Thursday, November 22, 2012

Frustration and Cupcakes

I teach math.
Let me rephrase that in the pursuit of honest writing.
I am assigned two sections of a course called Algebra Prep.

Which means I have two classes comprised of students who fit the following criteria.
They were at some point in their school career designated as requiring a full time special education program. And they have yet to pass the all important New York State Algebra Regents.

I like my paycheck. It allows me to browse the Macy's website at 6:30 Thanksgiving Morning and if I clicked the correct button, four pretty sweaters should be lodged between my screen door and the front door early next week. I am not sure I hit the correct button. I did reveal the secret information about where my wedding reception, was held, but then things seemed to happened quickly and the page disappeared.
I got frustrated and moved on to making coffee.

Which is why I differentiate between teaching math and doing all the things that I call teaching math, like searching for appropriate tasks, trying to infuse meaning into sets of equations, tediously pulling apart problems from the exit exam and explaining them bit by bit (The educationalese word for that is scaffolding- not to be confused with the metal and wood structure outside the classroom window where the workman is jack-hammering while I do all those things)

After four long weeks of looking at the relationship between a linear equation and its graph I give a test.

Regina said it wasn't a real test because I didn't make them sit every other row. Then she asked wasn't I going to give them something it was the day before Thanksgiving.

“What is this first grade?” I ask, as I unwrap the last tray of cupcakes. The group in the Resource Room has polished off the last of the Hawaiian Punch the period before, so I figured I wouldn't have to collect red-soaked test papers.

Then Richard announces it was good I was giving out cupcakes because it was his eighteenth birthday.

And that got him thinking about how he was grown up and should be responsible for things. Like maybe get married and have kids.

But only two kids
by seven wives......

Wait!!!! (see why I don't really teach Algebra)
You can't have two kids by seven wives, what, each wife is going to be 2/7th pregnant?

Regina wants to know why I make everything math, Fred wants to know if you go up or down for a positive slope, Donny wants to know if he can borrow a pencil, Matthew is staring very hard at the paper and is deciding where he should write his name (on the line that says name would be my first choice.).

So Robert, who is in an introspective mood- says no what he really wants is one special 'ho.

He's the romantic type.

So I walk around and help people finish the test- Cheating I suppose. But it is a non-credit course and
the point is to convey some knowledge of algebra, maybe enough knowledge of algebra to pass the stupid regents.

Without getting too frustrated.
And then move on.

PS- I'm not sure what passing the Regents will allow them move onto , but dem's the rules. Mine is not to reason why, mine is just to do and give out cupcakes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reading the Met

Veteran's Day.  After  a post-tropical hurricane, and an early snowstorm, Mother Nature gives us a perfect autumn day.  We take the train to the city, walk through Central Park and land in a surprising empty Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We know some little known facts.  The suggested price of $25 admission- is just that- suggested..  And Monday the museum is closed- except if it is a holiday. For $5 each we have the museum almost to ourselves.

We go to the Andy Warhol exhibit.  By room 5 I begin to suffer museum fatigue and sit on the nicely polished wood bench smack in the middle of the room.  A young man and his mother circulate the room.  He reads the words on the explanation cards and those that are part of the pieces with ease and alacrity.  My bench mate is impressed.  "How well this little guy reads," he comments.

Yeah better then my tenth graders.

He reads the Richard Prince piece, “My father was never home, he was always drinking booze. He saw a sign saying ‘Drink Canada Dry.’ So he went up there.”

My bench mate and I compliment the mother.

"He's been reading since he's three," she tells us.  
And then, showing a great deal of reflection, adds, "figuring out what it says is one thing, understanding it is another."

"Like the Canada Dry joke?"  I ask. 

"And I didn't explain it to him either," she adds.

So some five year olds can breeze easily through multi-syllabic words, some tenth graders struggle terribly.

I will sit through another professional development on vocabulary development and literacy  today.  I will hear many good ideas.  But does anything work as well as good genes and landing in a family that knows the Met is free and open on holiday Mondays?

Maybe I should schedule a trip to Met?

I wonder if I could get it approved for vocabulary development?

I bet my tenth graders would get the Canada Dry joke.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


In first period English we read a poem, from the August Regents Exam

Home Techtonics
Our house is at the crest
of a mountain formed
by a fault line that’s still
doing its work. We’re up
over five thousand feet,
and probably, slowly, the spot
that we sit on is going
to get higher and higher.
So, at some point, the house
is coming down, shaken
to bits, I suppose, and what
we’re banking on is that
we’ve chosen the right moment
in geologic time, a sweet
spot between cataclysms.1
And that’s what Annie and I
hope for generally,
and what everyone seems
to want—some forgettable
moment between great wars
or typhoons or plagues—to have
timed it just right, so we’re
in just the right place between
what we read about in history
books and the moments after
which history won’t matter much.
John Brantingham
from Earthshine, November 2007–December 2009

Conan is worried about passing the exam.
He should be – I ask him what the poem is about
and he says something to do with plates.

So we read it many times. Conan is serious, he concentrates.
We talk about a lot. The exam says we should use the ideas from the poem to write a paragraph about uncertainty.

But Conan is confused. He writes that the poem is about a man who hopes his house does not fall down.

Which of course, it is, but unlike the campaign commercials that made me want to throw something at the tv (just how vulnerable are flat screens?-they probably don't break into the star-shaped shatter- so popular in the cartoons of my childhood,) the poems speaks to me more and more each time I read it It speaks to me.  I worry a lot..

And then Hurricane Sandy hits.
Neither Conan nor I suffer the terrible damage. The school community, so recently devastated by a automobile crash that killed four students, is spared the loss of life
But many have lost homes, and cars and the sense of well being.

On Monday when we return, I tell Conan I thought about him and the poem, during the week- at first he is not sure why, but Pablo  reminds him that a typhoon is like a hurricane.

Tuesday is Election Day.
Wednesday, a snowstorm only half as bad as the Hurricane hits. This time our home loses only half its electricity.

The Teacher's College Writer's project people, tell the story of the classroom and the first snow. The teacher invites the class to come to the window and observe the first flakes of the year. From the back, the cynic yells out, “Don't do it, she'll only make us write about it!”

We watch the snow and calculate how long the commute home will be. It's high school. We don't write about the first snow.

So it's not until the end of the week that I do make them read about the election.
We read Hope and Change Part 2 by Thomas Friedman.

We talk and talk about what it means.
I have been taking a lot of criticism in our small group professional learning community for suggesting that I use New York Times pieces with the student in the Resource Room. I am told over and over that the reading level is way too hard for them.
I am under no illusion that it isn't difficult reading with difficult vocabulary, but the material interests me and they are mad close to being fully grown adults, so I persist.

We slog or way through Friedman's analysis of what went wrong for the Republicans. And in the end Pablo says, “What if its just that Romnney had bad luck?”

Conan says elections don't have anything to do with luck. Obama was just the better choice.


Or maybe he was kind of lucky that Sandy hit and blew the campaign right off the front page of the paper and the nightly news.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Update

I have a distant memory of my first day of kindergarten being cancelled for a hurricane.
Although I suppose I could have looked at the New York Times archive to confirm it - I never did.

But it is true.  I've heard the storm reports and many mention that the last time NYC was so devastated by a natural disaster was Hurricane Donna in 1960, the year I started kindergarten.

The pictures have been awful,  flooded subways, tunnels-beach towns washed away or burnt to the ground.

And the toll on human life -horrific!
Three blocks away a large tree fell on a rooftop and killed a young man who used to wait at the same bus stop as my children.

A young teacher and her boyfriend walked their dog in the storm and were killed by a falling branch.  The dog was fine and waiting by their bodies when they were found the next day.

So I do not complain.  We, like six million others are without electricity and I type this at my sister's house and hope we get power back soon.

I am no longer cheering for hurricane days -which has turned into a hurricane week.  (Not so much fun in a cold dark house!)

Family, friends, coworkers and students have checked in. Many without power-otherwise fine.

I hope you are reading this in a warm dry place and are safe and well.

No school, nor school stories this week.