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.