th grade. Due to an unexpected high enrollment in 3rd grade I was tasked with taking some third graders in my homeroom. This has me teaching 4th grade and 3rd all in the same room. In the afternoon I have another set of 4th graders who honestly I can say are a gift from Father God himself. To the average person you may be thinking, ok no big deal. To any teacher and administrator in education YOU KNOW WHY I HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO BLOG! Let's say it is more than a challenge. Here's my analogy:

You weigh 750 pounds. Your doctor advised you that you must lose 100 pounds in 20 days to live. What do you do? Of course you begin to change your lifestyle from eating to exercise. During these 20 days you have 4 snowed in days (no healthy foods in your home and you can't get out of the door), Thanksgiving happens, 10 dinner dates occur, in addition to all the family in your home (who are also overweight) eat whatever they want. You realize you are fighting for your life and decide that you must keep a clear mind and stay focused. The only way I know how to do that is PRAYING ALL DAY NON-STOP! (haha, ok so this analogy was drastic but bottom line: its hard teaching 3rd and 4th grade in the same classroom in which their reading levels start at kindergarten to 8th grade)

On the up side of life. I TOTALLY LOVE my colleagues and administration. There isn't a day that goes by I can't get a good laugh. My floor of teachers have the best personalities and they make sure we all feel some sort of happiness during the day. It makes the challenging days better. I have the best instructional coach in the network who helps me plan and push my students academically.


Last but not least my wonderful BABIES!!!! (or what regular people call students) I'm a parent who spends 98% of my day educating my children to know both common core standards and the social standards they will need to survive in the world. The other 5% I maintain the politically correct teacher who enforces all the mandates and requirements from a policy that doesn't fund or know anything about my babies. I make sure my babies know that they are in my home when they enter the building. I'm responsible for them and together we work towards the goal of making them better. In the beginning of the year there were clear distinctions between what my babies expected from last year and the force I would bring in this new school year. We have grown to love and know one another to the point it's scary that in a few months they possibly will part from me!

If there's one thing I could leave with you about the time I've spent this school year in a first year turnaround public school in the city of Chicago on the westside would be........ Even in times of desperation there is always time for education! Until next time America (or until the time I can breathe again).

Monday, August 4, 2014

Remain Optimistic, Pray, or Follow the Flow?

It's that time of the year, well more like the beginning of the year for me. I say this will all enthusiam! For the past week I have been attending summer academy with all new staff and leadership for my network. It consists of a 3 week training to help us prepare for the turnaround setting that we are entering. So what's with the title of this post then? Well I'm trying to decide after I've experienced only a small taste of what's to come should I:

1. Take the advice of my best friend and become optimistic about all things in life (including taking the challenge of turning around a failing public school). 

2. Follow my Christian faith and just pray on it.


3. Follow the flow of whatever happens. 

Knowing myself I will probably:
The wall in my bedroom
Well as good as it looks and sounds, I would say I won't worry but I sure will remain inquisitive. WHY? After spending a year in the residency program developing my practice and striving to be more than a basic teacher, the time has come to show what I know. During week one of summer academy as a new school the staff and administration worked towards building the mission and vision for our building, participated in a first day of school simulation (if our first day occurs that smoothly my prayers will be answered), planned with grade level teams for rules, and really began to build relationships with all my new colleagues. I know it sounds like the week was filled with a lot but what I didn't expect was the enourmous minimal amount of time that we actually received to plan as a team for the upcoming school year. We attended workshops that reviewed more of what our residency year was like (yay-----NOT!). I could complain about that all day but instead during my evening hours I planned and incorporated some of the ideas I witnessed within summer academy.

My favorite part of week 1 occurred on Friday (no I didn't run home to the wine), when our school completed a community walk to learn about the area and promote our back to school BBQ. Meeting members of the community and seeing so many excited children in the neighborhood was awesome. It helped me to put a face on the students that will be in my 4th grade English Language Arts classroom.

More exciting I was able to go and see my new home away from home: ROOM 208!

This was the only thing left behind in the empty room. I'm sure it's a message to me so I'm keeping it.
 Sure it looks shabby, cold, and unwelcoming. HOWEVER and WITHOUT A DOUBT IN MY MIND,  I'm confident that before my babies enter that room on September 2 it will be the most vibrant space that any child would love to learn in! In the meantime, I'm still completing shopping low bargain hunting and making the most of my time with my family.
Celebrated my cousin going to college Jackson State University!
My older siblings. 

As week 2 begins tomorrow--well since its 12am, more like today. I plan to continue reading my personal selection for preparing to go back to work Young, Gifted and Black: Promoting High Achievement amongst African American Students (Buy it Here). I also can't wait to take in all I can on this weeks' topic (Data: Knowing Your Students). I have become a data craving machine and as a network we will become trained on The Achievement Network (Learn more here).

Leave a comment! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Teachers Hate Having the Summer Off

What a crazy few weeks I have experienced with my new position (well technically I'm still not placed in the position). The HR process for my network and entire district has been chaotic. I won’t bore you with the specific details but I can give you a brief overview. My colleagues and all new resident teachers have to attend mandatory 3-week summer training (yes, cutting into our already long and exciting summer- NOT!). As we began to complete all the HR steps to becoming employed for the summer training positions, the main system rejected all our information and we had to reapply to the positions. Let me explain this way, WE ALL STILL DON’T HAVE A JOB! We must report to work Monday, so I’m sure between today and tomorrow (and maybe even Monday) everything will be taken care of. The best thing about the training is that I get to see many of my cohort members who I missed more than anything! It may be the last time we all our in the same building together.
Cohort 009

Besides that craziness I’ve been really enjoying the summer. My daughter (Nyla) has started 1st grade and she has a fantastic teacher. He (yes, she has the blessing of a male teacher) is very structured and organized. His lessons are challenging for her and allow her to remain focused during the school day (8am-5pm). She’ll be completing her second week of 1st grade tomorrow and I can say I’m proud of her efforts and growth in such a short time span. Weekends have been full of fun outings and silly playtime.


Doing Homework 

Nyla playing after school

Snack before school

The most exciting part about this short summer (that I’m in a love hate relationship with) is planning and shopping for the new classroom. The love comes in the form of bringing all my new ideas and dreams together. The hate is the cost of items, considering teachers don’t get a paycheck over the summer the race to get the best for less is on. I have to say though I’m blessed to have an awesome friend who has been supporting my dreams and completing DIY projects for my new group of kiddos. I have also received donation from many friends, family members and strangers! As the summer comes to an end for me I’m excited to begin planning for my new school with the entire staff beginning on Monday. Look out for all the updates about how we are preparing for a turnaround school!

Using this gem during Small Group time

Beginning of storage Ottomans
Library Bins with Cute Pillow

Monday, June 30, 2014

Not a Real Job: Just Dreams

Well where I can begin? I guess I'll start with a little of my background and what has inspired me to begin life in the blogging world. My name is Laquita McMillion, I'm a mother of one, daughter, sister, aunt, and outstanding friend (if you ask me). And of course, from the title of this blog you don't have to guess that my profession is TEACHING!
Nyla (my daughter) and I
I love my career and it has been my first (but definitely not my last) passion that I've begun to conquer. I teach within the Chicago area and as of today, because they "say" teachers have the summer off, I’m only preparing for the job. I'm in the process of laying out all the dreams that wake me up at 3am. My position this Fall is what has led me to begin a blog. I will be teaching in a turnaround school. This is a school that has been deemed by the board of education (or whoever makes the rules for public schools in my city) to be failing. My network transforms the school beginning with a renovated building, new leadership, new teachers and staff BUT the same students.
My Family (sister and 3 nieces)
Master's degree graduation

I was apart of the trained teachers within the process through a residency model. I've successfully completed one year in a classroom gaining support and developing my practice by having a mentor, coach, and a co-resident. Oh and the best part of it all was being about to attend graduate school at the same time to receive my Master's degree in Urban Education.

My Father and Sister
So that's enough about me, lets get to what I'm trying to accomplish by having a blog. The reality of my career is that nearly half of all schoolteachers burnout within the first 5 years (don't take my word for it check out the research articles). In my unique experience of being a turnaround teacher the burnout increases from half to over 90%. I plan to use this blog as my track record, to document my experience as a new turnaround teacher and hopefully help the next teacher in his or her own experiences. Stay tune for the ride because I'm sure it will be an interesting transformation.

To begin my challenge, we were allowed in our future building to complete tagging (identifying items that will stay or leave after renovation). Below are some of the pictures I was able to capture ;-)

Here's how I'm raising money to build my new classroom ;-)