Monday, December 23, 2013

Cuckoo Teacher

I am a cuckoo teacher.
I know this because Alisha told me.

Friday was the last day before break. It was the last day I taught under the Bloomberg regime.

Thursday three administrators and a dean visited the fourth period self contained geometry class.Well the dean actually didn't come inside. He just stood outside the room while two girls yelled at him. I put the poster over the window in the door. We were working on perpendicular lines and slopes. Even I know that two girls cursing out a dean is more interesting than perpendicular lines and slopes, but hey I got the message that we are supposed to teach bell to bell.

Teaching bell to bell means that if you are going to be paid and subsequently evaluated on your teaching than that's all you should be doing in between the bells that signal the start and end of the period. As the break approaches the whole concept can be extended to teaching right up to the moment the last bell of 2013 rings.

Yeah right! Thursday's class went something like this, two girls yelled continously at dean for ten minutes in front of the classroom door. I placed poster chart paper in front of the door window- therefore cutting off the visual if not the audio signal. One administrator came in and told me not to place anything over my window- ostensibly so he can be assured I am actually teaching between the bells I took down poster. Second administrator comes in and asks why I was holding the poster chart paper, which was blank, since I did not choose to write any notes on it while it was hiding the hallway show. Oh- I told her I only used it to block the view of chaos. Oh- she says- if there are problems in the hall I should call the dean and not cover the window. (The problem in the hall was the dean but I hardly saw the point in mentioning that- I was teaching.) She closed the door with the window now completely unblocked. A minute later the principal walked in, I expected another discussion about covering the window. I was wrong. He only wanted to know where our garbage pail is so he could throw out a plastic soda bottle he found in the hallway.

And I'm supposed to teach continuously.

I am tired of slopes and perpendicular lines. We have been working on them for a week. I am still not convinced anyone actually gets the relationship. This is the class that still needs to discuss which axis is the x and which is the y. This is the class that has difficulty placing a ruler between two points and holding it steady to connect the points to create a line. I spoke with the assistant principal for special ed the night before at a holiday celebration and after a couple of glasses of wine confessed that I doubted the concept that enough rigor was enough to make members of this group master the content of high school geometry while I totally ignored the skills and talents that they did possess, (Kindness, humor, tenacity and creativity – all aspects of the class makeup – all not particularly useful in mastering the Common Core college preparatory geometry standards) She said, but if it helped them receive a high school diploma then that would help them in life. She said it with little conviction, she too had had a few drinks. (The conundrum here is that I will pass out passing grades, its easier than writing a justification for large number of failures, which we euphemistically call “scholarship reports”- but it will not help my very needy students to obtain the high school diploma, because there are all sorts of obstacles, mainly the Regents or exit exams in all the subjects that they cannot surmount).

On Friday I pass out coordinate grids with instructions on how to plot a Santa Claus. The paraprofessional works very hard on hers. The rest of us chat.
Alisha tells me I am a cuckoo teacher.
I rise to the bait and ask why?

And Alisha enumerates. I sing, I dance, I hop around (I was hopping around the floor tiles the first day we did slope- this to illustrate the concept of rise and run). I lay on the floor. (Fred was agitated one day, came into the room and said he was going to lay someone out flat, I laid down on the floor and said- oh you mean like this? Fred sat down and started to copy the notes- agitation under control).
When someone says “I'm bored,” I do the The ol' soft shoe (give me the old soft shoe that any girl can do, a one, a two a doodly doodly do) that Ms Bee taught me a half century ago when I took tap lessons. Giovani comes to class twice a week, settles in and immediately says “Miss, I'm bored,” Just to check that it still works.

Maybe Alisha is right.
I am a cuckoo teacher.
I keep trying to teach geometry.
From bell to bell.

Though its tough to compete with the show in the hall.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Discipline or not?

Bernardo came to resource room, a rare occurrence, to tell me he wouldn't be there for a few days since he was probably going to be suspended.

We have a new method this year to deal with behavior issues suspend, suspend, suspend.  If you are wearing a hat you get suspended, if you take your cell phone out you get suspended, if you have  a major or minor fight you get suspended.  If you curse out a teacher you get....

well maybe you get suspended.
Maybe you don't.

Being disrespectful to teachers is not a huge infraction apparently, not like walking around the school with a hat on is.

So Bernardo told me the story.
It was a long story.  They all are.

Mr.  (now I'm having a problem here- I'd like to insert the name of a forest animal, because that would be the teacher's name in translation, but for some reason most of the forest animals I am coming up are real names of teachers in the school- which is condition I find fascinating and when I share that opinion with colleagues I get the kind of looks that makes me think I will never really fit in.)

Back to story.
Mr. Forest told him to move his seat,  And the long and short of it was Bernardo didn't.

So I called the dean who said, she had just gotten off the phone with Bernardo's foster mother who shared the fact that Bernardo had stopped taken his medications because he wanted to join the army and you couldn't join the army if you are on meds.

You can't join the army if you can't read, didn't graduate high school or can't move your seat when a superior tells you to- either, but that conversation with Bernardo is still in the future.

If I thought the dean's office was uncaring and inflexible, it was just because I hadn't spoken to that dean.

She explained sadly, that she didn't really want to suspend Bernardo, but a) he would need to be removed from Mr. Forest's class for a week, b) he would need a place to go fifth period and c)someone would have to talk to Mr. Forest about why Bernardo was not going to be suspended.

I went to talk to Mr. Forest.  Mr. Forest attended the high school in the days when the school was populated mostly by second and third generation families of European immigrants who worked in the blue collar trades NYC had no shortage of then. I wouldn't doubt he was the first member of his family to graduate college.  He is a well liked teacher with few discipline problems, but one who looks back wistfully,  to the days when the school was a respected institution instead of building that is persistently on the list of schools in need of improvement.

Mr.  Forest was one of the people who complained loudly about what was perceived as a lax discipline policy last year.  So it was with great trepidation that I approached him.

I told him how Bernardo had been abused by his father and ended up in foster care.

"My father, was everything to me," Mr Forest recalled, "I want to be everything to my son.  Let the dean make whatever plan she thinks is best."

The plan.

Bernardo did not get suspended.  He apologized to Mr Forest and promised to move his seat next time.He had to attend my fifth self-contained math class for the week instead of going to Mr. Forest's general ed one.

On Wednesday afternoon I heard Bernardo reporting to the other kids in the resource room that I had been banging my head against the wall during fifth period.  I can't recall the exact incident, But I do recall banging my head against the wooden closest, (so much more comfortable than the hard plaster walls.-  Fifth period math has been going less than smoothly this week). He is happy to return to Mr. Forest's class next week.

Oh and by the way- Bernardo didn't curse out Mr.  Forest.  That was some students in Teacherkarps class.  They were not suspended. She told me about it on the car ride home Friday.

I will go negotiate with the dean about them  on Monday.

I am an equal opportunity negotiator. (Busybody?)

PS:  We had a discussion on Friday about the new suspension policy.
"Why do they think giving us a week off is a punishment?"  Evan asked.

I pressed the group for what they thought would be an appropriate policy and got no concrete answer.
I think the answer is an engaging curriculum, which is what we have less and less of every year.

But what do I know?  I'm just a  white suburban soccer mom.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A week in and out of hell

Here's a teacher joke.
If NYC schools were arranged geographically - I would say the superintendent told it. But alas under the reign of mayoral control NYC schools are arranged by network or cluster, or clustered network, which unfortunately has nothing to do with chocolate or nuts, which one would hope- anything that has the word cluster in it- would. I was sent out to another high school in our cluster for training.

And they all begin with the two words Children First.  
Wishful thinking.

So here's the joke already.
A teacher dies and goes to  heaven.  St. Peter takes him on a tour.  After showing him the modest sections reserved for lawyers and doctors, since they had lived lavishly on earth, he shows him the elegant section reserved for teachers since they had not had their just rewards on earth.  The teacher is impressed, but wonders why the other sections were filled with gleeful noise, but the teacher's area was strangely silent.

"Oh, " says St. Peter, "It's only quiet today, because its Election Day, professional development day- there all in hell."

It was a shortened version of hell.  They let us out at 12:30 and I walked home, stopping for a short visit at a friend's home, a retired teacher. I listened to the joys of being retired.

The restarted week began Wednesday morning with a note that three new students were being transferring into my self contained class.  Two are much lower functioning than the those already there. They came with a paraprofessional who promptly fell asleep.  Kenneth told her loudly she couldn't sleep in class, she was getting paid to be there.  I told Kenneth it was not his job to tell her that, but wished my filter was as porous as Kenneth's.  Bettina took  my attendance sheet to make sure, they were really transferred in, then told me not to worry, she was just taking attendance for me. (And then for the record, I was unable to find the attendance folders for the rest of the day, since it got stowed with the work folders,)  Owen walked out of the class for most of the period, and when I questioned him upon return, he confided,  he hated looking like he was in the retard class. I had nothing more comforting to say other than he was man enough to take it.

I told the programmer I thought the number on the register was too many for the size of the room.

He essentially responded - with "I'm woman enough to take it."

Wednesday afternoon, the assistant principal wanted to look at the folders from that class, essentially to determine if I am an effective teacher or not.  (I'm not - we've already established that effective teachers don't spend half their day looking for their attendance folder).

Thursday Elisha was working on the problem of the day when she said something that I never expected to hear from a student,  "how do you expect me to do this if I don't have my notes?"

Wow- we're using our notes!

Except of course the assistant principal had her notebook.

But wait- didn't the network maven say something about children first?

So I call up and an aide brings down the notebook - just for the class time- it must be returned immediately. She opens the door and hands it to me. Looks around then says she'll be back to post mission statement. Every classroom now must have a mission statement.

Elisha stands up, climbs over Dominic's desk, pushes Damion out the way, grabs the notebook and returns climbing over Kimberly's desk this time.

Where are those forbidden cell phone cameras when you really need them?  

Our web-based IEP program was revised over the last weekend.  Now a glitch crashes the program if you hit the save button twice.  We were given new laptops.  I'm not used to the keypad quite yet.  I crash the program repeatedly during my lunch hour.  I wonder if I smash the new laptop and retire immediately will they take the $1243 they made me agree was the price of the new laptop , from my final paycheck or will they deduct it from my pension.  But in a moment of clarity I remember they are selling chocolate in the basement.  (Surreptitiously, the mayor is against selling junk food in school).

In the basement I meet a teacher who used to be in our small learning community but opted out for lunch duty.  "Is this really better?"  I ask.  He complains that if they wouldn't keep changing their minds so much who knows maybe it wouldn't be but for the time being, he rather pick up the milk containers from the floor.

"Have I seen the knew mission statement?"  he asks.  I haven't the aide said she'd be back with it tomorrow.  

I have one mission I tell, him, to get some of the knowledge in my head, into the heads of the students.

"Transference,"  he tells me- we could make a one word mission statement.

Or maybe just - Teach

But then what would we talk about in hell on Election Day?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bad Days

Larry Ferrlazzo posted the question on his blog, "What do you do when you are having a bad day in the classroom?"  My reply included drinking  wine and watching stupid  tv.  That's what I said on Monday, when I read it.

Then I proceeded to have a series of bad days just to make sure my answer was correct.

Monday, I noticed I had eight Individual Education Plans to write.  A long time ago, when the current special education law and I were both very young, I learned that students with disabilities have plans developed by a team based on their specific needs.

I learned quickly, for teachers in our system, that meant, I had to write an IEP and get a parent's signature on before a deadline rolled around.  There has been much informal discussion-in our little office, just how sincere the process should actually be, but let's just say its been my experience that getting the plan filed is the critical part.

For students I see in a the Resource Room or the self-contained program I have at least a glimmer of who that person is, but its much harder for me to get a picture of a student who I only see for 45 minutes a day in math classroom dominated by the general education teacher.

I find Lamont, one of the students I hardly know,  For a half hour after school, I try to  gather enough information to make a stab at assembling his IEP.  I ask Lamont to fill out a survey about his plans for life after high school.  Lamont leaves it largely blank and when I press him, he says, "honestly Miss, I don't see myself as having a future."

Now it is past the end of the school day, I go directly to the phones only to find that not one counselor is still answering, and leave messages with three different ones.

Lamont tells me it doesn't matter, he doesn't matter.  I respond with that of course he matters, he matters to me.  Which probably sounds as completely lame to him as it does to me.  I think, he matters to me so much that if I hadn't be randomly assigned his IEP to write, I wouldn't had even this much of a conversation with him.

I try again, "you could matter to me, we could try to make each other matter."

And then Lamont says the one thing that gives me reason to hope,  he asks, "how?

"How do you make yourself matter?"

Listen, I know the derivation of the distance formula, I can find the area and volume of many figures, I can even explain math to people who truly believe math is put on the face of the earth purely to torture them.

But I really don't know how we make ourselves matter.

On Tuesday I called a series of guidance offices until I finally got a counselor to talk to Lamont.  He spoke to her for an hour, and she told him to come back any time.  She asked me to send him to her office from time to time, but on Wednesday, she said he voluntarily came up during lunch.

The rest of the week wasn't much better, just the problems were more mundane, lost cell phones, reminders from for the random IEP assigner that I needed to file the cases.  Mad disrespect (I caught lip- from one of my favorite Resource Room students- and ended up calling his mother) and the rest of the stuff that will keep me from ever being that  much discussed, effective teacher.

I had a glass of wine every night this week.
I ended the reply to Larry Ferrlazzo's post that after the wine I had to forgive and forget because that's the only way I could get up and do it again tomorrow.

Maybe that's the answer to Lamont's question- how do I make myself matter.

I get up and do it all again.
Even after a string of bad days.

PS: I bet I matter to the owner of the wine shop.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Who's Afraid?

 Simon needed  to throw something out.   That should not be hard except the Resource Room is its own separate obstacle course.  By the time Simon reached the door which separates the second half of our half of a standard -sized classroom, from the first, he was focused on finding the garbage can on the other side of the partition so I  needed to point out that he actually had his toe pushed into the one on our  side.

"That's a garbage can,"   I pointed out, "tomorrow I will teach you what a desk is,"
and  then I remember that the new evaluation says that only ineffective teachers use sarcasm.

So I explain that I should not say that since there is this new way to rate teachers.
Of course this is interpreted as a new way to rape  teachers.

Which allows Simon to give his opinion on how he would rate teachers, which had nothing to do with   Danielson's Framework for effective teaching.

Whoa!!!  "Just throw out the paper Simon!"

Which might actually have happened, except that at that moment the assistant principal got on the system announcing a soft lockdown.

I have no idea what makes it soft, but it means that now the teacher from the other Resource Room squeezes in with us and we try to find a place which  is not near any windows or doors.  (Now there's a mathematical question for you - in a 10 foot by 6 foot room with one wall of super big windows and the opposite one a glass partition, where do ten people find a sheltered spot?)

So for the next ten minutes  we huddle  (okay- we squish)  together and discuss what makes a good teacher,   Simon and Bernardo likes the math teacher who is very strict- but everyone learns math, Francesca likes the ESL social studies teacher who is very kind, but you learn a lot anyway.  The other teacher worries that we deal with a lot of kids with a lot of issues who may rate us badly, because negativity is just their thing.

Me --  I am not afraid of negativity, big plate glass windows in the middle of an emergency, maybe, but negative students- I'll take my chances.

And then the soft lock down is over.   We go back to the table to work.

Later the assistant principal reminds me that during soft lock downs, we are supposed to remain silent.

Oops - another way I'm ineffective.

Its a good thing I'm immune to negativity.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Early Bird or Worm

Teacherkarp and I were driving to school. The sky was not even tinged with orange. A good half hour remained before the sun would peak over the horizon.  Never one to miss the opportunity to use a cliche I said:

"The early bird catches the worm."

(Or in our case the best parking space.)

But Teacherkarp pointed out that was reason enough for any self-preserving worm, to pull the fallen-leaf covers back over her head and wait for the early bird to be sated with those creatures foolish enough to be early risers.

Everything in life is perspective.  Our school day starts at 8:00 am.  There was discussion about making the start time 9:00 am but that would bring the ending time  close to 4:00 pm, a time when teachers who commute back to the suburbs would be caught in lots of rush hour traffic.

So we complain loudly, that our students don't make it to first period on time. (We are the early birds- they are the cautious worms)

I survived another open school night (my sixtieth by my count - two a year for thirty years).  My Facebook page and blog roll are filled with stories of touching moments, I consider any night no one cries (especially me) a victory.

The night before, Mr. Teacherfish and I had dinner at a local diner. Mr. Teacherfish reported having worked that day at a sight which allowed him to watch planes pass so close that he could see clearly the names of the airlines - Air Emirates, Swiss Air, Air Afrique.  As I watched the world of our insignificant neighborhood from the glass plate windows of the diner, I thought of the passengers on those planes and wondered how little our mutual lives intersected as they flew over on the way to the International Airport.

I thought how much less true  this is during open school night, I am told of  homes lost in the hurricane, anxiety attacks, lead poisoning and family deaths.  I take it all in and the next day I'm teaching the distance formula and the relationship between angles again, just the same as before. That's what they tell us to do.  Teach content-rigorously.

And yet like parallel lines and a transversal, our lives do intersect.  My friends on Facebook and other blogs prove we do matter. (My personal impact this year involved time and energy spent in the programming and placement office trying hard to untangle bureaucratic messes- hardly the grist for moving Facebook posts)

The day after open school night I find myself back in yet another classroom before the sun rises.  I quickly stow my personal belongings under the desk, lock the door and run to make copies.
And when I return to the classroom the belongings are gone.  The panic rises, no keys to open my house door, no wallet or money to take a bus home.  And then my co-teacher asks me why he saw my coming out of our next door neighbor's classroom.  I go next door.  There is my stuff- hidden under his desk.

Too many classrooms for this old teacherfish,  Perhaps I need to be the cautious earthworm and crawl back to safety until the early birds have all flown away and I can remember in which room  I actually teach first period.

My students wouldn't mind.  They'd love a few more hours of sleep.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Highly Effective Teaching and the Circus

Our small learning community group was discussing the Danielson Framework.  What a surprise. That's all we ever do.  The facilitator (or teacher leader as it says on our table of organization)  was making a pitch for having an honest, worthwhile discussion, not an easy thing to accomplish in any situation but a when the members feel bamboozled into being there....

 Last year joining our small learning community group had no loopholes, so there were about thirty members.  This year there are all sorts of loopholes, including the one that says those who have to do Special Education paperwork don't have to join one- unless of course -you're me.

I have lots of special education paperwork, but I am a teacher leader so somehow I have to be in one. (If that sounds impressive, just remember that the only result  I notice is I lose the period I am supposed to have to do all that paperwork- I don't lose having to do the paperwork I am still responsible for it.)

And I get to make stupid pleas for having honest, worthwhile discussions.

One member (whose real name is so appropriate for symbolic use as a substitute metaphor- that I cannot come up with a better replacement) suggested it was not fair that some people got to do hall and lunch duty while we have to sit around and discuss our teaching practice.

I have a student in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant.  She is sixteen years old.
Is that fair?
Life is not fair.
I do not say that.

I press on.

We examine the examples of highly effective classrooms in regard to behavior practices.
Classroom interactions between the teacher and students are highly respectful, relfecting genuine warmth, caring and sesitivity to the students as individuals.  Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class - Danielson 

I got to thinking if I ever got there in a thirty year career.

Once long ago in a place far away I taught a grade school class. The students were all children of recent immigrants with serious enough learning disabilities to be placed in a self contained special education program. (Currently standards have changed and students with similar profiles probably would be in an inclusion program- but whether or not that's a good thing is story for another day.)

There was a chemistry to that class that made it special. I got assigned jury duty and met a man who sponsored the program that gave free tickets for the circus to handicapped children. I had never been able to obtain those tickets before- my students just didn't appear “sad” enough- but there was a benefit from sitting -unselected- in the jury pool for three days.

Our school bus got stuck in a Manhattan traffic jam on 34th Street and 5th Avenue. Julian leaned forward and explained to me that we could walk to Madison Square Garden in a few minutes. Julian was ten, how he knew that- I didn't I want to know but I am not above taking advice from ten year olds. We arranged our pickup and walked west. I stood on Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street directly across from the Garden and asked a cop how to enter. I had a complicated set of directions that explicitly explained where we should line up – but we saw no lines on Seventh Avenue.

The cop asked me if I had arrived from Iowa just that day (along with ten -ten year olds with the variation of skin tones only a class made up of recent world-wide immigrants could possess). The entrance to the Garden was directly across. We held hands, crossed the avenue, rode the elevator up and were suddenly ringside. Madison Square Garden was empty. The circus people took the kids on elephant rides around the ring.

The arena filled slowly throughout the next two hours. I found out later, that the intricately detailed instructions- the cop had me ignore- created long lines along Eighth Avenue and Madison Square Garden was filled at the rate one would expect it would take to process ten thousand “handicapped” children- one school bus at a time.

What kind of teacher takes ten special education kids off a school bus in the middle of a Manhattan traffic jam(on the advice of a ten year old)?

Maybe one who thinks the classroom interactions between the teacher and students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth, caring and sensitivity to the students as individuals..

Or maybe one who is just crazy.

For at least one moment in my life I really trusted the class community relationship. And it paid off- in elephant rides.

Will I ever have that again? There are moments I think it is possible- like Thursday morning when I was teaching the distance formula to some students with less than stellar reputations for academic and social performance. All hell was breaking out in the hallway, screaming, cursing, security whistles, but we continued to work even as the crashing against the wall shook the green board we precariously perch on a desk, to use as a projector screen. Nobody would have video-taped that moment to post on the practices of highly effective teachers website. But I count it as a victory.

I asked our skeptical small learning community how often they felt they reached the point where the atmosphere of their classes reflect the one described in the framework.

Almost all, claimed to be at that point currently.

Me- I wish I was always there, but I can only know I reached that level once, a long time ago when I sat ring-side watching the elephants trot my students around the circus ring.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Riddle me this

Here's a riddle my seven year-old friend told me.

A man runs 90 feet then turns to his left.  He runs another 90 feet and  turns left again.  He does it one more time and then runs home.  Two men with masks  are standing there,  What are their jobs?

I like to use this riddle when we start our unit on quadrilaterals.  If you don't know the answer-I will put the answer at then end of the post.  But the next section should be pretty much the clue that gives it away.

Its baseball season around here.  Not MLB, the Mets had a characteristically bad year, and the Yankees an uncharacteristically bad one, so no one is following the playoffs  too closely.  What people are following is the baseball tryouts.  I think I've said put your glove away almost as often as "put your phone away."

The skill level range from Carlos in the inclusion class who is convinced he will be captain to Bobby who really wants to get there but not sure  he can make it (to the field, not the team).  Dan said it was okay if Juan followed him to the field but he was going to go fast so Juan had to keep up.  Juan wasn't worried. Dan was wearing the neon blue baseball team pants .   They're not in the same  class as Bobby,  I couldn't find Bobby- he would have to find the coach. Just for the record the field the team practices in is not some emerald pasture behind the school.  Its a bus ride away in a city park.  So much  pressure.

If you think baseball is hard- you should try math.

Wednesday was one of those days I thought I was a really great teacher.  The self contained class was working on a foldable on angle relationships.  It involved watching videos and copying stuff from a template.  Two skills that they mastered.  It was going really well. People cooperated, people persevered, even helped each other.  A perfect day.  Of course there was chaos in the hallway and there was a variety of thumps and yelps against our door, which made me (stupidly) open the door.  I complained to the security guard that that I couldn't teach with such disruptive behavior.  She peaked into the room and said, "but they're behaving beautifully."
Never mind.

Thursday we worked on applying the rules to math problems.  Okay, so now I think I am  only a pretty good teacher. It didn't go terribly, it didn't go great, but I can see how complementary sounds almost the same as supplementary.

Thursday afternoon was the mandatory Danielson training.  This is the place where I learn how to be  a good teacher.  The topic was classroom environment.  I learned that highly effective teachers have classroom routines suggested by their students so that taking  attendance doesn't interfere with instructional time.

Friday we worked on using the foldables to solve the angle relationship problems.  I couldn't  find my attendance sheet.  I dropped the box of markers, I could't find the templates we used on Wednesday and I didn't have the right color  paper.  (So I teach in five different classrooms- highly effective teachers don't make excuses)  Kenny said I was boring and put his head down to sleep.  Bobby couldn't concentrate because he was  worried he couldn't find the baseball field.

Okay-- maybe I'm a highly ineffective teacher.

So it goes.  Another week begins tomorrow.

Umpire and catcher, the man ran the bases, and  arrived at home-plate -where the catcher and umpire were standing, wearing protective masks.  The baseball diamond is really a square,

Friday, September 27, 2013

Equalization, equality and life.

Equalization kicked in this week.
Like everything else in education it isn't anything like it sounds. What it means is students get their programs switched around so that class sizes are supposed to be equal.

What it means to me is that new people show up in the Resource Room at the exact moment I think I've gotten through initial assessments.

Monday Simon showed up.
Me:  What year are you in?
Simon:  Sophomore year.
Nina:  Weren't  you a junior last year?
Simon:  I mean senior, I'm a senior.

And I think no one ever pays attention to my questions.

But I assure the group that it is okay to count backwards sometimes.   I , myself, have that plan for birthdays I tell them.  I will subtract a year at each birthday until I reach 39.  Then I add, I wonder who will make it to 39 first, them or me.

Nina:  How old are you?
Me:  Its not polite to ask a woman her age, but we should reach 39 about the same time.
Simon:  Then you're 61.

Now why is "What year are you in?" a difficult question, but when it comes to calculating my age he can do it with lightening speed?

Fourth period I teach geometry to a  self contained class. The theory is we give the same  "rigorous, college preparatory,"  curriculum to all classes.  Even the ones that by definitions are composed of students testing way below grade level.

And I am told a  highly effective teacher closes that achievement gap.

I am not sure exactly how to digest this information but thanks to such wonderful blogs like,Math= Love and i is a Number I've have a few new tricks up my sleeve.. This week we did the line segment addition postulate.  I had students cut out rulers, paste them in their notebook and paste various line segments underneath to illustrate the postulate.


When I taught early childhood special education, we did almost the exact same activity with Cuisenaire rods.

After we finished I sat with Efraim and worked these problems.

Efraim told me he had no idea how to do them.  Unlike the my  blog writers mentors (who just to continue the algebraic  age  puzzle)  are probably about the following age:

Mentor blog writer = My age
I was not having a lot of success.

Maybe I should have gotten out the Cusinaire Rods

Meanwhile Kenneth was  sitting behind us calling out the correct answers to the more complicated equations , and insinuating that this was  "f*******" kindergarten.

So what equations can I use to describe this situation?

None at all.
Forget equalization.
There is nothing equal about any of this.

You can equalize class sizes- maybe

But you can't equalize brain cells.

Efraim and I will work more on the equations.
I will speak with Kenneth about appropriate language, and give him something harder to keep him busy.
I will make sure Nina and Simon apply the same speedy calculations to their current math classes as they do to figuring out my age.

That's just what special education teachers do.

But it won't be equal.
Life just isn't that fair.

PS:  I'm not quite 61, yet- I said  about  the same amount time - not exactly.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Epigraphs and evaluations

Once, a long time ago my mother returned from the funeral of my kindergarten teacher.  The good teacher had long since retired from the teaching. My mother was impressed by how beautifully the cantor sang.  "I wonder if he will sing so beautifully at my funeral?" my mother pondered. "The good thing," she added, "is that I will never know,"

Will someone place on my tomb stone that I spent forty years teaching school?

The good thing is I will never know.

Maybe they will etch  in my Evaluation score.

New school year, same old stuff.
Except now it is piled higher and deeper. We had two days of staff development which involved almost meeting the new principal. The well liked, very capable "old" new principal (he was there for a year) was replaced over the summer by an even younger, greener new principal for reasons that were never explained.  The new one was only allowed to address the staff for 7 minutes surrounded by a cadre of "network" people who made sure he didn't say too much.

The rest of  time we spent learning about the evaluation system.   NYC Educator and Diane Ravitch do so much better of job of explaining it, than I could, that I won't even attempt to.  Suffice it to say I sat on the committee that was to determine the Measures of Student Learning method  our school was to use.  Here is what I learned:

  • There really aren't any choices (the city? state? only allows certain "third party" measures)
  • Everyone will be measured by the scores of students on state exams whether or not   
    •  the teacher actually teaches the subject being tested,
    • the student placed in the rigorous high school level course can actually read or has the prerequisite skills for the course 
    • the student attends school more than 5% of the time,
    • the exam has ever been made public, evaluated by anyone but the publishing company who wrote it, or field tested it before being administered to the whole state
  • Trying to impose reason or logic on any of this will do nothing other than make your head hurt.
So I started teaching again.
I have a "Tinkerbell" schedule.  I fly into one room and forty-five minutes fly out to the next-eight times a day.
And the attendance office wants to know why I can't ever find my attendance folder?

I teach two periods of  resource room, the program that is predicated on the idea that you can solve the problems of a student who is three years below grade level in reading and math by sitting in a hot, stuffy, sub-divided  room with seven other students for forty five minutes a day, and help them pass a "rigorous" college preparatory program in five different content areas.

This year I thought I would begin by evaluating reading skills individually.  
And so I found myself sitting with Matthew  a tenth grader who "read" through a seventh grade passage and barely got 70% of the words correct.  I got to the last  comprehension question of the long list that followed the passage.

Me:  What is the difference between touch and pressure?

Matthew:  Touch is when someone puts his hand on something and pressure is when someone asks you too many questions.

I guess Matthew and the rest of us are feeling some pressure.

PS:  I could not find the cantor that sang at my my kindergarten teacher's funeral when my mom died.  The cantor we had did sing beautifully, though.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

...But you can't make him swallow

Evan can't wait until next year, he tells me.
Next  year he can fail me.  If I can fail him then he can fail me.
"I don't fail you," I remind him, " you earn a passing grade, or you don't."

Evan didn't.  
He has this phone problem.  Everyone at school has a phone problem, including many teachers.  Its an addiction.  I worked with one teacher who spent her day on the cell phone updating her Facebook status.  I was the union representative then,  so when the very kind assistant principal handed me a printout of her status - updated hourly, including large chunks of time when she had teaching assignments, I went to speak with her.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but I remember the phrase "theft of services," coming up.  The conversation had two results.  One- I was immediately "defriended" and two- she ate all day long.  She was a size two, most of the students out weighed her by a factor of two.  But being detached from her phone meant she could only get through a day by using her fingers for feeding instead of texting. Its an addiction.

But I digress.   
Evan would love to eat all  day long. I probably wouldn't  even stop him (and he has a considerably larger frame to fill) but he doesn't even have the self restraint of my former coworker.  So many of our days go like this.

Me:  Evan put your cell phone away.
Evan:  I got you miss, (and then Evan does not put his phone away)
Me:  Evan put your cell phone away or I'm calling the dean
Evan:  How come you're always picking on me?

I could go on but the conversation doesn't change much.
And Evan doesn't have a  steep learning curve- not for math, not for cell phones.
When the dean gets called, he gets a five day suspension from school.  (In all fairness  to the school's disciplinary team, Evan is always given the choice of surrendering the phone for one WHOLE day, or being excluded from the daytime school- he could attend the late afternoon session, for 5 days.
Evan will never surrender his phone.

Several weeks ago Evan entered the room with the cell phone out.  (See above for ensuing conversation).   Evan then plugged the cell phone into the outlet. (Imagine the ensuing conversation).
Then the cell phone rang.  I told him if he picked it up I would call the dean and he would be suspended.

Suffice it to say I am a woman of my word.

The governor imposed a teacher evaluation of the New York City Department of Education last week.  Plenty of blogs have done a far better job than I would of illustrating the city teachers' reaction-  here  and here and here are just a few.

Among the many other intricate and confusing aspects is the piece the city requested about including student surveys in the evaluation.  Evan heard the news- and he's happy.  He's going to get his revenge he tells me as I hand out the final.

The surveys will count for five percent of the evaluation.  I have fifty students a semester.  I am generally popular.  I sing, I dance, I give you my cell number and I help you do your final.  So even if Evan gave me the very worst evaluation the most  it would count for is  2% of 5% that would account for .001 % of my evaluation.  And that would assume he wasn't suspended the day the surveys were distributed.  I want to explain  this to Evan, but that's what he wants- to distract me from giving the final. Anyway he wouldn't get the math.

"Do the final"  I tell him.  "I'll show you with what you missed.  You can find me later and I'll help you."

But he doesn't.  I tell the story to the principal.  I remind him of all the students who have "stalked" me over the years looking for that promised help. The ones who squeaked out an eleventh hour passing grade.

But not Evan.
The principal says, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."

Its more like: You can lead horse to water, pour it down its throat, but you can't make him swallow it.

Maybe I should text Evan the lessons to his cell phone.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is that all we could do?

The subway series was in full swing this week.
The Knicks and the Rangers got themselves eliminated from the playoffs, so all that was left to talk about in 5th period math was baseball.

Terrel was recounting the unbelievable success of the Mets.  He gave the pitch by pitch recount  (and thanks to an inherited affinity for the Mets coupled with a disdain for the Yankees- I was able to ascertain the veracity of the report).

Terrel can't remember which line is the X axis and which is the Y, and counting up the boxes for a rise over run calculation of slope, is way out of his league, but even his least favored sport- baseball, was getting an accurate and complete review.

I asked, "Terrel, is there any sport you don't follow?"

"No Miss,"  Terrel answered with a shrug and head thrust.  Terrel has this tic that makes him the kind of person you worry about sitting next to on the bus and then hate yourself for being that way.

"I'm trying to figure out rugby." he added. "But, I haven't gotten all the rules down yet."

So I asked him if he saw the movie Invictus, about Nelson Mandela rallying a post -Apartheid South Africa around a predominantly white rugby team.  

He didn't.  He thinks he's heard of Nelson Mandela and South Africa.  Apparently social studies is no less of a struggle than math.

I'm glad he's happy and talking this week.  Last week the current event horror story of the week had a direct impact on him.  A fourteen year old girl was shot to death on a public bus on the way home from a sweet sixteen party.  Perhaps the bullet was meant for the girl next to her, perhaps it was random. I don't watch carefully, the "if it bleeds it leads." stories on the local news.

But Terrel was devastated.  "She was like a little sister, to me Miss," he told me."I was going to take her for a tattoo and now I'm going to the funeral." 

I told  the principal the story, and we looked at Terrel's academic records.  Terrel has passed everything and has lots of a academic credits. But with the exception of the math Regents his highest Regent grade is 12.  Way below the chance level.  

How could that be?
I cannot speak for anyone but myself.  
I will give Terrel a passing grade.  He comes everyday, willingly gives a complete and thorough sports cast and then makes an attempt to do the math. 

I cannot, in all good faith say he earned a high school credit worth of math, but I cannot live with the thought of not giving him a credit for doing what he could and never not showing up for another day of trying to do it all again the next day.  (And an audience for the sport's news of the day)

The principal shook his head as he read the record.  "If this is all we could do for Terrel, was this the right place for him?" he asked.

The principal and I came to the school late in Terrel's high school career, but I don't think we could have done any different.  The current climate of No Child Left Behind and the other nonsense means Terrel has no choice but to take a series of college prep classes that he passes but does not understand.  Then the gate of standardized testing slams shut in front of him, not allowing him to graduate with a "real" diploma.

The city promises it is opening more career and technical high schools next year, too late for Terrel, but who knows if others like him will get a better chance of course work that might make there life easier. 

I will make sure Terrel registers with the office for vocational training.  
Then when he leaves  I will wish him well. 
And hope that he will have a place in his future to be safe and happy and audience willing to listening to the recount of latest game.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sarcasm Part III - In Spanish

I explained earlier how after careful thought and consideration (and the fact that no one else agreed to do it) I got to teach a non-special education, bilingual geometry class.

It goes something like this- I explain something in English, someone translates it into Spanish. Everyone laughs.
What I said was not funny in English.
So I translate it into Spanish.
Everyone laughs again.

Now I am sure they are talking about me.
Is this how non-English speaking kids feel in English classes?
I think  I am getting paranoid.

It would be unpleasant- except it isn't.  This group is the sweetest one I have.
They arrive one at a time (everyone in our school does- punctuality is a lost art).
We sit in semi-circle (all ten of us- my special ed tradition extended into the bilingual classroom). And each entrant comes in stops at each desk and if male - kisses all the girls and shakes the hands of all the boys, if female- kisses everyone.

Except me.
I am sad.
Why am I not worthy of handshakes and kisses?

I ask.
Everyone laughs.  I must be a very funny teacher.

Friday we are working on a group of problems finding the missing angles in a polygon.
Sr. Alto, a quiet, tall Dominican young man who earned his name because he often arrives before the kissing cycle which results in him being asked to reach the folders stored on top of the locker, has worked through the first set.  Carla is holding his papers in one hand and writing away on her own paper with the other.

I suggest she try the problems herself.
"No Miss,"  I show him how to do it, now I write what I tell him".

"Oh, and I fell off the turnip cart, yesterday."
I try to translate that one- but quickly realize I have no idea how to say turnip in Spanish.
And the sarcasm is lost in translation.

So the period goes on. I lose the page on the Smart Board once, accidentally erase the writing twice, and trip over the wires three times. (a typical day- did I mention how much I miss my chalkboard?)

There is another set of problems to work out, Sr. Alto is working away.
Carla not so much.

I ask if she is again explaining to him how to do it.

She turns and asks the assistant in the back of the room, "Como se dice.... (how do you say?)

The best the assistant can offer, is "lies".

"No, that's not it," she replies, frustrated.

"Sarcasm?"  I offer.


"Very good,"  Violeta offers, "Now you understand our Spanish!"

Time to look up the Spanish work for turnip!

Sarcasm Part I and II here and here

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sneaky Reading

The year is rolling to a close.  A friend posts the remaining number of days above the time clock, and the spring weather has decreased our already dismal attendance.

Regina  finds herself alone in my tenth period math class often.
I ask a question as she comes in that one day is going to get me in deep trouble.

"Reading or math?"

Regina is not half bad in math.  She "passed" the state Regent's exam in January.  By passed, I mean, she scored enough point to earn credit when her IEP is taken into consideration.  It doesn't exactly qualify her as an algebra genius but most of the students in the self-contained special education program don't even reach that level.

We moved on to geometry.  Which means we spend a lot of time coloring foldables (my new addiction) about angles and postulates and theorems and things like that.  And Regina gets it.

But when tenth period rolls around and the halls have become deserted by all but the girl's track team, who practice in the hall since the boys get the running track, Regina often finds herself the only student  in the math room.  The first day in September I asked Regina to read aloud, she refused.  She came up to me later and explained she didn't know how.  She spent the first thirteen years of her life in country where education was not a regular thing and arrived in our school system long after the grade where reading instruction is a given.

I try to sneak it in.  Sometimes we stay late.  Sometimes I think maybe its more important to know how to sound out two syllable words than identify  corresponding angles. I am aware it is not my decision to make.  Its not Regina's either.  I am her math teacher, her schedule says tenth period geometry.

We sneak out of the math room and hide behind the barriers in the Resource Room.  There Regina figures out that pan and cake makes pancake.  She knows the word or.  When you have no phonic skills you get good at memorizing sight words.  But it is a revelation that  an h  in front -and some letters in the back make horse.  Or now store and  forum become readable. Regina reads through a whole a story we found in an ancient stack of unloved readers.  The pages are yellow.  The stories refer to such  anachronisms as video stores and beepers.   They are not the shiny new complex non-fiction texts that the Common Core staff developer urges us to "scaffold" for our "challenged" readers.(Not that I have to worry about that - I'm a math teacher.)

But Regina gets through the whole page.  She will never again say she can't read. (Okay so it was probably on a second grade level- but it was a lot of words and she understood what all those previously mysterious symbols were trying to convey).

She beams.  This is happiness.

We got away with it.  We did reading instead of math.

We didn't get caught.

Back to triangle theorems tomorrow.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reading your mind

Field Trip
For reasons that involve the convoluted organization/ reorganization of  a turn-around, closed, no wait- not closed, still opened, New York  City high school, I ended up on a field trip to the Bio-engineering Labs at City College.

CCNY as well as our school were built in the days when educational institutions were "cathedrals of learning."

Even though there weren't actually students from within the special education department on the trip I got to go. 

I got on the bus at 9:30 am.
I got off the bus with the student who was using a variety of the seven words you can't use on the radio, at  9:31am.

I had a discussion about "professional language." (as well as the acuity and accuracy of my hearing). with the trip leader and said student at 9:32am.

The bus pulled away from the curb at 9:35 (all agrieved and non-a grieved parties -boarded)

We spent the morning touring three labs in the Grove School of Engineering, learning first hand about state-of -the- art research.

I still have a hard time making teenagers look enthusiastic, but it was fascinating.

In the neuro-engineering lab we looked and heard about all sorts of devices that measure the human (or sometimes rat's) response to electrical stimulation. The Phd student assured us, the research was on the path to  being able to decode human thinking inside the brain.

"Can you read my thought?" Roger asked.

Our guide, responded, they weren't quite there yet.

"I can, " I told Roger.

"What I am thinking?"  he asked.

"You're thinking- when do we get to eat lunch?"

Roger nodded.  We moved on.

PS  We had a very good lunch in the Student Union cafeteria

Sunday, April 21, 2013


If I teach logic, then I will get. it.
That's an if/ then statement.
In math its called a conditional.

I know that 'cause I teach logic.  Then there is the truth value thing.

If the first part is true then you look at the second part and if that is also true then you reverse it, and then you do the hokey pokey and your turn yourself around.  And that's what its all about.

If you're too young to remember the hokey pokey and then  we'll go with the Missy Elliot quote- if  its worth it than work it - put your thing down flip and reverse it.

The point?  The truth value  is false.
I teach it- but I don't get it.

Here's another conditional

If you love to teach then you teach.

Let's look what the converse of this one is.

If you teach then you love to teach.

Anyone who has been around schools and- kids, and - teachers, for more than a little while- has to question the truth value of that one. I had a friend  who has a job working with teachers who are in jeopardy of losing their jobs due to terrible reviews.  Sometimes she  finds , the reviews are due to something other than actual teaching skills , sometimes she's successfully makes them better teachers and sometimes she finds that people who actually teach hate  to teach.

And now for the negation.
Those who don't love to teach, don't teach.
They find ways to make those who do -miserable.

By making educational policy-
By deciding people who can't determine the difference between odd and even numbers should take college preparatory math courses.
By thinking that if you make everything harder, then everyone will learn harder things.
Then developing  tests to  determine that students can't do the stuff that you decided to put on the hard  test ,  but you didn't tell anyone in advance how hard it would be since you didn't know exactly what was going to be on it.

In fact you were so confused about what hard stuff to put on the exam that you used passages from the textbooks you were also selling the people to prepare for the hard exam.
(That will show people who love to teach- not to buy anything but your textbooks.)

And of course if it all goes awry - you just blame the teachers.

Is anything I wrote logical?
Does it make sense?

Who knows?  I already admitted I don't get it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Basic Construction- This is hard

I teach geometry 1, self contained, tenth period.

In a school where remnants of an old special education system exist, even if the form in which they currently exist no longer makes sense,  I am assigned students who "successfully tested" past the first high school mathematics course, but are considered in need of separate (but equal) instruction in a separate classroom. (Okay- the educationally cool word, is parallel-talk about your geometry vocabulary!)

That's the remnants part.  There are no more courses for adolescents with no literacy skills, no programs for students who can't handle a compass, let alone a geometry proof.  Everyone is placed in college-preparatory programs

So I try to teach college preparatory  geometry.
This is hard.
That's Bartholomew's favorite line.  Bartholomew who wear's diamond (or cut glass- I'm not a jeweler) studs in both ears, talks in a squeaky voice and hides under the desk in social studies. (I don't know how or why, but the social studies teacher came in one day to offer him pizza if he wouldn't hide under the desk anymore- He didn't - We shared the pizza).

This is hard.
This being whatever I ask him to do, solve for x, find the area of a four by four rectangle drawn on graph paper, or  basic geometric constructions- which is what we were doing last week.

Thursday afternoon, I worked with him constructing the angle bisector using a compass and a straightedge.  It involved sequencing six steps and manipulating a compass.
This is hard.
Yeah?  You think?- try teaching someone who insists picking up the compass is hard- to construct an angle bisector.  Forty minutes later, I have no idea who was more frustrated Bartholomew or me.  Bell rang- we went  home-frustrated.

I would just pass him.  It was ridiculous to keep harping on it.  We weren't getting anywhere - and he didn't deserve to fail, because the skills were out of his functioning range.

Then I got to thinking- what would Bartholomew really need to know in his post secondary (as the IEP calls it) life?  Would he have to solve for x  or would he have to use tools in some prescribed series of steps?

Friday we tried again.  I changed the task to copying an angle, four steps instead of six. I drew a big angle on blank white sheet. I asked him to touch his nose, bend his elbow, clap his hands in order.
This is weird.
Yeah, weird.  But - he could follow three directions in the appropriate sequence. So I guess weird is better than hard.

We worked all period on copying that angle,

With limited success.

But some limited success is better than frustration.

We both went home happy. It was the weekend.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Decisions and whistle blowing

Should I  (a) retire -or(b) hope there's a big contract in our future? (Most likely b)

Are the five miles between my house and the school more quickly covered on (a) the traffic light laden side streets- or (b)the highways? (My husband picked b, making me late for the first time in a decade.-)

Math office or special office,  for last minute preparations in my now reduced planning time before classes begin.  (This is a large city high school problem, in the small high school there was only one office for last minute preps- and  I could never get to the copy machine.)

I got called into the special office.  Decision made for me.  I needed to sign a state mandated paper stating that I would have access to students IEPs.  Okay so it's April.  But you know the better late than never thing. (Of course, unless its the IEP you are writing that's late- then its a big deal.)

I stood in the outer office with the secretary, two school aides and a para-professional, when Chip came in.  Chip, whose name is spoken with fear and terror in the Teacher's center (oh- I forgot, another place for last minute preparation- but not particularly useful for lack of copy machines).

Chip placed a large whistle in his mouth and blew a series of ear-splitting blasts.

We ignored him. (Hard to believe, but individually- we all silently reviewed the most appropriate responses, wait, I mean effective, no I mean, not choosing the option to shove the whistle down his throat which might greatly effect my retirement choices listed above) and said NOTHING.

From the inner office, not in anyone's sight-line,
 The voice of the Assistant Principal:  Secretary's name - what is that noise?

Secretary: Its Chip blowing a whistle.

Alas, Chip had his desired- reaction. He walked through the four of us, into the inner-office and blew one long blast.

The Assistant Principal's response:  ---------------------------------------------------------

Chip left.

Another whistle-blower ignored.

I went to work in the math office.

PS- By noon Chip had left the school in handcuffs.  According to the secretary it had nothing to do with the whistle.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hall hanging and bathroom passes

We have these bathroom passes. If you are a student you can't go to the bathroom without the pass. Because then you would be in the hall without permission.

Of course there are always people in the hall without permission. I have taken to asking people why they come to school if they don't plan to go class.  But they ignore me or worse - they don't. I asked a group hanging out on the second floor what part of going to class they didn't get.

One turned around and answered,-the going part.
I am not a character from one of those feel good movies.
I cut my losses and moved on.  There is precious little time in the school day when I  have no place to be.

The problem with the bathroom passes- is I can never find them. If one would think all my years of seniority and good relationship with the principal would earn me a cushy schedule and a home-base classroom, one would think wrong.

I change classroom every period.
And my bathroom pass gets lost.

Nina needed it ninth period.  I told her to look in my rolling bag,

Nina looked in- "It's like a tornado hit in here," she reported.

So my mother has been reincarnated and speaks through the voice of sixteen year old girl.

I found the pass.  It was in a pile of reports I didn't file.
Nina could go to the bathroom.

Perhaps tomorrow I will file the reports.  My mother would have told me to.
Not to worry.  Nina  will remind me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Engaging Texts

I have this idea that life is interesting.
And I should talk, read and write about it.
Maybe that's why I blog.
That's also why I spend my weekend looking for interesting pieces in print to share with my students.

Its called engaging texts.

I know that because I went to the mandatory common core professional development period this week.
I sat with the math teachers and read an article about how the great mathematicians were inspired to study mathematics through their love of gambling. I was engaged.  I love gambling.  I'm not sure how the probability of drawing an ace out of deck of fifty-two cards relates to  the magic fairy delivering a winning hand  at the video poker machines at World Resorts International but I read the passage with the math teachers and developed a "winning response" to the assignment:  Develop a question that requires thoughtful reading and text based evidence in the answer.

By winning I mean, the facilitator read my question aloud.  Which means I "won" more than the negative forty dollars I "won" at World Resorts International last Saturday night.  (0>-40)

Of course the real discussion didn't get read aloud.  That was the discussion that started with, why are we doing this? and ended with the plaintive I would really like them to know something about the history of mathematics  but who has time for that when we have to cover the whole curriculum before the test?

Which, coincidentally was exactly the topic of this week's (not) interesting piece of print I tried to share.  (My life is filled with text to self connections, even though the PD facilator told us that  terminology is no longer cool- we no longer care about whether a text relates to our lives).

We read an article written by a high school student about the Advanced Placement exams killing all the joy of learning with their formulaic approach to covering a specific curriculum and the cut throat need of the students to "score well" in order to obtain admission into an"elite" college.  It wasn't exactly analogous to our lives, since AP doesn't figure largely (and by not largely, I mean none at all) in our course offerings.  But the sentiment exists.  We don't teach learning about those gambling loving mathematicians because we are so busy trying to get one more topic in before the Regents Exams.

It wasn't a grand success.
Bernie thinks an engaging article is about food.
Nina thinks I should just bring in the food.
Laurence wishes the school offered AP courses.

I ask. "What would be an engaging text?"

"One that comes with a diamond ring."  I'm told.

I will look for a more "engaging" text this weekend.
Hope springs eternal.
I have this belief life is worth reading, writing and talking about..

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The anti-Cupid on Valentine's Day

Boy this post is a late Valentine entry.  I meant to finish it last Friday- but I took our very abbreviated February rest seriously! 

I am the anti-Cupid.  Opposite in every way from that cute chubby little baby in a diaper with a bow and arrow, inspiring young love everywhere.

I do not wear a diaper. My schedule got changed and now a third class has been added to morning program.  I need to get the worksheets copied in the  thirty minutes before my first class starts.  If the line at the copy machine is long  or if one copy machine in the chain is not working- not an uncommon occurrence, I don't make it to the bathroom before class and that diaper thing has it its appeal.  But I'm not there yet.

So I guess the chubby thing is the only thing Cupid and I have in common.  He goes around spreading love, I go around saying, "Stop kissing, go to class."

Thursday was Valentine's Day.  With our February break, reduced to a long weekend and a global warming induced succession of snowy frigid days, followed by warm slushy ones, only to be succeeded once again by freezing ones,  by Wednesday I thought this week would never end.  And the state, city monitors were spreading anxiety.

Valentine's Day brought the usual procession of helium balloon and stuffed animals and I tried my best not to consume the little chocolate treats I purchased running into the school (see above for chubbiness report).So much love to be spread around.

Three little stories (kind of like the mini-valentines the elementary kids bring in for everyone in the class- I only have the energy for three)

Michael showed up for math class for the second time of the week on Thursday.  Tuesday he spent the complete period on his phone texting.  "It's important," he kept telling me-it's my mother."  If it was, why wouldn't she make him get off the phone and do math?  I asked him continuously to put the phone away-he kept reminding me it was his mother, it was important.  His mother is disabled and can't leave his house, Maybe it really was her, maybe I'm stupider than I look. Wednesday he didn't show, Thursday he was there with two roses.  "I was going to give both to my mother, but I guess you deserve one," he said as he handed it to me.  He didn't take the phone out, he did math.

I gave up my preparation period to go the educational planning conference for Matthew.  Matthew, who sat quietly and suffered through the tenth period math class all last semester.  Matthew's mother eloquently retold the story of Matthew's childhood, how he ate the paint behind the his playpen at the babysitter's house as an infant and had an extremely high level of lead in his blood.  Matthew, who spent the last semester staring at every algebra example as if taking his eyes away from the assignment long enough to retrieve a pencil from his bag would some how cause the paper to attack, listened intently.  Matthew received a shopping bag full of chocolates for being most improved student. I needed chocolate.  I asked him for one of the KitKats, he studiously sieved through the collection and handed me all of them.

Regina showed up for tenth period with a rose, a box of chocolate and sour face.   Regina and I have been staying after school to work on learning to read.  Regina did not attend school for the first 13 years of her life and she ended up in high school without the ability to read a three letter word.  In the current, leave no child behind world, Regina has no option other than the same college directed courses everyone else takes (and passes them all- how- I can't begin to fathom, I fear it has much more to do with unrealistic grading policies, than hard work and perseverance). So we work together after the day ends and we sound out words with short vowel sounds.  The sour face was for the fact she was sure she would end up in a foster home because she had arrived at school late yet again and someone had called her mother.  I got the rose and the valentine- she got a phone call to her mother, explaining how hard Regina was working with me.  She was there Friday. No foster home this time.

Maybe one more little story.  Wendy took my phone and texted Mr.Teachefish- Happy Valentine's Day.
No signature.  Mr. Teacherfish, assuming it was me, texted back "I love you.- Let's go out for dinner."  Now the fourth period class thinks I'm married to a romantic guy.

May all our days be lead paint free,  spent in homes with people who love us  and filled with roses and chocolate.
Happy belated Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I don't drive to school much, I take the bus and train but sometimes the universe arranges itself so there is a car at my disposal. 

I got stuck in front of the firetruck on the overpass between two highways.  It screamed at me for a good two minutes,-which any kid can tell you the louder you get screamed at the harder it is to figure out what to do next.  I don't know how I got out of it but, no sooner had I gotten down the road a bit and was beginning to breathe normally again,  an ambulance pulled up behind me and the sirens blasted again.  Twenty-three degrees in New York and I arrived in school sweated out.

And that was the easy part of the day.  

I was speaking with the math assistant principal, when a pretty young woman who struggled with English, asked, "Mr., are you busy?"  

"Yes, of course," he answered, and she stood by the side and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.
Finally he asked what she needed.

"No teacher, in room"- she got out in broken English.
"Well, what teacher does it say on your schedule?" he asked and took the paper from her hand.

If you guessed, Ms. Teacherfish, you guessed right.  I  was at the assistant principal's office confirming I had been given a new schedule, which of course, he had no record of.   I hustled down to the room on the young lady's program card and gave my new class, the new class spiel in English and then in Spanish.  And then repeated it three times as two more groups identified that in fact there was indeed a new math class in said room. 

The next period was Resource Room, and if I thought things couldn't go worse.  I was wrong.  The state monitor arrived.  

We spend an inordinate amount time worrying about being "monitored".  Perhaps that comes from spending a year on the closing school list, only escaping doom at the last moment when an independent arbitrator decided that even an all powerful mayor needs to adhere to contracts. 

The monitor entered our resource room. On a good day there isn't enough  room to swing a dead cat. (I don't know what that means exactly, but the one piece of feedback we got was don't use idioms)  She spent the next forty-five minutes, sliding between my half of the room and the other half occupied by a different group of students.  With a different teacher- equally  flummoxed. 

Lucky for me, my side is smaller, with less chairs.  She spent more time on their side.

We discussed a New York Times editorial about Women in Combat,  Shaggy, so nicknamed, because he reminds the rest of the group of the character in Scooby Doo cartoon, kept his head up the whole period and played it straight.  When I thanked him later, Carlos said, "You tell us  not to accuse anyone of using illegal substances if we don't have proof"

That's not what I meant by playing it straight.  That's why, I guess I shouldn't use idioms.

Alfonso wanted to talk about the decorated sniper who was shot to death at a shooting range in Texas.  I asked him to connect it to the article.  Miraculously he did.

Freida volunteered the correct, counter argument, it is the second time she's spoken aloud this semester.

Paulo said there was only one  four star woman general.  I said, I didn't  know that for a fact but he found the line in the article that proved him right immediately.  

Was the monitored impressed?  I have no idea, all I heard from the head of our department was the don't use idiom thing.

Later I started to calm down, what did it matter what she thought?  I sat with seven young people in a crowded overheated room who could discuss  a New York Times editorial with insight and conviction. Why should I care if anyone else was impressed?

And so I made it through the end of the day- calmed down considerably.  I had a meeting in Brooklyn in the evening  but the kind lady voice inside my cell phone was directing me there and I was getting into my "what me worry?" mode when a woman pulled up next to me and signaled that I should roll down my window.  I figured she was going to tell me that my scarf was hanging out the car door.

"You should check your right rear tire," she said,  "I think the lugs are loose and it might  fall off."

It didn't.
The day ended uneventfully. 
I survived.

Cue the Mama told me there'd be days like this- music.