Sunday, December 12, 2010

Did you catch the number of that bus?

I started teaching four years after the Education for All Handicapped Law was passed. Maybe five.

"I'll take history for $400-Alex"
In what year were the public schools required to accept all children?

Me: (only person to ring in- well not really ring in this was a DOE professional development session)- I just called out- 1974

Buzz-wrong- 1973

Okay-I was the only one in the professional development session of twenty-five people who attempted that one- how much closer did they want me to get?

I started as a Special Education Teacher in 1978- four or five years (depending on who you believe) after the passing of the law requiring written Individual Education Plans for all students with disabilities.I've written a lot of IEPs. I've written them on yellow onion skinned paper separated by four carbon papers. I've written them on carbonless specially treated copy paper,and I've written them on computer programs designed by social studies teachers, programs that have no save button, and can be overwritten or erased with a single key stroke.

Five years ago the Hehir Report suggested, (demanded?) that New York City put into practice a Web-Bases IEP system. This year they did. Welcome to the 21st Century- Mayor Bloomberg says that the new chancellor is qualified for the job because she knows what skills NYC students will need for the 21st Century- It only took the Department itself a complete decade to figure out what skills it might need.

So off we go into Web-based IEP world. Ten years ago, when the above mentioned computer program designed by a social studies teacher came into existence, and the DOE was the old Board of Education, organized around geographic districts, I worked as a staff developer training teachers how to use the system. With varying success- some people stared, amazed that I was showing them how to scroll down a page, or choose options from a menu. I might as well been asking them how to turn on the water faucet or use the tv remote. And then there was the teacher who when I asked her to double click the mouse- looked at me and said,""We got rid of our rodent problem"

In fact clicking the mouse to open the program became my acid test to whether things were going to go well or not- if the staff member immediately opened the program by double clicking the desktop icon- it was going to be a good day. If I needed to go over the structure of the right, left side of the mouse, practice depressing quickly in two short strokes, and guide the hand that moved the cursor it was going to be a long day. About 30% of them were.

But a decade passed. I went back to teaching young people. And those who thought that using computers was a task for a future other than their's- retired. (I went to visit one friend in Florida, who asked as long as I was there- could I take the IEP icon off her desktop- it gave her agita to look at it.

Friday I found myself in a computer room coincidentally on the same floor of the office building I worked in the old Distric Board of Ed days. A young woman born long after the passage of the Education for all Handicapped Act, hustled us at lightening speed through the new web-based computer program
"Don't worry" she assured us- she learned the program from the ipsy-spiffy video clips attached to the program and we could too

"Were we expected to turnkey the new program to the other staff in our schools?"
No little presenter didn't like that word- just point them in the direction of the ipsy-spiffy video clips.

When does this new system begin- immediately- old system gone- in order to be federal compliance we must use it now!

No cause for panic little presenter assured us, we could practice over the weekend using ipsy spiffy little video clips and then we could all magically transfer our newly gained knowledge to the other IEP writers in our school- just click on this button and then that button and then the intranet button and we could access it all. So we did. Everybody in room could double click. But do we know what intranet means?

Apparently not- the button worked fine in the office, not at home.

The Union sent me a survey about the training. The last question asked if I saw any flaws in the actual program.

How can I tell- I still trying to figure out what bus hit me?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I found this excerpt on Science Teacher's blog:
I was inspired to comment and he liked it so I am posting my response here.

Stephen Downes, a "Canadian education technology research specialist," wrote "Things You Really Need to Learn" a stunning and succinct post now on The Huffington Post, well worth a read.

Here's Stephen Downes' list:
1. How to predict consequences
2. How to read
3. How to distinguish truth from fiction
4. How to empathize
5. How to be creative
6. How to communicate clearly
7. How to learn
8. How to stay healthy
9. How to value yourself
10. How to live meaningfully

My comment:

I don't understand the list. I am pretty sure from the professional development sessions and the other news in general that the list should read:
1. How to predict the answer by underlining key words and other test taking stategies.
2. How to fill in the “correct bubble” when given a series of multiple choices
3. How to distinguish “their” truth from any creative “fiction” that might produce a new or different way of looking at the world and subsequently be marked wrong.
4. How to sit quietly and let others get good test scores also.
5. How to be creative- write as much information as you can in the open ended questions so that the grader may be justified in giving you partial credit
6. How to communicate clearly- in a five paragraph essay with an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion
7. How to learn the material that is to be tested
8. How to stay healthy -this means eating a good breakfast on test day
9. How to value yourself- as a data point on the district's test reports
10. How to live meaningfully-as long as the meaning can be evaluated by a standard-based test.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Elma joined us right after the winter break in the middle of her eighth grade, two and half years ago. Never a good sign. Kids don't get switched in the middle of the last year of middle school - unless...

Unless the sending school really wants to get rid of them.

And they really wanted to get of Elma, she dictated the story to me later in the year, in an attempt to fulfill the English class requirement of writing a short story. The "fictional" account started with the third person: "there once was a girl who slapped her teacher..." and ended with the first person admission, of "and then they sent me to special ed."

It wasn't hard to imagine Elma slapping her teacher. Elma did everything to convince us of her street credentials. She spent last year with magenta bangs-and a matching sweater two sizes smaller than her bra size- a confirmation of her affiliation with a girls gang. No amountof cajoling could make her lose the sweater (how she got enough oxygen in her lungs remains a mystery) we didn't even try with the bangs.

But two and half years have gone by and Elma hasn't slapped anyone. Elma stuggles to read and write-but cursing and wrecking havoc come easy. "You know I read mad slow, Ms. Teacherfish, she complains"

Last year over the phone I relayed to her mom that she is in fact slowly trudging her way through the high school curriculum and was on her way to graduate.

"Elma, is not the type of kid who graduates, high school" her mom told me. I thanked her for her time, hung up the phone and checked the high school diploma box on the goal sheet- it's up to Elma to graduate or not graduate - not her mom.

Monday- I sat with Elma and coached her though the literary response essay spelling every other word, but there were something so sincere, so dedicated about her intensity, that at the end period, I mentioned that I enjoyed working with her.

"Thank you Teacherfish" she replied

Tuesday was a Ricardo day in English. Ricardo brought his obnoxious, demanding, I'm gonna hijack this class with my foul mouth and outrageous attitude -self to class and sat down at the table with Kenya and Elma. The N word and F bomb were flying all over.

I sat down two tables away, too tired, too defeated by the school politics to wage this war.

And then Elmo stopped, took her assignment and moved up next to me.
"Lets do it." she said.

So maybe those magenta bangs will peak out from under the mortarboard eventually
Oh wait- they're gone. Last year's trend.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Demented Ms. Pacman

So things have gotten darker this year.
The old principal goes on to bigger better things, the new principal struggling, getting smaller and smaller as the power slips away from her grasp.

But does it? I am frightened.
We are frightened.
Perhaps she is just swallowing power pills like some demented early '80's video game Ms. PacMan.
Just waiting to turn and gobble us all up.

I did not post this two days ago when I wrote it.

I continued to complain, but I upon rereading it I erased it. I don't want to be pissed off teacher.

Things actually got worse Tuesday but I had to take off today for pre-scheduled reasons, so I am calmer.

Take a deep breath start again- tomorrow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Kelvin posted on Facebook, "Watching cartoons, never realized how many jokes were meant for grownups."

"Welcome to adulthood" I commented, "Never understood why my father thought the Flintstones were so funny."

And then Kelvin replied something about the Flintstones and the post moved into history.

The only thing that separates me and Kelvin is 35 years.Kelvin just completed his second decade- I am well into my sixth. What do we have in common? We spent four years together at this little secondary
school in the corner of a big city. And now we are Facebook friends.

I know there is a big debate whether to friend students, former or current. I had a former principal who was so techno-phobic and neurotic in general that she sent out hard copy letters to not give parents your work email because it might lead to them finding out your address. Okay- it didn't make sense to me either but- hey- when you are working for someone who is really paranoid-little does.

But for a while there -we were a real community in the little corner of the big city and we became friends, people in their second decade of life and people in all the succeeding ones- up to me in my sixth.

When the local news did a story about Teachers sending creepy sexual content to students on Facebook every man on the street interviewed responded with shock but no news story was done about the day Jasmine wrote that life wasn't worth living on Facebook and five us responded – what could we do?- we cared. It wasn't shocking.

So am I happy I am Facebook friends with a young man from a different time and social sphere?

Maybe I'm just happy that somehow, somewhere our lives got to overlap for a little while.

Maybe I'm just happy I got to be his “friend”.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New Chancellor

I co-teach high school English classes. I spend a lot of time talking about symbols, themes, metaphors and motifs. Themes I tell the classes, are what my college professor told me, - the stuff of life- love, hate, power struggles, , jealousy, desire and greed. What Shakespeare play could not be analyzed (in 500 words or less) using one of the above.?

So let's talk about the last election campaign. If there was one motif, one symbol used over and over by so many campaigns it was “Wall Street”. One clear metaphor for the anti-common man, one ”they get bailed out while we get screwed” image plastered across our consciousness in two monosyllables..
Greed- to capture the theme in one word. Wall Street -bad. Main Street-good..

Unless, of course, you are to be the chancellor of New York City Department of Education.

All those days spent in the “Main Street” public schools count for naught. Semesters of education theory, decades of lesson plans, curriculum new, newer and newest, days and nights of conferences with everyone students, parents, colleagues, textbook reps and the custodian, count for nothing.

To be the chancellor of the New York City Schools, you do not need to have been a student, parent or participant in any way of any public school. All you need is a high profile job, a history of sending your own children away and friends in high places.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How's It Going?

It's hard to start typing. I need a good lead. The ninth grade English class is writing memoirs and I have been "conferencing" them. There maybe I got my lead.

"How's it going?"

I spent several summers in the nineties going to the Reading and Writer's workshop at Teacher's College and the Ralph Fletcher line "How's it going?" kind of sums it all up. If anything I learned to listen and look at kids and their work instead of pulling out an editing tool literal or figurative and making vast changes.

Here is where I think I could make a metaphor about change and administration and the sorry state of the "Inquiry" process at school- but I use this blog to write about kids.

So how was it going? It's going.

Ninth grader number one wrote about a time he got injured in science class. I was in that class. I wrote about that moment in time too- I called mine accident report 9995.
Nonetheless it was a solid piece of writing and I could see the event unfold yet again before my eyes.

Ninth grader number two wrote about a time her best friend "stabbed" her in the back and stole her boyfriend. Her memoir began with a line like: "Can you remember the time you first realized you couldn't trust someone you thought was your friend?"
Yes I can.
Teenage angst- a plot worthy of Glee. I love Glee- I would have been glued to the tv for that episode.

Ninth grader number three wrote about the day his mother passed. "I am so sorry for your loss," I began, "are you sure you want to talk about it?"

"No," ninth grade repled, "I want to write about it."


And it was a beautiful piece, "the hardest day of my life" he explained. Yeah- like I was forty with a husband and two kids when my mom died and it was the hardest day of my life.

It was the kind of piece I would have like to written- full of heart-wrenching emotion and love and family strength. By the end of the period I was crying-I asked the author if he would like me to set up time with the counselor to talk.

"No I'm okay now I live with my sister who loves me and takes care of me."

Period over I grabbed the tissues and went on to the tenth grade. They make me cry too, but for far more mundane reasons. Their lives are hard. They take it out on the teaching staff.

Perhaps they need a better way to tell their stories.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Moving On Up

Fall comes again. The park is ablaze with color. October runs its course and I got through another open school night. Thirty two years worth- and I think I'm over the trauma of the first one which I wrote about in two different posts.

I've been thinking a lot about school leadership. (Not me- hell no, my current salary is pretty close to that of of a beginning administrator and in the new "accountability is everything even if the accountability measures are entirely flawed” climate, I can't think of anything less desirable, but I've been thinking how leadership means everything.

A staff member gave me a ride home.

Me: “I'm kind of angry at the old administrator.”

Her: “For leaving?”

Me: “Yeah that too, but for ruining what it took myself twenty-five years to figure out”

Her: “Which was?”

Me: “That my opinions don't count. That the best policy is the shut the door and teach policy.

Yeah for five years I thought everyone in the community had a voice. The brand new teacher expressed a preference for having the advisory period in the morning and the principal moved the period. The annoying ninth grader wrote a letter that his class should have off campus lunch privileges and they got permission slips allowing them to do so, and I opened my big mouth continuously and sometimes I got in trouble and sometimes I just got what I wanted.

Some faculty conferences took 45 minutes to discuss how many buttons on the uniform shirt can be officially left open but for those of us who have spent a lifetime in “its my way or the highway" hell its a small price to pay.

But the old principal moved onward and upward and we are back in the “shut up and teach" mode.

So I've been thinking about leadership a lot lately. How is it that spreading power around make a leader stronger?

Okay- I swore this wouldn't be a complaining log.
One story:

The eleventh grade English class is reading The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. After a double period that includes a quiz, minor and major disruptions and other fun stuff we get to the following line, where Claudia describes the existence of her family in 1940 Ohio.

“Being a minority in both caste and class we move about anyway on the hem of life struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, to creep up singly into the major folds of the garment.”

We get it – personification and metaphor and all those good literary term things and what it must be like to live at the very bottom of the garment of life, but I feel the need to emphasize that the very best a Black family can hope for is to move up into the “fold” the hidden part.

Except I can't-'cause Lyle is singing loudly an adapted version of the theme song from the old TV Sitcom “The Jeffersons”

“Moving on up to the inside
To a major fold on the side
Moving on up to inside
We finally got a piece of the garment.”

I apologize to the teacher- I can't continue my thought.
“Usually I can ignore Lyle (funny as he is). But today he is cracking me up.”

The ELA teacher is not amused. “He's rude,” she reminds me. “He's disruptive-you were making an important point”

She' right of course. But he got “it” - the point. He was communicating it better to the rest of the class than my pontificating. I for one, know what its like to not to be able to keep your mouth shut.

And it was funny.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The world in black and white

If there ever was a class that was going to make me retire it was last year's ninth grade inclusion class. It included a cast of characters that some sitcom might be able to make amusing but to anyone who had to teach them it was pure torture.

With few exceptions the 9th grade inclusion class became the 10th grade inclusion and the torture continues. (I know, I am the Union rep- my mailbox fills up with complaints nightly)

And this year I co-teach English. The very young and enthusiastic teacher chose a unit on Human Social Injustice to begin the year. Last week we read an article on racial profiling.

There emerged a discussion on New York City police being much harder on people of color than white people. Someone stated that White people are never pulled over for traffic violations.

Wait- as a person of 100% European ancestry I can attest to the untruth of that statement.

Me: “I got a ticket for talking on my cell phone this summer,” (The cop looked like there was no excuse I could use to get out it so I didn't try.) I have a reputation in the school and my house for losing cell phones on regular basis, so I currently own a $15 bare bone model.

Kenya, (our 6 foot six, thumb sucking, basketball star): “What you got hardly qualifies as a cell phone.”

Me: “Makes the whole thing even more pathetic." But someone added that had I been a person of color maybe I would have been treated more roughly, hey the cop wished my a nice day as he handed me the summons.

This week we watched Hotel Rwanda (Yeah, I though that's going to go well- turn the lights out on this class ?)

But they got interested. Day one, Ricardo came into the room late the last teacher having sent him to the Dean's office, and started talking.

Kenya: “Shut the Fuck up, I'm watching the movie”

Ricardo: “No, you shut the Fuck up”

I don't have to type the rest of the conversation- I called the dean.

But the amazing thing was Kenya, who told me last week that he is only interested in basketball texts became totally interested in the movie. One scene, Don Cheadles' character struggles to rip his tie off, disturbed into paralysis after witnessing the mass Hutu murder scene. Giggles emerge as if it were a Mr. Bean flick, Kenya again yells, “Its not funny assholes.” And the thumb goes into his NBA sized mouth.

The movie concluded at the end of the period Friday and the writing and discussion has yet to begin. Norris, raised his hand at the end of the period and wanted to know why Blacks would kill other Blacks, (so much for the pre-movie PowerPoint on the history of Rwanda)

But in the end isn't that the real question. Why did White Germans kill White Jews? Why do White Protestants kill White Catholics? Why did the Khmer Rouge kill other Asians?

Why do world citizens kill each other?
And how do we get this very troubling class to not see the world in just black and white?

I give the new young English teacher credit. He got them thinking.
Maybe it will be a better year.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"I'll set your flag on fire"

Adam came by. Oh- Adam. Had he enrolled in a suburban district with a fancy Child Development department Adam would have been labeled Asperger's Syndrome and been given a paraprofessional to shadow him. But Adam's (highly educated, highly intelligent) mom was new to our country and our system when Adam reached school age so Adam got to get thrown out of a variety of public and private schools before he reached us in sixth grade.

By then Adam had a relationship with a neurologist (his mother is a great advocate and also highly capable of getting him what he needs, once she figured out the system) Even so his early years with us were tough on everyone. They involved a lot of parent teacher-conferences, some broken desks, and lots and lots of tears.. (Actually Adam was one participant in the first fight I broke up at our school).

Okay- but Adam is our success story. Our poster child for inclusion. He doesn't fight. He has friends, desks remain intact and his mother stopped crying. I checked up on him in our 80 million dollar database system the City figured would solve all our problems. (In my case – it feeds what my husband calls my cyber-yentering habit) Adam's passed everything, has a solid B average and
a passing grade on every NYS Regent.

So enough back story. Adam came in at the end of the school day and sat down.
Me: Need something Adam? Or you just here to visit.
Adam: Just visiting
Me: Glad you stopped by, how's the new school year going?
Adam: Not so go good.

Couldn't be to terrible or I would have heard

Me: What's going on?
Adam: I think the new principal is very disorganized, new schedules, new program cards, new bell times everyday.
Me: Yeah, it's tough on everyone
Adam: Yeah but for someone like me,who needs structure, its unethical.

Yeah and for me its an opportunity to end my long gratifying career with my big Union mouth leading me into lots of trouble.

But I didn't tell Adam that. I just assured him we were all there to help him get through the chaotic start. And since I promised myself this is not a venue for complaints, I'll end with a story about Thomas

The song “I don't want to work I just want to bang on the drums all day” was written for Thomas. Thomas drums something, anything – all day long. Thomas also came to us in sixth grade (though several cohorts after Adam). And he has been banging ever since.

Very annoying -if you are trying to teach him something.

But Friday morning I wasn't trying to teach anything, just sitting at my computer while Thomas waited for the new support teacher- drumming loudly..

Thomas: loud rhythmic drumming
Me: softly at first, “iko, iko ay yah-
drumming continues, new kid joins in
Me: increasingly louder-”Jockamo fina fin nay ah, jockamo fina na ay.

More students enter and join the drum core and I'm up and dancing. Now if you have a vision of some hip, svelt MTV dancer up in front of the class singing and dancing, revise it- think chubby middle-aged, atonal, off-beat, white Aretha Franklyn

My grandma and your grandma sitting by the fire
My grandma to your grandma I'll set your flag on fire

Loud unison drumming continues now by a number of students

Ay now, ay now, iko iko ay yay

And then the new no-nonsense - “I used to teach at the correctional facility” teacher comes in

Ooops- silence

New teacher walks- properly to front of room, turns slowly towards group and says:

“Jockamo finay fin ay ay, jockamo fin ay -Open your books please.

I leave - everything under control.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tales from The Teacher Guppies

I admit it. I produced Teacherguppies, some with me own genes, some who just happened to have the (mis)fortune of working with me.

Science Teacherguppy walked into a colleague's Inclusion class. The students were quietly engaged in a lesson. Not minding her own business, (a definitely inherited trait) Teacher Guppy walked up to the one little girl sitting with a closed notebook and asked her why her book wasn't opened. The sweet-faced girl, opened her book, licked the first page and said "That's why!" turned the page, licked the next page and repeated, "That's why," and continued through the book. Teacherguppy watched in amazement.

"You asked," the boy next to her explained
Teacherguppy went back to minding her own business.

The other genetically related Teacherguppy was assigned a second language learner, with behavioral as well as motor issues. Lunch hour was over on this glorious late summer day and the second graders lined up to return indoors. But not the Teacherguppie's student. She maneuvered her walker over to the jungle gym. "It's time to go back in the school now," Teacherguppy tried in two languages.

"Shhh," replied the student conspiratorially. Maybe if TeacherGuppy would just be quiet, no one notice a girl with a walker trying to climb the jungle gym in the after lunchtime abandoned play yard.

And then there are the moments I remember why I went into teaching. The ninth grade TeacherGuppy (related to me only by school assignment) taught a lesson today on writing a six word memoir. I told him it sounded like a great idea and he said, "yeah that's what you said two years ago when you gave me the lesson," and then he showed me the 6 word memoir I wrote back then:

Old teacher, new school year- again.

And the kids wrote incredible memoirs that I will try to copy down and post later. Even with a fire drill smack in the middle the angst of teenage years got summed up in six word phrases

A colleague drove me home, we chatted, we complained. We're still having and unsmooth start to the school. When the principal asked me why things were going badly, I was uncharacteristically struck silent. I didn't know what I could say. I told me friend

"You should have just opened your book and licked the pages," she suggested
"That's why"
"You asked."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Another Year

The door opened.
"Get out!"
Pennington ejected.

The assistant principal walked by, "You can't possibly be kicked out on the first day of school, go back in"

So I opened the door, but the teacher didn't want him back in. Its not a good idea to piss off the assistant principal or aggravate a coworker on the first day of school, so off I went on my errands with Pennington ("the boy with two last names" the British evaluator who came to review the quality of our school two years ago, called him. Pennington, a virtual energy pack of activity had spent the whole period, the British evaluator observed, yawning and stretching. This earned Pennington's portfolio extra attention from our friendly Brit. Why we needed to import someone to review the school is a long story and hardly worth telling since the economic downturn means suddenly the local superintendents are capable of assessing quality and anyway everyone knows that the only real way to find out if a school is successful is to look at the standardized test scores-I read the papers!)

But I digress.
Pennington and I strolled down the hall distributing and collecting paperwork.

"Don't be too hard on Ms. Ejecting Teacher," I said. She had a real difficult summer and still is dealing with a sick baby.

"Yeah, I got to keep reminding myself of that, Pennington, acknowledged contritely.

And it was time for him to return to the room

But wait- first my computer had to be connected.

We have a new principal. Things were off to a rough start. Student programs not ready for opening day, teachers' schedules not ready, room assignments -not ready.
Chaotic start.

But my computer works.
Pennington apologized.

Another school year begins.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

We have these tomato plants on our back porch. We put them in pots since last year's crop was consumed by blight. We fertilized, we nourished, we inserted bamboo poles and meticulously wrapped the vines around them. We schlep gallons of water to keep them hydrated during this long, hot, NYC summer and they are growing like crazy. A wall of leafy green separates us from our neighbors yard.

But they won't produce tomatoes.

I feel like I could make a comparison of my tomato growing affair to teaching, and testing and test scores. The state changed the evaluation system (not the test, not the standards, not even the scoring-) just the cut off line between proficient and not proficient the educational jargon for passing or failing. And the scores in our school, like the rest of the state, plummeted.

No "tomato" test scores for us this year.(not like last year when the Mayor was running for re-election)

But hey, summer school ended Thursday and I'm through taking about how good writing has voice and creates strong images with metaphors and similes and other literary devices.

Except maybe I'm not.

I spent two hours, four mornings a week with the students who were deemed not proficient in literacy before the actual test scores were sent to the school. How that was decided is no more clear to me then why my plants won't produce tomatoes.

We planted seeds (okay- I know you might think-Give it up already TEACHERFISH- but I am not easily dissuaded) we measured them, we studied ecology and we read Seedfolk by Paul Fleischman, a short sweet collection of multicultural stories of the founding members of community garden in Cleveland. One culminating project required the student to write their own Seedfolk chapter.

Jose, tall and lanky enough that folding himself inside the student chair was a process that required much motion and commentary each day, told me, "I'm supposed to be in 11th grade, you know, but there gets a point in each school semester when I just quit coming to school.(This was a class for students entering the 9th grade) Jose showed up everyday of summer school.
Jose wrote about Charlie. Charlie is a young man of similar description to Jose, likes gardening, but talking about gardening with your friends is like talking Chinese- nobody knows or cares about what you are saying.
The line was so good, I had to spend a good hour that afternoon searching the book to be convinced it wasn't plagiarized. Charlie likes gardening but gardening is for chumps (chomps in the original version-but I corrected it). In the next two hundred words Charlie grows a tree and convinces his friends that gardening is cool. (now I wondering if has tomato advice?)

Evangeline, was the quiet, pretty girl, who came to the country less than a year ago from an English speaking Caribbean Island. In the past I've written if you have the good fortune to enter our school system from a non-English speaking school system, then you get to have services and perks like standardized test taking exemptions. But no such luck for Evangeline. She got to take the test and fail (I mean score not proficient) despite a year of "butt-busting" hard work. Evangeline, who kept herself apart from the overall "exuberance" of group of "non-proficient" adolescents wrote about a character who organizes the community, stops all vandalism and brings together the various factions of the community gardens with her strength and wisdom.

When the visiting guidance counselor applicant asked the student next to her to pick an animal that described Katie, the student picked Hippo. The principal stopped the activity and the applicant did not get the job. But there is some accuracy in the description. Katie is large. Not that she is so overweight, no more than many, but she has one of those large personalities that overwhelm the room as soon as she enters. Katie used her real name for the character. She wrote about a young woman whose life's was being destroyed by drugs and alcohol. And then one day in a rehab center she decides to bury all her drug paraphernalia in the community garden. She plants bean seeds over it so no one will know its there. And as the plants grow strong and healthy so does Katie.

The re-take test is August 9. I will be on a plane to Mexico. Will Jose, Evangeline and Katie score proficient? Who can tell?

Sometimes you plant a seed and get tomatoes. Sometimes you just get good stories.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer School

Sad, sad story in the news. A class from Harlem takes a trip to a beach. A kid drowns, teacher fired, principal only reprimanded.

My husband wants to know what "they" were thinking.
Newspaper makes it sound like there were no permission slips,that there wasn't enough supervision. That is was an incredibly awful idea from the start.
And I guess it was- since the kid drowned and more than one life was ruined. But it wasn't something I couldn't imagine doing myself. In fact I used to do it myself.

I used to take students from the concrete rubbled, garbage strewn, Dresden-after-the-war streets of the South Bronx, on a hot sticky subway car to Orchard Beach. Where I let them wander in the surf. And when the hour got late, I cleaned their feet and got back on the train.

We called it summer school.

And then we were told that wasn't teaching it wasn't helping kid's test scores. Now summer school is serious business. In some schools it's hour after hour of a prepackaged program (a teaching fellow applying for a job at our school told us that was what she was doing for her summer internship - which would prepare her to work as a fully licensed teacher in the fall- not in our school, her resume did not get the "smiley face" stamp of approval- when she couldn't tell me the name of this "miracle" program)

In our school, it's just hour after hour doing paper work assignments with students who don't want to be there. Sixteen hours of a class in summer school makes up for your failure though out a 180 day school year. At least you get course credit so you can graduate on time and Klein/Bloomberg can brag about the graduation rate success

I'm lucky. Nobody drowned on the trips to Orchard Beach. And if I'm lucky I will make it through this summer school without poking my eyes with a pre-packaged pencil or slitting my wrist with a pre-packaged sheet of copy paper.
But I wonder, do those kids who waded in the surf at Orchard Beach all those decades ago have some memories of a summer with sunshine on their backs and sand in their toes?(Many had never been to a beach before)

Or will a summer of serious teaching, make the reality of our current students really so much better?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Public Transportation Education

"Your teacher could listen to AM radio in her car." our host at WABC radio said.

"I have a car?" I responded. (Well actually I do but for a variety of reasons I choose mostly to make the four mile commute to work, using a combination of what my father called "Shank's Mare"-walking and things that accept the NYC Metro card.)

And my portable audio device only receives FM.

You learn a lot on public transportation. Sometimes its what we call passive learning- just listening and observing, and sometimes you can be the recipient of active teaching.

Like the bus we took Wednesday on our journey to the Radio Stations.

The bus driver was unusually garrulous. Amid admonishments to watch our step, and be thankful for the day, even a wet cold one, he reported this anecdote.

A young lady, left his bus in the middle of the school day at a local corner and took out her cell phone. The bus driver, stuck at a red light, watched as a car pulled up and a woman got out and started yelling at the girl, "What are you doing talking on your cell phone way over here in the middle of the day? Why aren't you in school?"

And with that the light turned green and the bus driver moved on.
Moral of the story: The bus driver taught us we should all be aware and responsible for our children's whereabouts.

A young man offered me a seat on the subway, but I preferred to stand and oversee the seven young people I entered the car with.(Totally unnecessary, by the way, but old habits die hard). So I got to hear my young friends discuss Quincy.

Quincy could have been on the trip, I would have included him if I could have found him. But Quincy's attendance has been sporadic, so I never saw him to offer him the opportunity of joining us.

"He can't continue to be the bass player, cause he don't show up for practice," Kenneth complained.

"He's gonna lose the gig at the church, too," Conner added. "And with a baby on the way, I don't know what he's thinking"

I tried to listen unobtrusively, it was not my conversation to participate in. The group went on to agree that if they were the cause of a new life they would be responsible both emotionally and and financially.

"If I was having a baby, I would have a plan," Kenneth said.

"Plan to use protection." I ended my anonymity.

But everyone agreed.
You can't get this kind of education in a private car.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Radio Day

Field Trip!
Escape from standardized test city- and I could only take seven kids- of my choosing. Oh this gets better and better.

Okay short background. Connor and Norm had a senior science research project. It definitely fit into the "why I am stuck helping you with this project?" category and Connor and Norm decided they would do something with sound.

So somehow our new aspiring principal suggested we put together a radio station. (Another entry in the "why I am stuck helping you with this project?" category). And it turns out that our aspiring principal (think student principal as in student teacher) is one of those change of career people who left the corporate world to complicate my life with projects that are particularly high tech for those of us who started teaching in the age purple mimeograph machines.

But he has contacts in the corporate world- in the radio corporate world. So off we went to visit not one but two radio stations.

WABC was the top forty radio station of my childhood. I have fond memories of sitting around the dining room table on Sunday night and listening to Cousin Brucie introduce us to the Jackson Five and the like, but FM replaced AM for music and digital downloads replaced FM and talk radio left Cousin Brucie in the dust.

We squeezed into the control room. While Mark Simone discussed the gulf oil spill, Adam the 24 year old intern explained the technical side of the show. Then we went on the air and had our almost 15 minutes of fame.

We almost made it down to the fastfood underworld of Penn Station but Laurie our host decided it would be great if we could speak with one of the young producers of the Sean Hannity show. The Sean Hannity Show is the second largest radio show in the country she assured us, a fact I might possibly have known had I had the slightest bit of interest in Talk Radio Hey- I spent the whole day not mentioning once that I thought the ABC line up was a bunch of angry right wing hot air heads and I prefer to spend my time listening to NPR.

Ms. Perky young producer spent some time chastising the group for not being animated enough and I could live with that, my young friends need to know that putting yourself out in the world means just that - putting yourself out there. But then she went on to explain that she was a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. She lived in Chelsea and believed in Gays. (No - I'm not kidding, "Gay rights? I suggested)

"Anyone could marry who they wanted," she said, "but they shouldn't spend our money."

Kenneth, to his credit was the only one of the group who "put himself" out there. He tried to convince her that his status as a child of immigrant family made him more a fan of Democrats but somehow fell short in his explanation which somehow ended up with him pointing to a chair and saying anyone was entitled to one.

I got it- he saw Democrats and liberal leaning politicians as more generous in their policies and more friendly to immigrants and their quest for better lives/ My other friends and Ms. Perky however, made it clear to Kenneth that his argument made no sense.

Poor Kenneth went around the rest of the day worrying that he got his ass kicked by a girl and he planned to go home and get more articulate.
I continually reassured him I was proud of him for stepping up to the plate and attempting to make a point even if it didn't come out quite as convincingly as we would have hoped.

We went uptown in the afternoon and several leaps ahead in communication technology.
The afternoon found us in the offices of Sirius Satellite Radio. If WABC dated back to my childhood, Sirius did not even exist at the start of my young friend's childhood.

We spent the afternoon touring through the maze of production studios where radio programs to appeal to every taste were produced.The Martha Stewart cubicle was directly opposite the Out radio booth- a fact Kobe. our guide non-chalantly pointed out-no need on his part to justify his personal opinions of life style choices. Sirius is serious - if it makes money- it plays.

We saw the gigantic "brain" of Sirius, the row after row of equipment that somehow fed the voices and music of the production cubicles to the sky where the satellites redistributed these sound waves across the Western Hemisphere. (Millions of dollars of equipment cooled by $30 K-Mart fans, Kobe explained)

We passed wall after wall of artwork and signatures that represented most of the entertainment industry of the last decade.

We observed the system of tracking the satellites.

And then we ran into LL Cool Jay. We took pictures.
And now it is time to email those pictures to young friends.

Perhaps in the end, today will be forever remembered as the day we ran into LL Cool Jay.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Babies fake and real

The girls across the aisle on the city bus go to an all girls Catholic High School. Except for the thin white wires leading from the ears, the appearance is essentially the same as the girls who rode the bus to the same Catholic High School 40 years ago, pleated woolen skirts, sweaters embroidered with the school's initials and knee high socks. Last week they carried baby dolls. On Monday and Tuesday the dolls were cradled in the crooks of their arms and the the dolls were fed fake milk from toy bottles, by Friday the dolls were tucked into the side bags, are otherwise squeezed into a nook making way for Algebra texts or cell phones that garnered their "mother's" attention. I suspect the dolls were a part of one of those health education projects that are supposed to teach teenagers the responsibility of parenthood- the ersatz infants appeared to prove the point that "babies" were only interesting for so long.

In the eleventh grade last chance math class (where finding the area of a 7 by 4 rectangle is difficult) Lianna is pregnant. It's a big secret - except, of course, everyone knows, and talks about it all through class and Lianna passes the sonogram around under the table. Quincy, the 12th grader who occasionally remembers to come to me for math help is the dad. Someone asked the other day if Lianna was ready for the baby and unlike the question "how do you find the area of a rectangle?" Lianna answered without hesitation that of course she was.

I like Lianna, and I like Quincy even more.
But unlike the girls on the city bus, this baby won't be shoved to the side for algebra homework.
This baby will be here to stay.
And neither Lianna or Quincy can figure the amount of paint necessary to paint the nursery wall.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Muffins and Elevator Banks

Busy week.
English Language Arts Tests on Monday and Tuesday. Trip to the Vocational and Educational Office for Individuals with Disabilities on Wednesday and a workshop in the city on Thursday.

The best part about the workshops that our Partner Agency offers is the muffins. Now I know that one of the benefits of working in a real city is the real bakeries and deli-catered events on good days or an elevator ride to the muffin stand on not so good days. I know this because when I graduated collegeI tried to work in one of those offices in a glass tower where the elevators are grouped into banks of tens (you know- floors 2-20 in the first line, 21- 40 in the next bank and so on 'til you reach the floors where the big wigs are housed and you can't get on the elevator unless you have a special swipe card.)

But I couldn't sit still at the desk for the eight hours that came after the muffin consumption so I went into to teaching.

I told the story as I sat around the conference table at the Office for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities on Wednesday. I went with Connor and three other seniors to register for their services. Betina had to drop the baby off at the Day Care at a distant high school so we stood on cold windy corner waiting for Betina to be on the bus that took us the subway- Betina was running late and we actually watched five buses go by before the fifth phone cell phone call confirmed she was on the one the pulled up at the bus stop.

The head counselor explained the process of applying for the services and the benefits from their services and there were many. The office was on the top floor and the glass window wall looked over the city skyline. A helicopter made repeated circles. Four of us focused carefully on the counselors explanation while the most distractable one watched the helicopter- but hey I already have a job.

And then we went to Applebee's for lunch. And I thought about how much better my life had turned out now that I could have a bowl of onion soup and a small Caesar's salad for mere sum of $77, (at least they talked each other out of ordering the $15 dollar meals).
but in the company of people who had beaten the odds Klein/Bloomberg reported to the New York Times today and put together the credits needed for a high school diploma despite having learning disabilities, and other challenges.

Today I had a workshop in the city.
I rode the subway.
I walked through Central Park.
I rode an elevator that was part of an elevator bank.
I bit into a muffin.

And then my tooth feel out.

(The kind dentist waited me for me and cemented it back in)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Comfort and Protection

I've been meaning to write about Usher.
I spend a lot of time thinking about Usher. I probably spend more time thinking about Usher than I spend time working with him. To call Usher a truant is an understatement.

But someone called Adminsistration for Child Services about one of his sisters last week, and they remembered he exists and went looking for him so Usher has been around quite a bit lately.

Last year, when someone threatened to call ACS because of his excessive truancy- Usher showed up in the guidance office and begged us not to.

"You have been in foster homes before?" I prompted . (I knew the answer I read his IEP file- he had spent ten years in and out of foster homes.)

Usher told this story:
When he was six his mom left him in at the park to watch his younger sister. While she was gone the little girl got hurt. "Where's the parent?" someone asked and when no one replied the police were called. And that was the beginning of Usher's ten year journey in the system.
"And it was all my fault, Usher explained, if I had watched her better none of that would have ever happened.

So now Usher is 16, can't read Frog and Toad without making a series of mistakes and spends his days with drug dealers getting high.- At least until ACS threatens to put him and his sisters in the system again- then he returns to school.

Yesterday I made the stupid mistake of inserting myself in the middle of a girl fight-
I got knocked to the floor for my efforts. A strong arm reached into the fracus and helped me up. Then Usher gave me a hug.

Comforted and protected, by someone who gets very little protection

or comfort.

If he would only come to school more often-

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back again

So I had an attack of paranoia.
An old friend found me on Facebook and I sent her a link to my blog.
Now if I understood 21st Century Technology like I pretend to, I would have made sure that the link was sent as private message but of course I don't really get these things so instead I posted it on the Share page where everyone could see it.

Now I probably wouldn't have ever realized this except on the very day I decided to do this my husband decided to open a facebook page and read the message. I have no problem with my husband reading the blog (I even encourage him)but then I realized that the blog was out there on my facebook page with my real names for all these "facebook friends" who I work with to see. Not that I am particularly, purposelessly negative on the blog, but I figure it best to keep my musings anonymous.

All this before 8am on a Saturday morning.

So I panicked, made the last blog private and moved the old stuff over here.
Then I went into to frozen mode- and couldn't write anything for two we

And now I don't really know why I am explaining this since I have probably managed to excise any readership I might had had at all.

I've decided I hate my job (okay I love my job sometimes, but there's been a lot to hate this week.)

The ninth grade science teacher had oral surgery leaving me to suffer with the ninth grade inclusion class alone.
Kenya, the 6 foot 5 star of the basketball team switches from class clown, to chief cynic, to why you writing me up Ms TeacherFish, in less time that it takes him to hi jack a jump ball.

Cleo snickers, than guffaws and then breaks out into screech just at the second when I have been seduced into thinking he has settle down.

Lance pops up and down about fifty times a minute interspersed with blasts from his I-Phone

And then there's Tomas
Tomas joined the class in October. Small, Hispanic (in a school that is overwhelming African American) and infinitely less cool than his younger brother, Tomas devotes his time and energy to impressing the cool crowd by stressing me.

Tomas: Ms. Teacherfish- you Irish? Is Teacherfish an Teach Irish name?
Me: No Tomas, it means---- in another language and anyway its my husband's name.
Tomas: You married?

(What does that mean? Is it unfathomable that someone would marry me? but I just move on withe the lesson)
Then later I think I could have said: Tomas why don't you go and find a dictionary and look up the meaning of husband.
But maybe I should be mature than a wannabee 14 year old "gansta."

The crocuses are up-Spring approaches
and hopefully the ninth grade teacher will be back really soon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Houdini writes a myth

Okay-back from the trip to Florida (old teacher's never die, they just retire to South Florida so I can visit them between snow storms)

And its back to "Make Up The Missing Credits- 'cause you didn't do what you supposed to do in the first place- course." It's the last period of the day and I admit I look forward to it. By the time ninth period rolls around, the calls from the support office about missing paperwork, the fight between the eighth graders and phone calls from irate parents fade into the background as jealous gods and vain goddesses strut into the forefront.

The English teacher, a young, thoughtful, caring teacher has been thinking really hard how to make the Greek Mythology course meaningful to people who find reaching the end of the Iliad and the Odyssey as elusive as scaling Mt. Olympus.

So for now the Iliad and the Odyssey are put away. We've been dissecting myths and looking at their place in the ancient world. The English Teacher thought maybe we could write our own myths.

I was late for Make Up The Missing Credits ...course today, stuck in the assistant principal's office discussing excessive flatulence with a sixth grader, his mother and the assistant principal (see why I look forward to ninth period). When I got there my buddies were struggling to come up with concepts for their myths.
But not Houdini- the teacher wanted a myth- he'd write her one.

I will leave today with Houdini's story. (Usually-I use the next letter of the alphabet to make an alias for the student - but I've been calling Houdini- Houdini for the last year. It's based on his uncanny ability to disappear in a split second)

How Thunder Came To Be

Zeus was married to Athena. But Athena was interested in Zeus's brother Hades. So she cheated on Zeus with Hades. They had sex. Zeus got angry and made thunder.

The end.
Bell rang.

Houdini disappeared.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not a Snow Day

So the mayor gets on TV and makes some sarcastic announcement about how he's sorry to report that the schools will be open on Thursday

Big surprise. I already wrote yesterday that the shock was that he called one at all. By six am my phone was ringing- did I have this one's home number? What would happen if we are late? Did I know which buses were likely to be running regularly? Strangely enough I could answer all those questions as I filled the thermos with steamy coffee and pulled the boots over my jeans. (Jean wearing always seemed to be one of the
few benefits of snow days).

And then just as the sun was rising I let myself out into the snow covered world.

And off to work I went.

My good buddies made it in somehow. I joined the "make up missing credit- because you didn't do what you were supposed to do the first time the teacher asked you to do it" session after school.

The English teacher stood in front of an almost empty classroom while four of my senior buddies sat with Homer's Illiad opened before them, eyes glazed over. The teacher showed me the topics for the essays and whispered that she was worried that they might be too hard.

Now here is my moral dilemma- my senior buddies are literally three months away from high school diplomas, and the real world and maybe college and maybe a reality where you are expected to be able to read complex sentences and write coherent essays. And my buddies were staring at the Iliad with about as much interest as... (actually I am having a very difficult time thinking of something they would havefound less interesting - I considered the phone book, the directions for installing a trash compactor and last week's news - but all of those would have been more interesting than the Iliad.)

And the English teacher was breaking into a cold sweat.

I suggested we talk about stuff for a while. Like what is mythology? And why do we study the Iliad? I asked if mythology was fiction or nonfiction? And then we had some problem defining and distinguishing the two.

The English teacher was really sweating now.

And I could end the entry here with the sorry state of the education system today. One of the teacher guppies claims her first grader's can tell the difference when I recounted the story.

But as the period went on, the glazed looks started to disappear. Bettina argued that Push by Sapphire was fiction even though the Precious seemed so real. She's a composite (Did I just hear Bettina say composite?) of so many different students Sapphire taught over the years. Bettina had seen an interview on TV.

Serina argued that Martin Luther's King's "I have a Dream," speech was fiction, because he could have not known what the future held.

Quincy moved from the back of the room, picked up his head and followed the discussion.

And Connor wanted to know why he just couldn't talk about things, why did we have to ruin his good ideas by making him write about them.

My buddies were articulate. They wanted to talk about literature.
They just weren't sure how to read or write about it.

Twenty years ago students like Connor, Bettina, Quincy and Serina, like Precious in Push would have been in some alternative setting secluded from the general education system with some teacher like Saphire or me who fanned the sparks of insight buried under the general confusion the written word provoked.

But today we are all "included".

The English teacher calmed down, we talked about things we could plan for this group.

I wrote before how I won't attempt to choose which system is better since in the end I have no choice.

But its nice to end a Not-a-snow-day- fanning faint sparks of intellect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day!

I've spent more than 80% of my life in the New York City School system. Between being a student and teacher that's more than four decades.

And I can count the number of days school has been canceled during those four decades on one (okay maybe both- but no more than both) hands.

When my older daughter was born (27 years ago this week) a snow storm stuck me in the hospital for two extra days because my doctor couldn't get in to release me. My husband came to visit on cross country skis - which totally blew the mind of my roommate's Dominican husband. (We talked about mind blowing in those days)

Anyway did New York City schools close? Well- our decentralized district did. The superintendent of our district and the one directly to the east had the unreasonable idea to look out at the more than three feet of snow covering the wheels of the vehicles, the unplowed streets and the sidewalks encrusted with glazed over precipitation and closed the schools. They had the mistaken idea that title "superintendent" gave them the power to do so.

It cost them their jobs.

But that is ancient history. Our current mayor has removed even the illusion that anyone but him has the power to mess with Mother Nature (or least concede to her). So he dismantled the local school boards and replaced them with an army of (hey I don't know what to call them- especially since I'm committed to not making this "a whine against the system blog).

Okay- for lack of a better word - I call the mayor's minions- the Blackberry users. If you're goinna have a centralized "top down" managed system- you got to have a way of getting directive"down"- fast. So I'm used to well dressed people walking around the school with a Blackberry.

So it wasn't surprising that the man in the dean's office pulled out his and read the message. What blew my mind (okay- I'm stuck in the 80's) is that he announced the mayor had decided to close schools.


All that advance warning too! The chicken is roosting, the cake baking and the wine chilling.

Who knows at the rate of one snow day a decade- I'm going to enjoy this one, it could be the last one of my career!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jury Duty

I had jury duty this week.
I got to sit in the central jury hall, outside the courtrooms, in the courtrooms and finally in the jury box, before I didn't get chosen to be a juror.

The judge told me being a special education teacher was a noble profession though, before I didn't get chosen. Just for the record, I believe (though it could never be confirmed) that I didn't get chosen for doing what I do best- opening my mouth.

Day one- I watched the potential jurors in the box, while I sat in the audience because I didn't get my name drawn from the wooden tumbler that resembled the contraption that is used to extract Bingo balls. The district attorney and the defense both grilled the people who did get chosen about being able to remember a face if their encounter with that face was traumatic. Two potential jurors took exception. One young man argued particularly cogently that his sole objective in a life threatening situation would be to survive, not to memorize the details of the attackers appearance. The other, a copyright attorney made a similar statement. They were not chosen for the panel. Neither was the young mother who said she read the Indian papers and used her free time to play with her children. However, the young man who replied to the question "are you married?" with the response, "in some places," leading me to conclude he was making a statement on same sex marriage, was chosen.

Day Two: My name emerged second from the bingo ball - panel selector tumbler, and I was seated in the jury box. The judge again apprised us of the privilege of performing our civil duty. (Earlier I complained - I was getting tired of jury duty after going through the fourth of fifth security check- and the man standing next to me said- "stop being such a model citizen and they won't call you) And along with this reminder the judge recalled that some of us might have an idea of things we could say that would get us excused. I was beginning to think that anything we said that was more than yes or no, or I like to read and listen to the local news mostly for the weather report would be the exit ticket from the juror box. So the defense attorney got around to asking me if I agreed with him that if you spoke to someone long enough you would be able to ascertain if he spoke the truth.

Wait- do you what I do?- do you know how many hours of my life I spend listening to people tell me, she did this, I said that, or more likely I didn't do "it", say "it", throw "it" etc.? After listening to opposing stories for more than a few minutes I have no idea what the truth is or who is the better liar. And I told the defense attorney this. From the corner of my eye I could see the district attorney pick up a yellow highlighter and slash decisively across her paper.

I was off the panel. And jury duty was over just a bit later that day.

Back in school on Thursday I found Marianna pacing in front of my room.
"I didn't pass the Algebra Regent, I didn't pass the Science Regent. I need a really good tutor"

We'll work together- we'll get them next time Marianna.
The judge is right about one thing It is a noble profession.

Even for those who can't keep their mouth's shut.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Out of the Cage

My father took our school careers seriously. If we had schoolwork due we rarely ventured out of the room we were working in (which was probably the dinette, the alcove off the kitchen that contained an oval wooden table with a notch in it, where my father incurred the wrath of my mother by once sawing through whatever he was sawing -straight into the tabletop. Honestly, I never remember my father sawing anything ever again).

But I lose track of my story here. If we strayed from the notched, oval dinette table for a breath of air, a sneak look at the tv or a bathroom run - he would yell
"Get back in the cage!"

My father was not so much a disciplinarian as a comedian. He categorized the world into kvetches and kibbitzers- those who whine about the foibles of life and those who make jokes.

He was most definitely the latter.

And so I thought of my father this Regent week as I was confined to the overheated, under-decorated dean's office, doing the "read aloud Regents."

One of the accommodations available to students with Individual Education Plans is "questions and directions read aloud for all exams other than those measuring reading comprehension."

Really- all the state exams are tests of reading comprehension. I just looked online to see if the state had posted this week's Living Environment (Biology) Regent- but they had not yet so I paraphrase. One question described in three to four sentences the mandible of two different blood sucking insects before getting around to asking if insects are herbivores, omnivores or producers. Oy!!!

But if the exam isn't actually an "English Language Arts" exam the "questions read aloud..." modification, allows students with significant reading disabilities to have the questions read aloud.

And I am stuck in the cage.

Take Jonathan for example. Usually students with reading issues are masters of disguises. They have a whole wardrobe of disguises to mask their inadequacies with the written word. Their eyes are tired, they just weren't concentrating, they just don't like the teacher that reported their difficulties, so they refused to cooperate.
But not Jonathan. Jonathan went up to his adviser the first week of ninth grade and told her he couldn't read.

Jonathan arrived from an English speaking Central American country right before the start of the school year two years ago. He had not attended school in his native school for a while. Tall, and physically well developed, Jonathan had worked as a butcher for the last several years, until an aunt had somehow managed to bring him to New York. The fact that had come from a part of the world where English is spoken, immediately disqualified him from the programs that service English language learners who are SIFES, (students with interrupted formal education). Why such programs do not exist for native English speaker? You'd have to ask Klein/Bloomberg.

So Jonathan struggles along. Last year I got him an IEP and made sure the questions read aloud modification was stipulated. Jonathan takes his education seriously. Trading in his butcher knife, for a pencil means he doesn't squander the opportunity of acquiring a New York State Regents High School diploma. He made me read the questions slowly carefully and I watched him sweat through documents about Neolithic advancements in agriculture, consecutive odd integers, and the effects of distant galaxies on wave length measurement. (All the while praying he and the others would pass and I would do nothing that would put my so-close-I-can-taste-it pension in jeopardy).

A whole week of reading aloud Regents, four hours in the morning, four hours in the afternoon.

Thursday the principal pulled me out to sit in a conference as the union rep. Then it was time for the afternoon's Regent. I heard the voice of my father.

"Get back in the cage!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quotes of the Day

Regents Week:

Short comments

Bella- I feel confident about the ELA Regents, I took your advice- I wrote my hand off.

Quincy- I'm here! You can cancel the APB -(I called his cell phone twice, the Homeroom teacher called his mother and the social worker called the pizza store across the street.)

Nathan- Sometimes we're all just a bunch of angle- side- sides.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friday afternoon basketball

I have the worst cell phone in the school, staff and students included. I mean it works and everything- when then dentist's office gave me an appointment for the end of February, I set the alarm in the phone to ring that day- so I wouldn't miss it.
This is a huge improvement from the old days when I would have written the appointment me my pocket calendar. Of course chances are I wouldn't have looked at the pocket calendar any where near the time of dentist appointment - or even more likely- by the time the appointment rolled around the pocket calendar would have been long lost.

I rarely loose my cell phone. If I can't find it at transition time (you know the moment you leave the house for work or leave work for the house or you leave anywhere to go someplace else) I look for it madly for 30 seconds and then I call it. Unlike my keys, or my wallet, the phone has the decency to ring and so I can followed it's muffled sound under the couch pillows or beneath the pile of forgotten coats in the cloak closet until I locate it, subdue panic and proceed to the next location of my life.

But this isn't a post about cell phones-I did want to say that with all the above mentioned positive qualities, compared to everyone around me, my phone sucks I can't check my email, find a good restaurant in the neighborhood or play video games during staff meetings ((well actually I use my netbook for the playing video games during staff meeting part- but hey I'm not finished complaining) And everyone else from the principal on down can do those things on their phone.

But this is a blog post about Friday afternoons and basketball and me having the only charged up, receiving service, working cell phone in the hosting team's gym last night.

I had planned to leave school exactly at dismissal yesterday and be home early enough to cook dinner and still have plenty of laying-on-the-couch-time, but Thomas wanted help with a science poster on sickle cell anemia and I didn't have the heart to split. Then Thomas wanted a ride to the basketball game and I had the car. And then I wanted to watch the game, which we lost in the last quarter.

With 43 seconds left Kenya fell. Kenya is the almost 7 foot star of our team. And I have been working with Kenya a long time. Somewhere in the second half the teacher next to me asked me if Kenya was passing all his classes and would remain academically eligble to play next semester

"It's possible," I answered, "But I forsee alot of together time for the two of us next week," (starting with the disease of the week poster I stayed late to help Thomas with).

Kenya does not like losing. He does not like taunting. And even though he looks and attempts to act like a rising NBA star- by the end of the game the combination of being loudly heckled by the home teams fan and the lack of scoring was too much for him. When he fell on his knee he writhed in pain and gave a full out performance.

Conversation heard behind me,
"Just drag him off the court and finish the game."
"Shut up -ma"

So somehow after the game ended and the home team cleared the gym, I was on my cell phone calling Kenya's grandmother, who is in no condition to sit around the emergency room, calling the principal to figure out if we could take him there, calling back the grandmother to get phone consent to treat, calling the emt's supervisor to get permission to transport Kenya in the coach's car, since Kenya made in abundantly clear that he wasn't going in a fucking ambulance.

Bottom line- Kenya is okay. He'll back in school on Monday to finish his science poster. Perhaps will switch the topic from Rabies to knee injuries.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Orphans in TV land

The midweek blahs set in- or maybe just inertia- but 8pm rolled around and I had only the energy to roll around the channel guide on the remote control. PIX had a new show and since nothing old appealed to me I watched it.

So here's the gist of it. This very pretty almost 16 year old blond girl who is tired of living in foster care since her foster brother opens the bathroom door when she hasn't finished brushing her teeth, decides she would like to be emancipated. So she somehow has in her possession a paper from her file with the name and addresses of her biological parents who she needs signatures from to become independent. However, when she goes to the hearing for emancipation her biological parents accompany her, volunteer to cosign a lease for an apartment, but the judge denies her petition and grants custody to the biological parents since they didn't have their signatures notified on the paper Ms Cute blond foster child gave them to sign the day before.

Okay- that's the first fifteen minutes of the show. What follows is love scenes and tearful confessions, and commitments and re-commitments until the final scene where everyone gets to celebrate foster-no-more-kid's 16th birthday and when she blows out the candle she doesn't have to make a wish since she already got her's.

And that's just the premier.

Conner came to my room yesterday and as we reviewed for the umpteenth time for the math regent he looked up and said, "I don't know how much more of this I can take." And he wasn't talking about math.

At 18, Connor is not looking for signatures from successful biological parents who made some regrettable, but forgivable mistake in their high school years. His biological mom lives a few blocks from the school but never could take adequate care of him, his father is an ocean away. Child Protective Services removed him a while back and Connor negotiates the morass of administrative "intervention" almost on a weekly basis. It's his story and I won't tell it but unlike Ms. TV Orphan he knows just how hard it can be out there on his own.

Quadratic equations I can solve, the vagaries of Child Protective System I cannot. I told Connor to make an appointment with the principal, a social worker by training with lots of experience with the foster care system, I figured she would be in the best position to help him.

I was in the principal's office myself earlier in the day, shuffling through intervention plans, testing schedules and teacher complaints but bringing Connor's issues up didn't rise to my consciousness.

I forgot to remember how hard it is to negotiate the world alone, until I stranded myself on the couch and watched an orphan in TV Land where wishes are granted within 60 minutes even with commercial breaks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good In Math

I spend a lot of time in math classes. I solve for X a lot, find the interception of two lines and can even determine whether a graph illustrates a function or not. I act like I know what I am doing (most of the time)- and when I get hopelessly lost my ego allows me to find a bonafide real live math teacher -fast.

And I admit to the students who are struggling to find x, set up a ratio or sharpen a pencil with a rounded edge scissors-that I spent a school career, being not so good in math.

They usually don't believe me. I have become so proficient at locating that pesky little x even when it is surrounded with coefficients and exponents and even annoying little other variables. But that is what Facebook is for.

I joined Facebook late- I am too old for this -I protested long and loud. But then the ninth grade team went to Atlanta last summer the same week one of the Teacher Guppie's best friend got married and I wanted to see photos fast. Surrounded by twentysomethings at work and at home I somehow got a Facebook account set up (my first friend after the Teacher Guppies was my mother-in-law,`so I could no longer play the age card) And last week my best friend from junior high school found me and I quote from her message

(She writes about communicating with another friend) One of our more recent reminiscences was how bad we were at math. I told her by leaving after 8th grade she missed all the fun! She missed Mrs. Auerbach's 9th grade torture session, in which I was pretty sure YOU were my other half in what Auerbach called "The Idiot Twins". If Barbara had stayed we could've been "Idiot Triplets"

I'm gonna print it out.
Next time someone tells me they can't do something in math I will tell them if one of the idiot twins can they can too.


Inertia: the tendency of an object that is in motion to stay in motion and an object at rest to stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force

The middle school science teacher finds herself in the position in which her lesson plans are reviewed by the administration at the beginning of each week.

I find myself in the position of being cc'ed those lesson plans- in what capacity?
a) Coach? b)Mentor? c)Union Rep? d)chief shmuck?

I pick (d) if I have to choose.

So last night I set myself up in front of the Jets game with laptop and cheered.
For the Jets- not the lesson plans.

I did not launch the laptop 10 feet in the air (velocity 5 meters/second backwards) as I did with my cell phone when David Wright hit a homerun while I answered a parent's phone call the last season Shea Stadium was open) I did manage to learn basic physics while the Jets overtook the Chargers.

Me: When you fall backward cause the bus started suddenly when the light turns green, that's inertia, when you lurch forward when it stops that's momentum.

Mr. Not-a-teacherfish: Nope- that's inertia too, INTERCEPTION!-we got any more chips?

Me: No- some chocolate cake, what you mean it's inertia?

And Mr. Not-A-Teacherfish who was paying better attention in physics class in 1972 then Future Teacherfish who was sitting behind him, decides to search the internet for a better definition of inertia before searching the kitchen for a better piece of chocolate cake.

Somewhere between the Jets second touchdown and the Charger's missed field goal I got an inkling on how inertia and momentum might be related.

That's the thing about being a Special Ed teacher who wears the coach, mentor, union rep and chief shmuck hat - I get to be maven on so many things.

On to Indianapolis. Let's go Jets!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blowing it Up

When my mom was quite ill I found myself in the airport often. One morning I found myself at the coffee bar next to two New York Times reading businessmen. Guilianni, had made one of his public school demeaning, teacher bashing comments the day before. The suits were discussing it. I can even remember one comment exactly.

"All NYC schools should be blown up and they can start all over again," one said to the other. (Apparently in those days you could talk about blowing something up, while in the airport without instantly meeting the TSA).

I had plenty on my mind, I should have kept my mouth shut- minded my own business. But as my colleague says- I can't, its just not my nature.

So I turned and asked, "When was the last time you were actually inside a NYC school."

And they did reply. They had never been in one.

So I invited them. Come, anytime to ours. Come see what goes on. Come watch children from all different countries learn English, and everything else. Come see one teacher keep thirty kids, happy and engaged with limited supplies. Come see what really goes on before you offer to blow it up."

I would have given them a business card- but teachers don't have those. At least not this teacher.

They called my plane and I boarded.
As I settled into my seat, I heard the gentleman behind me.

"She's passionate about her job, you got to give her that."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Little Red Wheelbarrow in the room

Late night.
New Year.
Semester drawing to a close
So many worries.

Okay-I felt poetic. I like English. I like words. If I had my druthers I would work with the English Department- but the job available when I was desperate to move on was a special service teacher strong in math and science. I already said I was desperate to get away from my old school. I developed a spontaneous strength for math and science. So I spend my days solving equations and talking about cells dividing.

But the English coach was late for sixth period open resource room and David was waiting for assistance. What stands between David and a high diploma is passing the English Regents. David has been faithfully coming for coaching and I listen the background or our little crowded room.

In a school full of noise, David is a quiet island in stream of continuous commentary- complaints, cries and cursing.

So I grab the poetry anthology and thumb to William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow" four verses, four words per verses- not much of a diversion into the world of literature- while we wait for the coach. And we try to figure out what it all means. Of course five minutes into to this I'm wondering if I know what it all means.

"It's setting is outside," David begins. I press him to say more.
"Water," he adds. "Maybe a farm, there are chickens."

And the English coach returns and wants to know what the connection between water and the farm is, and why glazed?

And what's the theme? Or significance?
Sixteen words, so many questions.

And then Quentin arrives. What stands between Quentin and the diploma is the Math Regents. So we take out the papers and start substituting y's for x's and using the inverse operation and there it is neatly on the paper- the answer- no wondering or uncertainty.

Maybe I'm grateful the English position wasn't available.

New year,
So many tests
So many worries
In our little crowded room