Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Notes of a TFA-er: The Deep End

So the first two days of teaching reading and writing classes are over. I've been thrown into the proverbial deep end and I have survived! I am intact! My kids are full of 'tude but full of great ideas. They are awesome sixth graders. The first day was an out-of-body experience for sure. I forgot to look at my lesson plan the ENTIRE time I was teaching (oops). Good thing I spent 4 hours on it, right?! High five! Up top for the n00b teacher girl! There were some fabulous moments and then others where I obviously should have done things differently. But day two was already better than day one and it feels so great to put all this crazy knowledge I've been cramming in my head into real life practice. Here's a list of some things that went down:

1. Again, I've mentioned the TFA acronyms before. I'll teach you a new one, maybe the most important: CMA. Corps Member Advisor. I happen to have the best one ever. His name is James, and he works endlessly to help my team and I out. Each classroom of summer school is led by FOUR people - this is called your collaborative. I have three guys and myself in my collaborative running our classroom (which is working out really well but is new for me because I've never had a group project with more than one male...thanks Trinity Christian College English department) who James advises. He also oversees two other classrooms with similar setups, so he is THE go-to guy for TWELVE corps members in Chicago this summer. I've gotten e-mails from him at 2:05 AM and then the next day at 6:30 AM. Someone should knit him the softest blanket ever so he can go take a nap of epic proportions when this Institute madness is finished. One more reason why he is amazing: he asked for one of my favorite quotes the other day, and I told him the one in Alice and Wonderland where Alice takes control of her dream instead of putting up with what everybody else decides for her. For my first day he gave me a clipboard with my quote on the front and this was written on the back:

Just call me Anna in Wonderland
Honestly. I'm hard pressed to think of anything that would get me more stoked for my first day of teaching than comparing the achievement gap to the Jabberwocky. I now plan on slaying that thing pretty thoroughly thanks to this clipboard. 

2. So a few minutes into the first day, we were talking and one of my students goes...Miss Gesch you look like that chick from Scooby-Doo! And I'm all like "Oh my goodness, they think I'm Daphne. The gorgeous one. I'm awesome and totally rock this teacher outfit like a boss." Then I realized they didn't mean the hot one of the group. They meant Velma. VELMA. HONESTLY. The totally square, lame nerd who solves all the mysteries while the other people do stupid unhelpful things. (Sidenote: Does anyone find it funny how Fred always suggests that "the gang" split up? And by having "the gang" split up he really means he disappears with Daphne to who knows where? Yeah. Exactly what I thought.) But I mean I see where they're coming from with the nerdiness, the big glasses, and bangs. I have all three. So after the kid made the comment I turned to the student and said back, "Thanks! And you look like the dog from that show - how funny!" Just kidding I didn't say that. But needless to say I took off the glasses when I got home and changed into cuter clothes. I was pretty emotionally scarred and am currently nursing my ego in my room. I think I'll pull through.

Stop trying, Velma. Even this
provocative pose is doing nothing for
those man shoulders of yours. 
3. My co-teacher (he's teaching in Milwaukee this school year) and I are in charge of Reading and Writing instruction which lasts all morning. Today he pulled a classic move and intercepted a note that two kids were passing. We were fairly excited about it and felt like he was a rockstar for being that perceptive. (It's the little things, people.)

We know the male culprit, but we are still doing serious Nancy Drew background work to figure out who the girl is. I may or may not be cross examining handwriting in their worksheets tomorrow to crack the case. This is a true note. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Boy: Why not he like you!
Girl: I nooooo already.
Boy: Then go with him please.
Girl: Why you so worried.
Boy: Cause he keep bothering me. 
Girl: Ummm ask me again tomorrow kk.

So from this I can deduce that the boy is doing some SERIOUS wingman work for his fellow sixth-grade bro by talking to a girl who he likes. The girl already "nooooooo's" that the other guy likes her and is sick of being bothered, yet curiously asks to be bothered yet again tomorrow to bring up the same nagging subject that she claims to resent. Interesting. Adventures in the Psyche of a Sixth Grader will continue tomorrow. Should be fascinating.

So there you have it. A great leader, a great team, a blow to my ego, and some sixth grade drama to spice it up just a tad. I'd say it's been a good two days. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Get Back

Yep, the title is supposed to cue this song to start playing in your head. Sometimes I feel like I'm hurling through a weird time warp in this Teach For America world. They speak their own language, there's a certain type of people here (no worries - it's a good type!), and there surely is a new culture to learn being a corps member in this organization. Just somewhat of a cultural shock. That's why when Karley had us over on Friday it was like one massive exhaled breath for me. Just some of my Trinity friends, grilling out and sitting around a fire as we caught up and hung out. Sometimes you just need to get back where you belong for a hot second for a little perspective.

Now I'm back in my dorm at IIT, and I'm nervously touching up lesson plans that will be delivered TOMORROW to REAL LIVE SIXTH GRADERS in REAL LIVE SUMMER SCHOOL. The first day. As of now I'm not sure if this lesson is going to take twice the allotted time that I have (I'm always one to write and talk too much) or if it's going to finish in ten minutes and the students and I will stare awkwardly at one another for the remainder of class until someone starts a food fight or running with scissors or other mass chaos that I won't know how to handle. Hopefully it's somewhere in the middle. I'll let you know if I come out on the other side alive and well. Woohoo!

Monday, June 18, 2012


So today we started Institute! Ow oww! There was a LOT of information, a LOT of acronyms, and a LOT of sweating. Oh my goodness people I can't even begin to think how much that sweat will exponentially increase when I'm in a non-air-conditioned CPS classroom whilst nervously teaching reading and writing to sixth graders. But in case you needed a good laugh today, here's a story that should make you happy. Or at least feel good about yourself that you're a more competent human being than Anna Gesch. I live to please.

Backstory: We had sessions today from very early on with no real breaks. My bus left at 7:00, I woke up at 5:15, and I kind of ran around all morning until I got on the bus. Forgot to pee. Seems like a minor detail, but it isn't. It's important. I figured, "Meh, I'll just go sometime at the school site where we are getting trained." Dumb George Michael! (Arrested Development reference yet again.)

Real story: I'm all decked out in my "professional dress" (AKA a t-shirt tucked into a black skirt), and listening intently through all the session lessons for the morning. We talked about the racial landscape of Chicago, discussed who we are and why we are here as corps members, and learned about the TFA staff who is training us. We broke into teams of four that will be leading a classroom for summer school (I and another guy are teaching the language arts portion of our classroom! High five for avoiding the math content!). So basically, a lot of stuff was going on. We're about three hours into the day when we finally took a five minute break. All of a sudden, I realized...I am going to pee my pants if I don't haul potatoes over to the bathroom. So I awkwardly walk like a hunchback out of the room for the break and look for the bathroom. I follow a chick down a hallway who looks like she knows what she's doing (she was wearing a blazer after all) and hop into a bathroom and then a stall and successfully avoid peeing myself. Good work Anna, gold star for you. I'm about to leave the stall when I hear someone whistling outside of my stall. Then I obviously hear that the person is peeing. But the person never went into a stall. This perplexed me. I had a real moment where I considered the possibility of someone peeing in the sink for some reason. Why would they do that, I thought...that is GROSS. Then I realized they were not in fact peeing in the sink, but peeing in the urinal. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I, a college graduate, did not realize I was using the Men's Bathroom. So here I am locked inside of the stall with a guy whistling outside as he takes his sweet time on his pee break. I knew I had to act fast. I couldn't be THAT KID who peed in the Men's Bathroom, right? Plus if I didn't make a run for it, it was only a matter of time before my purple flats peeking below the stall would give me away. So I unlatched the lock, silently made a dash at the speed of light past the unsuspecting urinator who was whistling away at the wall, and caught my breath behind the door. I then went all James Bond on the place and snuck around two more doors and corners before naturally pacing myself into the hallway and back in the room. 

Moral of the story: Don't wait to pee. You will regret it. Lesson learned. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shower Power

I just returned from a stellar Chicago Fire game in which we dominated the New York Red Bulls 3-1! (TOTALLY should've been 4-1, but they took away what should have been a goal on a bogus line judge's call. But that's neither here nor there.) I went with my TTL (Transition Team Leader; basically, a glorified buddy who is a year into TFA and helps you along with transitioning into this craziness) and two other teachers from her school. They were an absolute riot and were completely generous with accepting me and being their hilarious selves and made me feel cool and all that stuff. Yesterday was a busy day for the Van Drunen (my mother's) side of the family, as we had a golf outing (I don't golf; I babysit) all day and then finished out with a wedding shower for two of the grandkids who are getting married (my brother Alex is one of them). We had a REAL LIVE WORKING Family Feud setup with buzzers and a screen and survey answers and everything as a game for everyone to play. The Gesch family is a little too competitive so we had a pretty great time with it. It was a whirlwind of a day, but a much needed little break from the world of Teach For America. Tomorrow morning I head off at 7:00 on a bus for my school, where I'll be teaching 6th grade summer school starting next Monday. Say whaat?!

Peeps, it's about to get REAL. 

The crowds admiring the present opening
My mom and Xander 
Soyjoy and (a very sweaty) me
Me, Karley, and Liz

The Gesches getting psyched for Family Feud

My grandparents: the people who get credit for starting this crazy family

Heidi and Alex admiring their new gifts

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why Sarcasm Doesn't Work For Friendly Introductions

This is a real convo that happened to me this morning:

Him: Hi, I'm Mike.
Me: I'm Anna.
Him: Camina?
Me: No, but that's my Spanish name.
Him: Really?
Me: No.

I've learned my lesson. Note to self: No more sarcasm til they get to know you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Notes of a TFA-er: Induction

HOLY CANNOLI. It's only been about 36 hours of my Teach For America Induction and it feels like its been a month. I moved into the Illinois Institute of Technology along with a portion of my stuff. Remember the freshly cleaned room? It was so helpful for a quick packing experience! (Note to self: Clean your room more often.) So far my roommate is really chill, I've met a million new people, but I've learned quite a few things as well. Here's a list of stuff I've learned already as a student of the Teach For America experience. And here I thought I was going to be a teacher. Induction is Orientation, so here's what it's taught me so far.

#1. TFA knows how to rope me in. They put Sonic the Hedgehog on my door nametag and brought me back to my days of playing SEGA Genesis with my brothers.

#2. Hauling a carload of your possessions up four floors of stairs by yourself in a building with no elevator is not all that pleasant. 

#3. Running along the lake just after sunrise is a gorgeous sight in Chicago. 

#4. TFA likes to have acronyms. Already I've heard: MTLD, ED, TTL, CM, CS, and others. Betcha they don't know this acronym: LSHMSFOAIDMT. (Laughing so hard my sombrero falls off and I drop my taco.)

#5. There is DEFINITELY a Teach For America "lingo." When someone starts saying "setting students on a different trajectory," "model of teaching as leadership," or "assimilating into the community," then you know they are drinking the kool-aid. I've heard all of these phrases and others more than I can even count already. I'll have to make a TFA jargon list so newbies next year are ready. 

#6. I was spoiled rotten with my dorms at Trinity. Community bathrooms? Tiny outdated rooms? No elevators? Say whaaa? (but f'real, it's not bad, just no Alumni Hall, that's all.)

#7. I need to buy snacks and candy, STAT. Sitting in this room between meals is making me think of the Hunger Games, going full-out Katniss on this campus, and shooting a squirrel for extra sustenance. 

#8. I'm actually not as crazily extroverted as I thought I was. Not compared to these people. Holy crap. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm almost tired of talking. After introducing myself, repeating that yes, it's true, my hometown has less than 2,000 people, and explaining that yes, it's true, Trinity Christian College does exist, about 465,212,392 times today, I'm ready to just read a book or stare at a wall with no interaction. I can't even believe this is a feeling I am really feeling. Too many people? Too much talking? Anna Gesch? Yes, even I have limits. 

#9. I missed the whole "join a sorority" memo. Errybody up in hurr is in Greek Life. I figure I have my own life, I don't need the Greeks to find friends for me, right? 

#10. This is going to be a funky adventure. The atmosphere is almost electric sometimes...you get this idea that you can actually impact the world in some small yet important way. It gives me the chills sometimes when we all get together and talk about the possibilities. 

#11. Always pack duct tape whenever you go anywhere. It's just something you should do. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Saddle Up

These past three days have sort of been surreal, because this big date, JUNE 13, has been looming for awhile. Today was wonderful. Full of Karley, Liz, IKEA, shopping, food, and Rudi's house. The top picture is very appropriate to my potential living situation (which should hopefully be finalized soon!), the middle picture is a great IKEA bathroom and kitchen (500 days of summer, anyone?), and the bottom picture is where we got our [delicious] lunch.  

Tomorrow I move into the Illinois Institute of Technology (ahh!) and start my crazy adventure with Teach For America. (again...AHH!!) I am scared, excited, nervous, curious, and overwhelmed all at once. I have five weeks of intense training, two weeks of professional development through my school, and the first day of school in the first few days of August. Since I'm prone to feeling sheepish before I take a big step like this, I've looked up what important people have to say about courage and manning up

Quotes on being courageous always should start with our friend Winston Churchill:
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts."

Then we go to my friend ee cummings for his offbeat and original insights: 
"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."

Then when we need to just dive right in, John Wayne is great for that extra shove: 
"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." 

It's time to be courageous, it's time to grow up, and it's time to saddle up! The adventure begins. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Story Time

The following is an entry I wrote for my required pre-work for Teach For America. We were asked to write a "Story of Self" which highlights some of who we are, what we care about, and what motivates us. I believe we are sharing them in orientation groups if I'm not mistaken. This is what I came up with. I've written about these topics before, so sorry if it is redundant and you already know this about me. Either way, I've decided I want to hear a Story of Self from every person I meet. How cool would that be? 


Hmm. When asked to write a Story of Self (after considering plagiarizing Wordsworth’s “Song of Myself” as a cop out) I have conflicting feelings. First, I feel insignificant. What experiences, struggles, or joys of mine could possibly be worth writing as a story? I’m not important enough for that. And then, I feel overwhelmed. How can I put in a short little segment the wholeness and complexity of who I am? My self? I have a sudden anxiety that I will not communicate effectively; I have a panic that I’ll botch it big time. Alas, such is the annoying, overwrought, angsty. melodramatic burden of every English major like myself. At this point I say: “Anna, get over it. You are worthwhile, you know it, and everyone can learn something from everyone.” Everybody has a story worth sharing.

So I think we’ll start in Spain. I always start in Spain for this stuff. I lived in Sevilla for four months of 2011. I went completely alone, with zero Spanish-speaking ability.  I lived with a (wonderful) woman of zero English-speaking ability. The first two weeks in my city were terrible. I was used to having it all together. I was used to being popular. I was used to having fun. I was used to being and feeling smart. Well, here I was with no friends, no way to communicate, and the constant sense that I was incompetent. To give you an idea of my slow progress, in the first month I told my SeƱora three times that I was pregnant. (That was not true, just a vocab mishap. Although I did gain weight while abroad. But that will have to be in another Story of Self for another day.) While my faith is usually strong and sustains me through stuff like this (later I saw how it did too in this situation), I just felt completely alone. I thought, what am I doing here? Why did I come here? Nobody likes me. I can’t learn Spanish. I can’t make friends. I can’t learn this culture.

And then the third Wednesday of the semester happened. I actually made plans to meet up with two friends during siesta and chit chat over churros. My crazy blonde acquaintance named Ashley became my crazy blonde friend named Ashley. The quiet chick from Montana that I sat next to in the Madrid airport became my friend Nicole. The long list of my Spain friends was started. That night, we got tapas with a group of ten others. I loved the food. I loved the people. Wait, is this the culture that I said I couldn’t learn to live within? Oops. I was wrong.

I was so wrong.

Maybe that’s where my Story of Self should take off. While I tend toward hopeless optimism, I usually give myself a much tougher critical eye. I can remember those times when I thought: I can’t do this. I’m inadequate. Every time I say something defeatist like that, my Story of Self has proven to me that I am so wrong. I can do it. I am able. I am smart. I do have value to offer to this world.

Those four months were some of the best of my life. I made a whole unruly hoard of friends. Sleep took a backseat as I went dancing, ate out, actually spoke Spanish, grew in my confidence, broadened my horizons, strengthened my faith and spiritual walk, and saw the world with new eyes.

Fast-forward. Here I am, back in the Midwest. The sangria isn’t quite as magical and I don’t walk home on cobblestone streets anymore. My senior year of college was spent back in English classes, delving into linguistics and literature. I read more Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the first semester back than should be allowed. While I loved my time in Spain, I missed those English classes for that semester. Why? Because I love a good story. English majors, in my opinion, get the best deal in college. We get to engage in what makes human beings what and who they are. We get to read, think, and talk about worldviews that shape human history. The main thing we get to do is to learn to love people and to love their stories. How is that even fair? How do I even get a degree for something as fun as that? (Maybe I should shut up on this point; my degree is still coming in the mail from Trinity.)

So this Story of Self is not really a story, but more like a snapshot I suppose. But my story is still being written. I want it to be full of pages when I find people who are saying and believing: “I can’t do it, “ and “I’m stupid,” and “I’m not important.” And I want this Story of Self to be full of pages when I run up to those people and say: “You are so wrong! You are smart. And you definitely are important." 

Because everybody has a story worth sharing.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sugar Rush

Last night, two things happened. First, my sweet tooth just wouldn't shut up. This is one of my life struggles. I love candy so much. Fun Dip, Nerds, Air Heads, Giant Sweettarts, Mini Sweettarts, you name it. The more sugar the better. Second, while meandering around the kitchen, I made a discovery:

So I found my solution. Perf. I decided to go on a cupcake spree and help make a dent in our overabundance of baking supplies. A win-win, if you will. I'm somewhat of a frosting connoisseur myself (remember the sugar addiction) and happen to believe in maintaining a high level of frosting integrity. I love frosting out of the can just as much as the next guy, believe me. This school year, Karley would leave me the leftovers from the frosting can after she was finished. I've realized that frosting is one of my love languages. But when I make a cake or cupcakes, I like to go old school: Betty Crocker. While this cookbook was published in the days of June Cleaver, it has done wonders for the world of frosting with such a simple yet perfect frosting recipe. Don't let those crazy feminists ever tell you that Betty Crocker was bad for womankind. I'm adding the recipe for you here. My one insider's tip in making this frosting for yourself is to add more milk than the recipe requires. First make it according to the book, then add milk until you get your own preference for consistency. I made 24 cupcakes and had a lot of frosting left over. The finished product is so sugary and delish, you'll never want to eat a whip-cream-esque-knockoff-awful-variety-that-comes-on-those-store-bought-cakes ever again.

I happen to believe that the best kind of cupcakes are chocolate cake on the bottom (devil's food, in this instance) with this vanilla frosting on top. I wanted to spice up my Thursday night so I raided the cabinets and found a bunch of food coloring. Yellow seemed sunshiney and appropriate, so I went with that. I'm also a big advocate of the KitchenAid mixer. My mom has had that thing for years and it is so great. Too many times when I'm in charge of the stirring, you'll bite into a huge chunk of butter that I didn't mix in all the way. It's easier and makes great batter. 

I'm actually proud of the minimal drips on those muffin pans. Usually I'm so messy I may as well just have dumped the entire bowl of batter over the cupcake papers and hoped for the best. Below you'll find pictures of the finished product, which I'm bringing over to my grandpa's after lunch today as a continuation of his birthday week celebration. Remember how I said there was leftover frosting? There isn't leftover frosting anymore. I'll say that much. I also should probably eat about seventeen whole cauliflowers today to counteract the damage I've done to my general health and nutritional balance. Worth it. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Sometimes with studying and e-mailing all day for Teach For America stuff, I feel like I don't make much tangible progress. I know I'm technically making progress on the time I'm supposed to be putting into the prep work, but still. So I've been making lists on my phone purely so I can cross stuff off of it. One longstanding item on the list has been to work on organizing my clothes and bedroom. To give you an idea of the chaos, here is a before picture....

And an after picture...

Dude, working through that mess felt like I was machete-ing (just made a verb I think) my way through the Amazon rainforest. I even killed a deadly jungle spider today that was crawling on my ceiling. I also vacuumed my room for the first time in far too long. It's just that you couldn't see the floor before, you know? But now it's got those fresh vacuum lines that we all love. I obviously had to clear more junk out of there to even see the floor. Have you ever counted how many t-shirts you have? After four years of high school, four years of college, and playing on sports and intramural teams the whole way, you pick up truckloads of t-shirts. I got rid of over fifty of them and still have piles left! So needless to say there's a fairly large donation headed its way to the local thrift store...

Being in my room at my parents' house when I can actually see the room is kind of cool. We moved here before my freshman year of high school and I got to choose the paint colors. OBVIOUSLY 14-year-old-Anna chose orange AND yellow, and my 15-year-old dear friend Clara came over to help me paint. I covered the walls in VanGogh prints and others that I liked, including this one...

I think I just really fancied the idea of strolling through London in the rain in 1890. Or something. I don't know, but it's a goodie that I've always loved. As a trophy for this huge room accomplishment, I've rewarded myself with having this movie on while I work on my TFA homework...

While now I will always check for a colonial woman dressed in traditional garb churning butter on the wing of every plane I board after watching this movie, I love it. Making progress is a beautiful thing. 

Monday, June 4, 2012


Yes, you Amanda Bynes fans...that was a quote from She's the Man! It's been too long since I've seen that movie. That is going back on the list.

Well today I learned a lot, particularly more appreciation for those two older brothers of mine. Today was QUITE THE DAY. I slept over at Rudi's house (Chicago area) and had planned to be back home before lunch so I could spend the day studying. Great plans right? Right! High five Anna! Well, then this happened.

I was all packed up after breakfast, off crusin' along in Remy the WonderBug, basking in the superior German engineering that accompanies the VW brand, and all of a sudden something was weird. The usual smooth driving felt a little floppy. And then I turned a corner, only to hear the FLAPFLAPFLAP of a flat tire hitting the pavement. I yelled "OH CRAP" to nobody in particular and threw on the hazards. Yep. This is the sight that met me. So my original plans for today went awry (cue the quote of plans and mice and men) and I had to move forward and deal with this. And by deal with this I mean stand watch while others deal with it. And by others I mean my brother.

After going 2 miles per hour to retrace my path back to Rudi and Steph's house, Stephanie and I called Rudi to come save us damsels in distress. Big brothers can come in handy. He changed that tire like a boss and I drove back to Wisconsin, 2 hours later than expected. I then drove to a shop near my house and they took care of the replacement. Finally, by 4:00, I was home in time to run, shower, eat, and head to a very special event. This is where the day took a drastic turn for the AWESOMER.

The whole family headed over to my Grandpa's house for his birthday party. The guy is awesome. He turned 89 today. This milestone, paired with family togetherness (always new babies of my cousins to oogle at), and cake made my day into a huge plus. 

Before we left I got a photo op with the birthday boy himself. (I love his napoleonic hand gesture.) We got home and I settled in my spot on the couch to catch up on reality television with my parents, and just when I thought the day couldn't end on a better note, I was reminded yet again how big brothers can come in handy. Lookie here, Alex went ahead and made frozen margaritas! My fave! Sugar on the rim, of course. Just add chips and salsa from Chili's, and you have my favorite meal. Yes, chips and margaritas create a complete meal. 

So while today veered drastically from my original plans, it was full of brothers, birthdays, and learning the definition of lug nut. I'll drink to that. Cheers!