Sunday, September 28, 2014

Inclusion Teacher

Two days after I began teaching an inclusion class for the first time, the World Trade Towers fell. 

We had a west facing classroom.  We could see the plumes of smoke from the window, We pulled the shades.  We assured the students the world would not end that day, and they're parents would be there when they returned home,  but when they left for lunch, we hugged each other after each desperate phone call to our own loved ones ended with good news. We had known each other for two days.


  I worked in an elementary school then, in a district (when they existed) that was pretty progressive.  Although it was part of the New York School City System, because geographic districts operated independently in those days, the leadership of that district often tried out new trends earlier than other places in NYC.  Mayoral control put an end to that

I’ve had a long history with inclusion, the practice of mixing general education students with students with IEPs in the same class .  A friend looked at the explanation, when we first learned about it and predicted we would end our  careers as overpaid teacher assistants. When I began as an inclusion teacher, our district put much thought into how the program would work, how would the teachers be trained, how would the physical space be arranged, how would the parents be informed.  Teachers were interviewed to make sure they’re styles and personalities were compatible.  Co-teaching is like a marriage, we were told, my brand new co-teacher leaned close, and said, “I’m divorced.”

But we were a good marriage, the class worked.  All the students in the class, those with IEPs and those without met standards and were promoted.  The reviewers (they've had so many names and incarnations since that time) said it was the only classroom where they saw adequate differentiated instruction.  We worked so well as a team that we were immediately were broken up for the next year. And although Integrated Co-teaching is now widespread throughout the City schools, I’ve never again had an inclusion class where any  any pre-thought or consideration went into how it would work.

I have had a series of co-teachers that were weak. One, riddled by constant pain which she treated with a series of prescription medicines,  often told the students things like, the Ancient Egyptians had electricity in the pyramids, (she saw that on the Discovery Channel) and Rodin was Renaissance artist (she knew that for a fact and the World Book Encyclopedia must have put a typo in for his birth date).  Sadly, the year after I left the school she walked in front of a car during  a preparation period and was killed. No teacher evaluation program needed, the Darwin Awards sufficed.

That was possibly the nadir in my co-teaching career.

Possibly- last year I had a teacher I called an asshole to his face. Luckily I waited a few nano-seconds after the students left.  It was a Friday afternoon and I was able to storm out right after.

And with all this wonderful  experience, Monday I was sent to a workshop on teaching inclusion classes.

As soon as I beat down the bad attitude demon on my shoulder –it was useful, and when the presenter announced at the end of the day that he would observe us the following morning, I snapped into action and rewrote the lesson plan to match some of the techniques he preached.  The sad thing is that I agreed with him, we can co teach far better than we do.  But in a school based on traditional instruction, where each methodology is broken into 22 distinct, measurable skills, and evaluations are linked to exams that appear way beyond the capacity of our learners, who wants to try anything new?

Although, I had planned the day carefully to make a quick exit at the bell, I stayed late to create a new lesson, immediately deleting the Smart Notebook file and keeping friends from Texas waiting for me at restaurant for over a half hour.

I rewrote the Smart Notebook presentation after dinner, (evidence for sure that some learners, must have a quiet space to be successful), went over the course of the lesson with my co-teacher during our usual co-planning time, the car ride to school.  (Thank you traffic on the Grand Central Service road, we worked out who would teach what,  while we waited three lights to get past the traffic light on Parsons).   And taught our lesson.

The observer liked it.  We didn't quite have enough time to have the students work in groups enough to master the concept, but he didn't come back the next day to notice.


My co-teacher did.  She went back to traditional teaching.  I walked around helping people, feeling like a tremendously overpaid teacher assistant.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

If Teacherfish's School Were a Village






Kliptown Youth Program.  A program in the Soweto Township of Johannesburg, For the people in the " global village" who have no access to computers in their homes, let alone flush toilets.  Anyone interested in learning more should contact: http://www.kliptownyouthprogram.org.za/contact





Winnie was not happy. She had her head on the desk and what my mother would have called, a ferkrimpt punim  (literally a pinched face- but sour puss is the best idiomatic translation). It didn't help the matter that the temperature in the room was approaching 90 degrees.

 I have a lesson plan and a Smart Notebook file, for the lesson if anyone wants it just leave a comment and a way I can get it to you.


"This is not math.  We are supposed to be doing math."  I have taught Winnie before, she is hard working, self-advocating, not unintelligent, and her IEP lists her as being on the Asperger's Spectrum.  My co-teacher last year hated that, he thought her too weird.   I wasn't so fond of my co-teacher, I thought him too mean. Winnie has a structure in her brain about a math class, and the fact that we were not solving for x, was very uncomfortable. Understanding, experienced, special educator that I am, I told her to pick her head up, and get over herself.  Hey- it was 90 degrees in that room.  What I didn't tell her was they were making us do a multi -cultural lesson. 

I thought it was math- just not exactly the kind we are used to teaching. Our struggling large city high school took another punch to the gut (sorry- I've been watching a Houdini miniseries this weekend).  Our graduation rate fell almost to the 50% mark.

Because I read the local education news website, I found out the following.  I will quote from an article, since I might never get it right otherwise.  The point is we are now part of this unnamed plan:

The plan places the low-performing schools in an intensive-support group, dubbed the “School Achievement Initiative.” Chalkbeat, September 3, 2014.

Yippee!

Now the Chancellor  is coming to visit us on Monday.  The first thing we were told to do, was in all content area, to prepare multi-cultural lessons that illustrate our mission: that we celebrate and honor the fact that many of students come from different parts of the world. I can't speak for the other departments but the math teachers' reaction was similar to Winnie's.

I took a play out of one of the Teacher Guppy’s playbook.  We collected information on a few statistics and watched the video, If the World Was a Village.  This weekend I will tabulate the data and have the students make posters to illustrate the statistics from our school community.  I will post the results on a bulletin board for the school's chancellor to be impressed with,- or not.  I know I should spend more time teaching the students how to tabulate, analyze and chart the statistics.  (Yes Winnie that would really be math and High School Common Core Statistics standards) but who has time for that -we have Regents to pass, and graduation rates to raise.  

Tom suggested that our school motto can be represented numerically as:
                                1 + d > 1

One +  diversity is greater than one. 
Wow- great- I made a big fuss about him being able to quantify a concept.

"Yes, Marlene said, only if diversity is less than zero"


Wait- can that be true?  Is this really math?


Tomorrow we go back to looking for x.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Core BS

Sam,  George and Eduardo entered the room.  They folded the bodies honed on weight lifting and hoop shooting into the one armed classroom chairs designed for people honed on classroom instruction and studying.  Nonetheless they squeezed into three chairs  in a row.

I moved them (unwillingly) around.  I collected cell phones.  I gave out sharpened number two pencils.  I read a long pink sheet about electronic devices.  The long pink sheet is required reading.  It uses terms like beepers and PDAs, archaic terms for the cell phone age but no one questioned me and anyway the cell phones where already tucked into plastic bags with printed identification. Yes NYC does not allow cell phones in school.  No one wants to use that argument, though when being asked to pay for a lost cell phone.


For  three hours, I stood by the over- sized windows, the kind that were put into large community high schools in an age when one electric bulb needed to be supplemented with the sunlight that poured through ten foot high windows.  The school building crests a hill surrounded by a community of row houses interspersed with Old Victorians that once housed the workers for the mills and the factories that dotted the neighborhood.  The elevator train brought waves of European immigrants into the neighborhood to work those jobs.  The high school educated their children and sent them out to work those jobs too.

The El train still rumbles through.  The mills and factories have closed.  The European immigrants have moved on and have been replaced by immigrants from South America and Southeast Asia. And the high school stills tries to educate their children.  But with no mill and  factory jobs we are charged with making them college ready.

We are told that Common Core Standards is the way to do this.  Make the standards rigorous.  Then develop exams aligned with these highly rigorous standards.  (By develop - I mean purchase) Then administer the tests.

And so this week,  I entered the age of Common Core testing.  I have too much invested in retiring from my job without problems, to go into too much detail about the content of the test.  Pearson doesn't want us sharing. But suffice it to say I was familiar with the authors of the texts used.  I have consistently scored in upper 90% of literacy exams my entire life, and yet I am not sure  I would have gotten the majority of the questions correct.

It did not matter that I did not allow Sam, George and Eduardo to sit next to each other.  Within the first ten minutes Sam was reporting out loud that this was bullshit.   I told him to do the best he could. I told him to be quiet.  Another ten minutes passed and everyone was asking when they could leave.
In an hour's time Sam and George began conversing.  They weren't talking about the test, they had no idea what was on the test. They couldn't read it.  I had no choice but to get a dean in.  They wouldn't quiet for the dean.  He called for the head of testing.  She threatened to call the principal.  Now  George panicked.   "Stop acting so special ed", he told Sam. The head of testing removed  Eduardo who was pressing on despite the noise,  to a quieter room.  The dean left.  With George out of the discussion Sam went back to work.  Then it was possible to  leave.  Sam handed in his test, George handed in his test, Eduardo came back to our room to hand in his test.

"Do you want to finish it here, it's quiet now?"  I asked.

"No," Eduardo answered. He was late for an appointment with his parole officer.

It is a meaningless test.  We are not counting it for promotion, graduation requirements or anything else.  The rationale for giving it was to see what work we need to do.

And I suppose,  when the test results are released to the press, with no indication of what the test actually looked like, to report how badly we are doing educating children.

The El train will bring these children out of the neighborhood of closed mills and factories, past the gentrifiying neighborhoods of Brooklyn to Manhattan.  There they can compete for jobs with the purchasers of new high-rise condominiums and warehouse turned lofts because the higher standards will force us to be better teachers and them better learners, they will be able to compete in the global market.  It least that's what I am told.

Or they won't.

Sam was right.
This is bullshit.




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mine's Bigger Than Yours, or size really does matter

Someone left a worksheet with a diagram of the male reproductive system on the resource room table.  That’s not weird.  Someone leaves something on the table- everyday:  anything from  listing the causes, events and  impact of the French Revolution to finding the intersection  of the locus of a point and a line, to the conjugation of irregular Spanish verbs.  My job, besides being able to be able to immediately recall, explain and facilitate the answers (simultaneously for everyone) is to be able to make sure your homework gets back in your bag, so you can produce it when the teacher asks for it).
I picked up the biology worksheet and asked several people if it was their penis.
A few just said no.   Then I asked Angel.

Angel:  “Nope, I have a much larger one.”

Me,:  “Uh- too much information for me, Angel.”

Angel:  “No- miss, I didn’t mean it that way- I have a much larger diagram in my notebook.”

Me: “Go home Angel, have a good weekend.” (I would have liked to add you and your penis, but I understand boundaries, and have a significant pension to keep.)

The worksheet got filed with all unclaimed worksheets, in the circular file.  It will rest there comfortably with the  causes of the French Revolution,  the conjugated verbs and the intersection of a circle and a line- until the night janitor empties the garbage.

PS:  As I typed the last sentence I couldn't help but make off-color connections with all the topics listed above, from the proletariat being screwed to conjugal verbs to the proverbial hand signal where the index finger from one hand intersects the circle created with the thumb and index finger of the other.

Too much information?

You try being surrounded by teenage hormones all day and see how you start to think.



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Effective or Not?

David wouldn't move his seat.  It didn't matter that the assistant principal was in the room.  It didn’t matter that her pen was poised above the pad, ready to make all the low inference observations required to give her evidence to rate me ineffective, developing or effective.

David doesn't like me much.  He has had the misfortune to be assigned to my resource room four semesters in a row.  If I understood at all how the programming office works I would figure out exactly what the probability of that is.  Just for starters there are about 100 students in the school that are assigned to one out of eleven resource rooms with six different teachers.  This school doesn't consider grouping students together based on need or grade level, unless you consider which period is most available in your program a need, so I imagine the chance of being assigned to any one teacher repeatedly,  is extremely low.  But David has “crapped out” to a use a gambling term, four times. 
I have a fondness for the blog Math=Love, where an incredibly young, incredibly talented math teacher writes about all things to do with high school math.  In one blog post she states that she understands probability way too well to ever choose to go gambling.  I applaud her sentiments.  I choose to go gambling a lot.
David is a hard-working dedicated student, who often appears to be quite bright.  But he can’t read well.  Though I have seen official reports with his grade level as high as seventh grade, my assessments always show that he misreads (as in reads the wrong word, or leaves it out altogether)  about 40% of the time for  material written on a middle school level.  He earns good grades.  The teachers like him.  He works hard.
But I have spoken to him too many times about his reading disability.  He won’t work with me. Everyone, his father, the school psychologist, the teacher from the same country as his parents (he was born here) and the assistant principal have tried to speak with him, but he remains aloof.
Actually he hates me.
The assistant principal was ready to observe the goings on of our little resource room.  I had things set up, all I needed to do was sit down next to the group working on the Algebra Regents. But David had the seat I needed and he wouldn't move. 
I asked him nicely, I bribed him under my breath, I shifted the table.
Nothing.
didn't have the time to consult the rubric.  What would a highly effective teacher do? (I suppose highly effective teachers don’t have students that hate them).
Finally, exasperated, I told David, I was going to get some papers and if he wasn't gone from the seat when I returned to the spot, I was going to sit on his lap and sing.
Effective?
Maybe?  He moved.
Yesterday I got the rated observation back. 
All categories were rated effective.  I am either very good or very lucky.  Most likely a little of the first, more of the second, many people have shown me much less favorable rating sheets.
“Your classroom is structured, routines are obvious and you relate to your students with kindness and humor.”
I survive the rating miasma another year.
Effective- I have my personal doubts, I still can’t get David to work with me on reading skills.



Sunday, March 23, 2014

What is quality? Green bagels, shopping carts and plastic porn stars


Monday was St. Patrick's Day.  I found a green sweater at 
the bottom of my closet and the assistant principal served green bagels.  It was the high point of the week. The rest of the week was the dreaded quality review.  I am not sure that the whole experience  has anything to do with quality or even review for that matter. 

But they think it does  The powers that be, come in and measure our quality- with a rubric.

It has a lot to do with how things look.  So we spent a lot of time putting up bulletin boards with their own rubrics.  When we were finished with the bulletin boards someone suggested we decorate our classroom doors with information from the college we attended.  Upon request, a school aide came around and wrapped the entire door with bulletin board backing  paper in the color of our choice and then we were supposed to make the door both attractive and filled with useful  information.  Not having my own classroom, I was spared. The young resource room teacher who struggles hard to figure out what to teach, filled the door with three dimensional bumble bees (It least it started out 3D, the fan- folded wings, that protruded from the door were plucked from the bodies of the poor bumble bees throughout the week). Apparently bumble bees were the mascot of the California college she attended (one can only imagine how useful that information was to immigrant NYC students who could barely afford living at home and attending the local community college).

I  was being my negative self about the whole door situation to one of the math teachers.  I was pontificating about how smaltzing up the hallways before  the reviewers  came, hardly indicated that there was any quality to be reviewed.

"Sure, he said but didn't we all decorate our houses for the holidays?," he asked.

I never decorate my house for the holiday.  Not my tradition.  And does a decorated door indicate a thriving, happy family behind the colored lights?

It is my tradition to acknowledge the holidays .  The cashier at the supermarket noted that my shopping cart contained the triangular cookies for the Jewish holiday of Purim as well as corn beef and cabbage. I was being negative at the supermarket as well and had complained to the manager that, it was impossible to find a cart in the parking lot but upon finally locating one I filled it with multicultural calories-  which raised my blood sugar.  And I would have forgotten all about the shopping cart hunt, had not some  kid stopped me in the hall on Monday and told me I got him trouble. 

"I don't even know you'" I responded.
"But you told the manager there were no shopping carts left in the parking lot." he said, "and its my job to collect them."


I found a  New York Times piece, The Story of Bridie and Mo on the opinion page., I am still not sure what the writer's opinion was, (I guess I don't meet the Common Core Standards for close reading), but I liked the writing and it certainly was at least as St Patricky as green bagels.

We read through the piece in resource room.  It spoke of the neighborhood in Dublin, what had long been a sooty, rundown port of 19th-century warehouses had become one of the most modern and desirable neighborhoods in Europe — all luxury apartments and upscale hotels bathed in theatrical lighting, a glossy prairie of glass and steel. "It could have been Redhook, in Brooklyn, Donna smiled, she liked shopping there.   The writer goes on to describe the doll house, the six year old gypsy girls were building. Jose  liked the line,a mattress on the ground with a naked Barbie doll lying facedown in the middle of it, like a porn star down on her luck. I liked the word describing the brisk wind, skirling in from the sea.  I don't even know if skirling is a word but if the New York Times printed it....

Perhaps the piece was about the contrast between the have and have nots when Ireland was in boom years, perhaps it was about the loss of those boom years to Ireland.

Perhaps I should figured it all out before I shared it.  But maybe good writing isn't always about making your point in five paragraphs, with a clearly supported claim, three paragraphs of supporting evidence, and convincing succinct summary. Maybe good writing is about made up words and metaphors that link naked plastic toys to porn stars. Maybe quality can't always be measured by a rubric and a checklist.

The week ended.  The reviewers left.  They will deliver a verdict. Will it change our future- who knows?

Friday morning, the Resource Room teacher in the other room was discussing Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea. Evan, wanted to know why they got to discuss the Ukraine and we read articles about Irish Gypsies.  Evan felt like he had skin in the game, he had already enlisted in the army.  

We were only a little bit into the discussion of that whole mess when the bell rang.
I guess I need to find something to read about that part of the world tomorrow.  

Maybe quality isn't always that easy to measure.
Its hard to know what it really is. Its hard to figure out how one really provides a quality education.

Its much easier to just paste the wings back on the bumble bees.











Saturday, March 1, 2014

May I have your attention please?

Vagina.
Do I have your attention?

I had the attention of the second period resource group when I said it.

Two sections of resource students crowd into our little room, second period.  I don't mind.  I kind of like it,  The other resource room teacher is the Dean/basketball coach.  I haven't actually collected hard data, but it certainly seems like his presence has decreased rudeness, disrespect, and general ennui.

It still gets a little noisy.  Friday, the semester was in full swing.  We were in the process of completing a whole week without a major snow event, something that hadn't happened all winter- and looks not to be in the cards for next week.  Everyone had assignments or tests and the level of concern which had been hovering around none at all, was raised.  Jose was trying to study for a math test- I don't know what Jose learned, but I learned the Spanish word for slope- pendiente-, Jennifer was working on a worksheet on intersecting planes, (which involved every cardboard box in the room) and B.J. was revising the beginning of an essay on Dracula.

Not exactly an essay, he had to respond to a piece of literary criticism, that claimed Dracula was a "reflection and rebuke of Victorian society." He had to explain how reading the essay would help understand the novel.
Which B.J. found hard to do, even after looking up what rebuke meant, three times. B.J. was frustrated

The group kicked in.

Evan and Christy had had his English Teacher last semester and assured him she thought she was teaching college.  Nina, who spent the last snow day, learning all about denial of rights, was able to explain satisfactorily what the Women's Suffrage Movement was about, Jennifer happily pushed aside the rectangular prisms, (tissue and shoe boxes) and rephrased the definition of rebuke. Jose took the opportunity to practice reading English aloud, read the beginning paragraph and did something, he hardly ever does; he asked for the meaning of a phrase.

"What is a chastity belt? Miss," 

So I told him, "its what men, usually husbands or fathers, put around women so a man can't get to her vagina."

Now, I've taken lots of courses on effective classroom management.  I've learn to say, "when you hear my voice, clap three times."  I've been told to hold two finger up.  I've read that lowering my voice to a whisper, works better than raising it to a yell.

What no one ever told me was that if you say the word,vagina, once, fairly loudly.  Everyone stops, looks and listens.

I mean everyone, even the students on the dean/basketball coach's side of the room.

I don't know if years of experience gives me the ability to manage a class effectively.  I don't know if all those years give me confidence, I don't even know if it makes me not care about getting in trouble, but I can tell you when a chubby, middle aged women says vagina loudly, people listen.

Now that everyone was focused on B.J., we could get his answer done.  Jennifer, helped him unjangle his thoughts and compose complete sentences.  Evan assured him which catch phrases, high expectations, teacher was looking for,Christy spelled Victorian and Nina helped Jose graph lines with different slopes so I could help B.J.

And then the bell rang, everyone was off to the next class.  We didn't even get real chance to discuss how one urinates wearing a chastity belt- though the question was raised. Its supposed to snow again on Monday, so school will be open or closed but either way there will be no crowds.  I suppose the whole thing will be forgotten by the time we are all together again.

Until the next time I need their attention.

Vagina, vagina, vagina.