Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Day

Hurricane Sandy is heading directly at us.

The governor shut down the transportation system. The mayor had no choice but to close schools.


Friday I noticed a stack of cold cereal boxes by the principal's desk. He keeps them there for those days that stretch into night- it brought to mind a story from my early years.

I worked in a school that was the poster child for the devastation of the South Bronx.
Mrs.Nieves, the assistant teacher in my first grade class worked very hard surreptitiously collecting unopened cold cereal boxes in the cafeteria while supervising breakfast. She had to do it on the sly, the cafeteria staff chastised her when they caught her. They followed the rule- no food should ever be taken out of the lunchroom, unless it was inside a belly or a garbage bag.

Throughout the week she would stockpile the boxes in a closet in our classroom.
Friday she would take selected book bags from the wardrobe and stuff them with her hoarded boxes.

She knew which children would eat nothing but those boxes of cereal all weekend.

If you drive through the South Bronx today it looks nothing like it did when I worked there in 1978. The burnt out buildings have been replaced, the streets repaired and the stores occupied.

But I wonder, whether it is because of poverty, abuse or just dysfunctional family life how many children will not eat today because the schools are closed.

Schools closed.
Maybe, along as you ate something other than cold cereal all weekend.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Was Guinevere a Cheating Spouse?

Carmelo asked me if it was ever okay to not reject the advances of a married suitor.
He asked again.
I thought about it

“Nope,” I answered, “ it is never okay to help someone cheat. And anyway I'm married so it would be doubly bad.


“Because I go home to a house that is warm in the winter, cool in the summer, the refrigerator is full and the mortgage paid, and I'm not about to risk all that.  And anyway,” I asked, “why do you want to know?”

It was for his English homework, a set of preview questions before the senior class began reading the Tales of King Arthur.

I went home to the paid up house.

In 1976 I was an assistant teacher at preschool, the head teacher taught me how to be a non-sexist educator, how to make a wrong answer sound right ( What's red and round and grows on an apple tree, orange you say, yes an orange is also a fruit), and if you survive the week, Friday night is a night for beverages that don't come in collapsible pouches.

So, last Friday night, she and I polished off a couple of bottles of good wine and I told her the story.

Maybe it was all the wine, but her summation- my response did not make monogamous marriage sound like the most romantic thing in the whole world.

Perhaps, I needed something stronger in my cup than the coffee from the teacher's room when Carmelo asked me the question at 9:30 in the morning.

So what does cheating have to do with King Arthur?

The love of my life returned to the room with more wine, he and my old mentor both recalled that Sir Lancelot has a thing for Guinevere, King Arthur's wife.

How does this medieval soap opera play out?

I might never find out. Carmelo's group was taken out of my program.

But, thankfully, good friends and faithful husbands remain.
(good wine, as well)

Friday, October 19, 2012

A small encounter

I wait for a ride to work in front of the local elementary school. The block is filled with children. I perch on low brick fence and listen to the novel Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, on my MP3 player. A very young man holds the hand of an older woman. Within steps of me he trips and falls to the ground. He makes an elaborate showing on rubbing his knee as the woman helps him up.

He gets up, takes a few steps and pauses in front of me.
“Did you get a boo boo?” I ask
He nods, and asks, What are you listening to?'
It is a story of a Chinese family that comes to America, I tell him. I do not tell him that writer recounts the terrible prejudice they encounter,

He would like to stay and chat, but his escort thinks it is time to move on. I do not understand the Asian Language she speaks, but I can guess the words that come out of her mouth are instructions to say good morning, because at the end he turns to me, bows and says, “good morning.” She has not understood a word of our exchange.

They move on. My ride comes. I am off to school.
We are all off to school.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


The written word.
I've spent a lifetime in a relationship with it. The old library located underneath the bank that looked like Independence Hall was small enough that I thought I could read through all the books in the children's section.

I don't think I accomplished it. But I read a lot of good books trying.

Back on the public transportation today.
I take the train through the transportation center. As I leave the station the Mexican lady sells churros on the platform. Laden down with school bags and rushing to make the bus I do not stop. But by her knee a young girl kneels leaning against the pillar. Pencil in one hand, folder balanced on her knee she does her homework as the train roars into the station.

I transfer above ground.. The bus passes a stop where homeless people collect. The days have not yet chilled to the uncomfortable level, but still by the vent, a man wth a series of bags and mismatched clothes crouches over the warm air. The bus collects passengers but he doesn't get on. He's concentrating on the book propped up on the grid. The warm air makes the pages flutter.

The assistant principal gives me a new manual for a very old phonics program. I read the directions for the assessment piece. I give the assessment to the ninth grader in the ninth period resource room group.
“I'm going to do terribly,” he tells me.”
He does.

35/50 three letter words read correctly in one minute
I go to the manual. It says on page three if the student reads less than 37 words in a minute follow the directions on page four.

I turn the page. Page five. No page four..

I tell the assistant principal. She's happy I am using the program. She doesn't have page four. Its an old program. She's not sure what I should do.

I better figure something out.
If the churro seller's daughter and the homeless man read, there's no chance of success without mastery of the written word in this world.

Even if you don't want to read your way through the children's library.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The day is long.
The  rewards few and the goal line seemingly so far way.

Tenth period math class is not an easy thing to commit to.
Not if your taking algebra again because you haven't passed the test that allows you to graduate high school.

Fifth term of high school algebra.  Rule in this school- keep taking it until you pass the Regent exam, or get too old to go to public school.

And yet there are five of them who come every day. (or most of them anyway)

Theresa (the attendance  sheet has a difficult to pronounce foreign name, but she likes the American sounding one),  told  me she couldn't read the first day.  In my old life I would be thinking hard about what to do about that.  But here I only teach her math.

She copies the notes.  And then I see her doing the problems, ruin my routine?  Aren't I supposed to go over them and demonstrate the model first?

"Oh I see you know how to do proportions,"  I say."Did you learn that last year?"
"No, I followed your notes,"
I check.
She's three examples in and not a mistake.

Door opens, Jose breezes in.  The noise level triples, a steady stream of Spanish, English, Spanish, English, "I am not sure which language?"emerges,  but somewhere in the middle of the bilingual narrative and perpetual motion the work gets done.

Johnathan sucks down another can of grape soda. Johnathan is as wide as he is tall. I tell him he doesn't need to drink a can of sugared  soda.  Then I feel like I've offended him and tell him no one needs to drink a can of sugared soda.  I will eat all the chocolate cookies in the principal's office as soon as the period is over, but grape soda, seems like such a waste of calories.

Jonathan drinks grape soda, trades insults with Jose in two languages, and I  tell him he's not doing his work, but he swallows, holds up  his paper- its filled with work, and not a grape soda stain on it.

Martin is huddled in a corner away from the flurry of activity.  I pull a chair next to him.  I  guide him through the notes that worked so well for Theresa,  Its a much slower process but we get through.  Martin sets up the proper portion. Now all that's left is solving the on step equation. Martin has forgotten how to solve a simple equation.
We find the chart with instructions on solving one step equations.
We get through it and do it again.

The other Martin sits at the other end of the room. The paraprofessional helps him out.  I wrote about him yesterday.  He will never have to take the test, his IQ deemed to low.  But he's placed in the class and I'm not sure quite what to do with him. He does the worksheet with the paraprofessional.  I don't know what knowledge is imparted.

And then Jonathan tells us its 3 minutes to the final bell.  We pick up papers, place the folders in the shelves and get ready to go home.

Will any of the knowledge stick?  Will any of it be available on the day of the Regents? Will any of it help it them lead better lives.

Who can tell?
The bell rings.

They go home.
I go to where the chocolate is.

Another day in tenth period math.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Missing keys and magic standards

I sat across from the new ESL teacher at lunch in the Teachers cafeteria.
I was in the Teacher's cafeteria because I was locked out of the  Teacher's Center.
I wanted to go the Teacher's Center since I was locked out of the Resource Room.

The one everyone told me to just ask for the key.
Which I did.
Three times.  And complained to the principal, but still I have no key to the Resource Room and no key for the Teacher's Resource Center.  At least the teacher's cafeteria was open - or I would have been standing on the street.

Like I did- all second period, because although I don't officially begin my day until third period, the early session was in the middle of a fire drill and I couldn't get in the school

"How, are you?"  my uncle's family asked at the gathering last night,
"Can't complain,"  I respond, because they are very, very nice people who I only see once a year.
But apparently I can.

But I digress from the story of the new ESL teacher.
She's worried about the young man in her fifth period class.  She gave a test, an easy test, and he kind of just doodled all over it.

So I looked up his name in the IEP program and guess what?  He has a classification of intellectually disabled .  (That's what the program said, I didn't make it up)
He has an alternate assessment designation - which means somewhere, somehow, someone determined he had an IQ of less than 65.
The class is a general education high school English class.

"So what should  I do with him?"  New ESL teacher asks.
"Teach him English,"  Old jaded special ed teacher replies.

But I am being flippant.
I have a different student, with same classification in a self contained algebra class.
While the rest of the class struggles to line up the terms in the equation and distinguish 3x form 3 + x,  this young man stares at the worksheet.
He will never be registered to take the exam the class is  preparing for.  
And I'm not trying to teach him anything useful.  I'm too busy trying to get the rest of the class to squeak a passing grade on an exam in a subject that they've taken five times already. (true-not an exaggeration)

The day continued. 
I was locked out of the Resource Room again after lunch.  As soon as the ninth period group got comfortable in the nice airy English room, someone came down from the Special Ed office with a key, opened it and returned upstairs with the key. We all squeezed back into the green house,we use as a resource room. 

Because it was Monday  we ended the day with a department meeting.
We heard all about rigor and raising the standards and preparing our students for the twenty first century through the magic of Common Core Learning Standards.

Like that might be easier than getting my own key for the Resource Room.