Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving and Baby Naming

Ah Thanksgiving! The TeacherGuppies are busy baking in the kitchen, and a relative prepares a turkey and fixings over the river and through the woods- so I am left here to blog.

Wednesday is advisory day- I noticed in other blogs that some districts around the country are off the day before Thanksgiving, but not NYC we were in school and working- or eating- or working at eating. Advisory, is the system, that was best explained to me as the elementary classroom meets the homeroom . So almost every advisory had planned an advisory feast. Not having an advisory of my own allowed me to cruise the feasts for samplings in every classroom Note to inter-classroom feast cruisers, bring your own plate- the utensils and paperware run out long before the food.

I ended up in the eleventh grade math room (Excellent- baked macaroni and cheese). I had missed the part about saying what I was thankful for and when I arrived Nathan was planning his future.

Nathan: I am gonna name my fist kid, "D'money"

Me: As in "In d'money"?

Nathan: Exactly, it's like you're always talking about setting goals and having high expectations.

Eleventh Grade Math Teacher (who is in the same age range as TeacherGuppies): You're not going to get any woman to agree that.

Nathan: I'll give the kid the name when his mother is pregnant and can't think.

Me: Wait a second- I was pregnant- I don't remember being completely stripped of cognitive powers.

Nathan: Okay, then I'll name the kid when they knock her out for the delivery.

Me: Hey, I gave birth a quarter century ago and knocking women out for delivery was already out of fashion.

Nathan: Don't worry I'll figure it out

Eleventh Grade Math Teacher: Go get some more macaroni and cheese.

Me: And use protection. (Though I didn't say that out loud- even though I should have.)

The pies are smelling good! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where we live

I went with the educational assistant to look for a missing student. She had been absent for weeks and we were worried We arrived at a building littered with used needles, reeking of urine and heatless in the dead of winter. As we stood in the desolate lobby my beloved assistant, sighed in horror, "how could I have taken you here?'

As if the worst thing about the this descent into the depths of human suffering, was that, this young white new teacher should be exposed to this kind of despair.

We didn't find the little girl. She disappeared from our register.
The paraprofessional remains a cherished friend to this day, thirty years later.

The South Bronx today has little physical resemblance to the burnt out shell of a borough where I began my teaching career. The buildings of the famous fires of "the Bronx is burning" decade have been either torn down or renovated. The tin window covers painted with fake plants have been replaced by glass panes. Whether the lives behind them have changed significantly for the better I could not say. I changed jobs and boroughs years ago.

Today we went on a field trip. We had one of those fancy coach buses I associate with Atlantic City runs and a bus driver that believed he could save time by following the GPS Unit through the side streets of the Bronx. We passed lots of building that could have been the site of that unsuccessful home visit three decades ago- had the building been completely renovated and made inhabitable by current standards. Who could tell?

The magical mystery tour through the Bronx did not impress my current students. I heard no observations about the neighborhood as we wound our way between highways. However, when we exited the major highway and found ourselves passing though rural towns the comments flew fast and furious. Eloise wanted to know if the kids went to school there, we had driven at least five minutes without passing a school building, something, Eloise thought impossible. Kelvin said the houses looked like where "every horror movie ever made" was filmed. Joshua wanted to know if Twilight was made there and Eloise still trying to absorb the possibilities of rural life, wanted to know what people do at night?

We did finally arrive at the environmental center in the middle of the woods. I might write about that experience at another time, but its late and I'm getting tired. But by the end of the day the fall sunlight was filtering through the trees and the air smelled of pine and fresh earth as we boarded the buses. More than one student told me they wouldn't mind living in the woods.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Brain cells and hand holding

A friend of mine has a son with brain damage. When he was an infant she made the rounds of doctors looking for answers. Finally when the boy was about 18 months old a doctor was honest enough to give her a glimmer of what lay ahead.
"But when will he start to walk and talk?" she asked.
And in one of the most brutal reality checks ever, the doctor responded, "I don't know if he has the brain cells for those activities."

If my career had gone the way I planned when I was seventeen I would be teaching the young man, or others like him. But life rarely goes as we plan and me and my special education license spend the days in a high school where the IEP students look nothing like my friend's wheel chair bound, mute son. And they take algebra and earth science and are expected to pass. I expect them to pass.

Mr. Copernicus was grilling the class on a chart illustrating the temperature range of various climates on earth. He had worked himself into a frenzy stretching to reach the highs, skating across the rooms to illustrate the lines of consistent temperatures and blank faces abounded.

I had a suggestion, helpful support teacher that I am. I thought everyone should draw little sketches of the temperature climate in each zone. Oh- how multi-modality this exercise would be- each student drawing, tracing and explaining the ups and downs of seasons. So Copernicus, exasperated, handed me the chalk and said you do it.

And I did- and they did, and I thought it was successful.

And Mr. Copernicus muttered, "maybe I should hold my hand over their hand and move the pencil for them."

I like Mr. C. he's a new teacher and enthusiastic. He knows his stuff. And truly I am aware that I can be a real pain in the behind.

For a kid with a disability hidden behind a normal appearance it may be hard to believe that not getting it is not a matter of being lazy or inattentive. Its easy to say if they would work harder and study more they would succeed.

But in the end who knows how many brain cells any one of us have? There comes a time we all need someone to hold our hand (and maybe move the pencil).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I liked the way the orange light looked next to the sunrise

The world turns. It revolves around the earth on a tilted axis. November, we in the Northern Hemisphere, see our days grow shorter as the the earth journeys towards the Winter Solstice. I learned that in Earth Science (well maybe I already knew it) but I heard it again today.

I was being aggravated- long story, one I don't want to tell. There are many blogs documenting the trials of being a teacher, I don't want to make this one of them. Mr. Copernicus (I don't have to make up a name for him, he gave that one to himself) was busy sketching diagrams illustrating the cycles of the Earth (or the Earth Science Regents) and Maryanna called me over. So I went to work with her. I was there to work with kids- not to be aggravated and if I am going to make the last few miles of a long journey I best stick to that.

The sun will rise again tomorrow.
Copernicus told me so.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Augean Stables

What's your favorite part of the Hercules story? The English teach wanted to know.

Mine- the part where he clears all the shit out of the stables

Wait did I just say, shit, I meant poop or doodoo or as Wikipedia says, dung.

The busy room, gets even busier at the end of the marking period With the grading period coming to a close Friday, I have been deep into my negotiating mode. It goes something like this:

Student:I think I am failing everything?
Me: Why do you think this?
Student: I don't know but can you check my Teacherease page?
So I open the computer and check the student's electronic grade book page and the student is usually wrong- more than likely he's passing gym.

And then I print out the page (or many pages) of missing assignments and go around and negotiate with all the teachers.

I must have the most compassionate coworkers in the world. They all agree to allow student(s) to make up missing assignments filling up the busy room with an assortment of busy students writing about everything from the tasks of Hercules, the diffusion of oxygen across cellular membranes to the functions of quadratic equations. And I am supposed to know it all. And help get it done- all at the same time That's why when the English teacher asks for a favorite part of the Herculean story I respond with- clearing shit.

Oops! I shouldn't have said that.
But everyone swears they didn't hear a thing.
And anyway Jonathan says I can't get fired before he graduates, Connor says I'm like his school mother, and Bathea just wants me to finish the diffusion diagram

We go back to completing missing assignments- clearing the shit out of our own end of marking period electronic grading system, Augean stables

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I am so annoyed at myself. I left my cell phone and my little computer at school. How forgetful can I be? I missed the second bus as the first one pulled into the major shopping street so I took the extra time I now was assured of to jump into a discount brand name store. I bought pants that are very tight and a watch I couldn't set. When I tried to check the time on my cell phone I realized I left it along with my little netbook computer in school. I am apparently losing my mind. (but it will not stop me from yelling at anyone who is unprepared in anyway tomorrow).

My father used to remind us when we complained about cold winter morning waits for the crowded public bus, that Abe Lincoln walked 5 miles to school, in the snow, everyday. It wasn't until I was in high school did I stop to wonder if spring ever came to Illinois, but that is another story. Standing on the bus stop less than 5 miles from my home, I felt stranded with no phone and no computer.

My little coworker is stranded with the half of the ninth grade math class with special needs. Somehow last spring it seemed like a good idea to break up the neediest math group into two groups, giving the math teacher a small group and my coworker, the special education teacher, who has proven herself an effective math teacher, the other group. Yet both small groups have been trying. Keeping my coworker's group inside a classroom has been like trying to hold water in a sieve. With the high school classrooms having both front and back doors they wander in and out seemingly at whim. So today we tried moving into the dean's office, a half classroom with only one door. I went in too. So here we were two teachers, ten kids, one door and still there was spillage out of the room.

But here's the part that inspired me to write about all this. First I went into the general ed. teacher's class. Groans, and other verbal votes of no confidence. But Nathan, from the tenth grade was visiting. Nathan, who usually does what he can to keep me helping anyone but him in the tenth grade math class, said, "Why you dissing Ms. Teacherfish- she's the one who gets you to pass the exams."

And then I returned to the special ed. math group and Shaheem, the new kid, said, "why you here? You're only supposed to be the science help teacher?"
Kareem picked his head up from the desk and said, "No she's the everything help teacher."

And then the dean arrived with the participants from the gym fight, and we had to leave his office and squeeze into our overcrowded resource room, leaking a few students along the way.

My bus finally came. I arrived home, phoneless and computerless, but the house is heated against the late autumn chill, and at least today I don't feel completely useless.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pod Cast Lessons

I am not a technophobe.

The year the district made teacher email mandatory I wanted to charge a dime a lesson on how to open (as to click open -not register) an email mailbox. I wouldn't have gotten rich, but I could have bought a pretty nice lunch.

I am pretty good with technology. I can change the light bulb in the overhead projector, I can make a Power Point presentation and even project it (sometimes I can't make the sound work) and I can scavenge the internet for just about any resource. But when the principal suggests we put our mini lessons on Pod Casts I put my foot down ( or in my mouth) or somewhere, anywhere other than the Internet,

Let me back up. We were killing time before the start of our monthly evening steering committee meeting and the discussion of uses of technology in the classroom came up. One teacher, who is in the process of completing a graduate degree in technology education, was enumerating the various technologies available for instruction. That's when the principal recounted a workshop where she had seen a demonstration by an advanced placement Chemistry Teacher who had placed the instructional part of the lesson on a Pod Cast to be viewed the night before, freeing up all the classroom time for hands on instruction. And the teacher in the tech program thought this was a great idea.

Now I believe that most students would rather look at their cell phone, I Touch, or computer screen much more than at some middle-aged chubby teacher, who's all disheveled because she's been wrestling the sound system in the projector unsuccessfully for the last 3 periods, but Pod Cast lessons? Come on- in the contest between Fibonnaci's Sequence and Facebook, Twister Formations or Twitter, what do you think is going to win?

But that's not the main reason - I'm not buying the electronic teacher . Technology misses the art of teaching It misses the heart of teaching. When did the Pod Cast notice that the viewer was dazed and confused? And when more importantly did it notice that the students were really excited? That the subject matter had lit a spark that needed to be fanned? That beneath the ennui there was passion?

And I didn't even get to my jaded, skeptical self part where I worry that digitally sustained evidence of "bad" teaching, (or teaching not aligned to this year's Next Big Thing) could be used against any teacher for any reason.

So will I continue to hunt the Internet for little clips of anything that can be begged, borrowed or stolen for a lesson. Will I continue to project Teacher tube clips (silently) ?
Of course.

Am I a fan of PodCast lessons- not really.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Relatives came for dinner Sunday night. The chicken came out terrible but the baked sweet potato fries and the cake- oh wait this isn't a food blog. As much as I like to read about delicious recipes made from only organically grown local ingredients, or the next really great undiscovered cafe - what I really know - life in school.

I did serve a really large bottle of Pinot Grigiot with the meal and by dessert, my mother-in-law was well primed to give her opinions. I was in the process of comparing notes with my daughter's roommate about progress through the biology curriculum, when she mentioned that her inclusion class was doing as well as or better than the others. My daughter added her commentary on the status of her inclusion class, and her perception of her co-teacher, when I felt (for some unknown reason) that I should explain to my mother-in-law what inclusion is.

Now she is a woman who left teaching when classrooms had one electric plug in the front because the only thing you could plug in was a film strip projector, and copying meant hand cranking a mimeograph machine until your hands turned purple.

"I don't have a classroom in the corner of a school where I work with 10 kids all day long, in the new system, we go out and work with special need students in the general education classes."

“That's the stupidest thing I ever heard,” was her response. I was reminded of a co-worker whose reaction to the introduction of the inclusion programs, was “We work so hard to get them out of our classrooms and now you want to put them back?”

So do I think inclusion is the stupidest thing I ever heard of? I think I am long past the point of speculating about the inevitable. I think expecting a lot from everyone means, that some students will go farther than anyone ever predicted. And some kids will drive everyone crazy in the process. But at least at our level in our little world special ed is not at place – it's something we do or try to do.

The ninth grade biology teacher was frustrated by the inclusion class today, She was going over the structure of the cell for the umpteenth time, and trying to have the student answer the convoluted questions from the state exit exam. “I can't do this,” she muttered, “I'm not trained for special ed.”

So I took the chalk and did my thing and the bell rang and the period was over and everyone left.

There was no child left behind. Physically at least.

I could write all day pros and cons of inclusion and the shape of special education in our public schools today, but tonight's chicken is drying out and there are a whole lot of food blogs to check. And in the words of the ninth grade bio teacher, “it is what is”

Friday, November 6, 2009


The media is all a buzz about Matsui. The Yankees make it back to the World Series Championship and an old Japanese ball player saves the day.

Me, I'm a Mets' fan, as difficult as that can be, I can't work up any excitement about Godzilla. But all the talk brings to mind an old story.

Back in the late 1970's I taught a self contained first grade class in the South Bronx. As the weather got warm, we took advantage of the free subway passes and left the dank devastation of "Fort Apache" as frequently as we could. (See the Bronx is Burning the tv special on the Yankees of that era for more description of the South Bronx at is nadir).

One late spring day, we boarded the Staten Island Ferry, a free way to cruise New York Harbor and get a close up look of the Statue of Liberty. As we enjoyed the view on the outdoor deck, we noticed (and were noticed) by a group of Japanese tourists.

"Chinas," (pronounced Cheen-nahs) Edgar proclaimed loudly, using the Spanish word for Chinese.

The tourist looked at us.

"No, Japanese," one man with an enormous camera- answered back

Edgar looked at me, "Chinese?" he tried again in English

"No, Japanese," Camera Man corrected again.

Edgar was puzzled, he tried several more times, to ask the tourists if they were Chinese and each time Camera Man responded -"Japanese."

Edgar stood silently, considering the response, and I wondered how to get out this.
And then a light bulb went off in Edgar's head.

"Oh- Japanese- I get it! Godzilla!"

So somewhere in Japan there is a 30 year old photo album filled with pictures of a group of Japanese tourists, ten Hispanic six year olds from the Bronx and me, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Earplugs and Extra Help

Connor came into the room first period. I was busy playing with my MP3 player. I had just bought cheap new earplugs at the 24 hour drugstore, since the old cheap earplugs had fallen apart. I should have been in my first period class, but my middle-aged self has apparently turned into a 21st century adolescent.

I will someday devote a whole entry to Connor For now suffice it to say that the principal used him as an example of resilience. When his whole world fell apart- he continued to come to school and work on a diploma.

But he's got to work a bit harder. He came in to apologize that he hasn't been coming for extra help.

"It's hard for me to get out of bed in the morning." Connor explained.

"It's hard for me to get out of bed in the morning too- and you have been only doing it for 17 years, I've been doing it for more than fifty- It's cold and dark and scary out there," I admitted, "but I get up and out."

Connor didn't come for help after school either. I got to chase him down next week. Graduation is close, but it can still be elusive if he doesn't make it out into the cold, dark, scary world a little quicker, and more often.

The ninth grade science teacher asked a question about cells. Tina raised her hand. That amazed the kid sitting next to me.

"First time ever, Tina raised her hand," he reported to me. (In this inclusion class I was sitting at one of the tables).

And Tina answered the question in a barely audible voice, but correct and complete.

The teacher moved on, less impressed then my ninth grader neighbor.

"Wow- Even Tina can learn this," he added.

Two teachers, one peer critic- Tina doesn't have a chance of becoming invisible

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Long day, very little fun.
I got thrown into doing more Professional Development than I wanted to do.
I probably infected half the computers in the school with a virus (long story-not worth the effort of typing)
And I got stuck in the middle of at least three disputes I had nothing to do with.

Only comment worth blogging- the response from the bus driver when I changed to the second bus on the way to work.

Me: No school for kids today

Bus driver: Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!

At least I got a seat on the bus (both ways!)

Monday, November 2, 2009


Ah-November. Teacher-parent conferences, behind us, Thanksgiving getting closer Veteran's Day even closer but first there is Election's Day Professional Development to get through. I used to categorically hate Professional Development- for some reason it reminded me of the Mark Eden Bust Development ads that used to appear in magazines with names like "True Romance or True Confessions." (Okay, now I think I really dated myself) The Mark Eden Bust Development product was some plastic contraption that promised to build the pectoral muscles of the user and thus enhance the appearance of her breasts. What then is the connection between professional development and advertisements from the back of the trash magazine from pre-silicon days?

Did someone say "futility?"

I am working on my bad attitude. Especially since these days I'm one of the people who plan professional development.

So let me stop complaining, close off the blog and try to figure out how to make formative assessments interesting.

Or work on my pectoral muscles, these days its not size that matters, but direction (as in not straight downward).

Did someone say "futile"?