Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Still Courting Trouble

I find myself in an old school as the sun sets and the darkening room makes the computer screen clearer.  I called it a career last June and exited from the world of renewal schools, teacher evaluations and common or uncommon core testing.  I made a big party, got lots of plants for  presents and spent four weeks in Europe.  Teacherfishtravels has a lot more to say about that.

But I missed it, and when an old principal called and asked if I would work a few hours in the after school program, I thought six hours a week, that sounds like the right amount of time teaching for me.

Walter tells me he didn't fail because he was stupid, it's his behavior.  I ask him why He isn't smart enough  to behave, and he says his mother wants to know the same thing.  I stop.  One mother is enough for anyone..

Walter, Fenton and Jamal come whenever I am there. There are far more students that need to sit in front of the computer screens and complete a course that it is laid out in six units, four sections each.  And all must be completed by answering correctly 70% of the quiz questions at the end of each section.

Because students who couldn't pay attention with a teacher teaching  his or heart out in a classroom can sit in front of a computer screen for sixty hours and independently complete the coursework. But heck- cracking the whip is what I get paid for.

Fenton is completing a unit on scientific method.  At least that what the screen says.  Fenton is shining his head.  He  continually rubs  his perfectly coiffed head while checking his image on another screen which is rigged so the computer's camera displays his image.

"What is a good experimental question?" Fenton asks me.

"How many times will you fix your hair before Ms. Teacherfish hits you?"  I suggest.

And then I add that surely one of theses days my mouth will get me in trouble.

"Not so easy this behaving thing" Walter chimes in from across the room.

"Nah," Miss, "not today,"  Fenton assures me, "We like you."

There comes a time every Sunday night, that I feel some anxiety, my plans aren't done, my shirts aren't ironed and is this the week the superintendent is coming?

And then I remember- I'm done.

But I do miss moments like that one.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I Reflect

We were ask to lead a summer service.  Eric usually provides an erudite "sermon" but he would be not be motivated to do so this year.  So I wrote this.  

August 21, 2015
In my email box this week, along with offers to buy books, furniture, vacations and enhancements for body parts I do not possess, as well as encouragement to support political causes on both the left and the right, (I will never understand just how I got on the  Townhall- mailing list) was  a message from Rabbi Ballan reminding me that this is the month of Elul a time to prepare for judgement both G-d’s and my own. 
In the event that  that I skip over all those tempting offers in the other emails, the rabbi offered this prayer .
God, help me through the days of Elul to prepare myself for the New Year with its promise of new life for my body and my soul.
Help me face questions I wish to avoid!
Help me accept truths that do not comfort!
I wish to journey to the light, but the path to it is hidden by all the promises I never kept, by the goodness I deserted.
May the words from the past show me the way of return.
I begin the road of repentance. Meet me, God, as I journey on it.

*From Kol Haneshamah: p. 805

In the late 1970s, early 1980’s just as I began my teaching career, the show the White Shadow, starring Ken Howard as a former professional basketball player turned high school teacher and coach, aired on CBS.  I watched every week, if for no other reason, to see how much better he coped in the world of the inner city school , then I did.  Despite the fact that I could not get a basketball within in ten feet of a standard hoop- (a cause for great mirth at most recess periods) I figured if he could survive, so could I. 
Despite my commitment to avid watching, there is only one scene I really clearly remember from the show.  And it didn’t even contain Howard.  A woman, in the mists of time I can no longer remember her position at the school,  comforted a student who was upset.
And what she said to student has remained with my all these years. 
She said:  Her mother told her there were four types of people in this world. 
People who like you for the right reason,
People who like you for the wrong reason
People who dislike you for right reason and
People who dislike you for the wrong reason.
And the only group you ever have to worry about is those that dislike you for the right reason.
On one of the overheated days on the fourth floor of the hundred year old  unairconditioned high school I worked in, I ticked April off.  I don’t remember exactly what I said or did but she was angry and responded with the comment-  what I really don’t like about you is your always interrupting the other teacher,  when we act out you discipline us but then you take over and don’t let her finish her thoughts.

I reacted the way, I learned to over the years to react when a student insulted me.  I ignored the comment and prayed for the bell to ring soon

I would have ended there – except the next day after class, April approached me to apologize. 
I was hot and tired and I was rude to you and should have never spoken to you that way, she told me.
And for some reason the scene from the White Shadow flooded back to me.  I told her the piece about the four kinds of people in the world and realized,  just why I was telling it.
Yes April is 16 and a student in my class and it was rude and disrespectful to speak to me like that.
But she was right.
When she made the comment she fell squarely into the category of those who disliked me for the right reason.
And out place or not, her comment shouldn’t be ignored. It is a truth that does not comfort.
Eric and I wish to thank you for allowing us to lead the service tonight and we hope the month of Elul brings all of us offers, electronic or otherwise that’s fulfillment makes us happy, political news that helps us all heal the world a little bit, and the time and space to reflect deeply and fruitfully on the people who didn’t like you this year for the right reason so that we look forward to a the new year with its promise for a new life for our bodies and soul.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Snow, logic and rigor.

February is here, along with the new semester.  The weather alternates between just above the freezing mark and just below it, so every morning begins with a decision on whether to shovel out the car,  and risk finding one of the valued parking spots at school or standing on a frozen snow bank waiting for the bus to come.

I have almost mastered the bus time app.  It allows me to remove my finger from my gloves to check my cell phone repeatedly to see if the 6:47 bus will come at 6:47, 6:48, or 6:49.  The first day I tried it the bus arrived and left as I looked at the app.   I decided I wouldn't look again, but just wait and watch the street as I've done for six decades, but alas- I am addicted to the damn phone - just like everyone else.

I am back to teaching a  geometry self-contained class.  The new semester, almost surely my last semester, brought a slew of changes of our teaching schedules, so, at least for 45 minutes a day, I end my career just as I started it, teaching students with disabilities the "general" curriculum in a separate classroom. The topic I was given first -logic.

I am fairly convinced that nothing in education today has anything really to do with logic.  Otherwise I certainly wouldn't be teaching if p then q,  to high school students who are not really sure what folding your paper in half means.  (The professional small learning group community had a discussion on rigor,  and I posed the question  -was asking whether a paper that was folded down the vertical center line was an equal representation of half as one folded down the horizontal line.    I was assured it was rigorous.- by  three of the people in the group- the other four were asleep). 

But I spent the week with questions like:  If its Tuesday,  then it must by Belgium. ) Okay - not really - because that is anachronistic joke  akin, to calling out second floor ladies lingerie - when the elevator door opens and no one gets out.  But surprisingly to me at least, so was the sentence from the text book:  Jedi warriors do not use light sabers.  (One of the girls insisted I spelled it wrong- it should say light savers like the candy. (Lifesavers?)

Bernie had his head down - he was too tired to learn he told me, he had worked until 3:00 am in the convenience store by his house.  I made him pick up his head.  It sounds  so mean as I type it.  But that's how it goes- you come, you learn- with your head up.

The snow fell in spurts outside our window yet again, and in an attempt to derail the logic discussion we talked about where we came from (as in the country we used to live in versus the topic of evolution which was being hotly debated in the Teacher's lounge along with a chorus of Bob Marley songs- but again that is not the main topic- and since I have been sitting through many workshops on writing non-fiction, I am going to attempt to stick to my topic).

Five out of six of the students were from the Dominican Republic.  They talked wistfully of an Island with beaches and mountains and a climate that never required one to decide whether or not to shovel out a car or take a bus. (Of course- the economy did limit one'options which is probably why everyone was sitting in a classroom in New York- even after working until the wee hours of the morning, watching snow fall.

I wrote the sentence:  If it snows then its winter. 

Unless you live in DR Ana said.  
True- even if that wasn't what the answer the textbook said it was supposed to be.

But Bernie's head popped up and insisted it does snow in the Dominican Republic.

The class was skeptical.  I didn't know for sure, but I was once in Hawaii when there was a snowstorm on Mauna Kea.

Off topic- again.  

We went back to finding inverses and converses and contrapositives- because that's what were supposed to be doing
-  Constanza.    Bernie called out, That's the place in the DR where -it snows!

How did he know?  He texted his mother. 

Yes he's not supposed to have his cell phone out.  Yes he's not supposed to be texting- he's supposed to be folding his paper in half ( Ana gave him a sheet, he didn't have a notebook he wouldn't be paid until the evening).   But he was with us  now.

And I know where it snows in the Dominican Republic.
Rigorous?  Maybe. But its our kind of logic .

Sunday, February 1, 2015

When will I use this?

I can complete a square.  Okay, its not like finding the cure for cancer or creating world peace, but its a skill I mastered more than once.  Its like the joke about quitting smoking, it can't be all that hard - I've done it numerous times.

I've never smoked, but from time to time I find myself mired in a mathematical curriculum that defies my usually effective sense of mathematical reasoning- the mathematical acrobatics I put myself through, because it serves some purpose in my life.  For instance, Macy's had gloves on sale yesterday.  The marked price was $48, the sign said 40% off, I have a deal with Macy's I keep buying things and they keep sending me coupons, so I knew that the gloves would cost me  a number that is less than the predicted low temperature for tomorrow.

I bought the gloves.  (For the record it came to $28 with tax and the predicted low tomorrow is 14 degrees)

The Algebra I curriculum includes figuring out percentages of things and coming up with what things should cost.  Of course last week's Regents, postponed  by the prediction of a historic snowstorm that never came, included a question that gave the final price after a 20% discount and the deal was to figure out the original cost.

I'm sure I'll hear lots of complaints about that- we never practiced that scenario.

And what difference should it make- either you want the dress at the sale price or your don't.
If you have to know the original price to think its a good enough deal to buy- you don't  really need the dress. (My father used to say, if you need to ask the price, you can't afford it).

In my humble opinion.

I was watching the Big Bang theory last week.  My cousin is always amazed that a show about a bunch of brainy nerds is the most popular show on TV. Sheldon stood in front of a white board and whined about something or another in his self important life.  But behind him was a reduction of simple radicals,  another skill I mastered in my year of not the most basic concepts of high school math.  I had written something very similar on our very own white board just a few weeks back.  The joke being, that most of the viewers would have no idea that Sheldon's scratching were the mere exercises of the Algebra II curriculum and not the genius level pondering he purported

Every semester I listen to poignant posing of the same the question.
Why am I taking this math?  - I'll never use it.

True, you probably don't remember how to figure percentages that will give you  the original cost of an item in Macy's quickly either, though there's most likely an app for that in the cell phone in your pocket if you really want to.  If you need the current cost, there's a station where you can scan it quickly.

But completing the square or reducing a radical?  Other than realizing that the people who provided the props for Sheldon's whining monologue- its hard to imagine a situation where that's needed- and anyone who actually would require such calculations at work, would undoubtedly have software that would instantaneously do so.

Teacher Koi,  my carpool companion once asked me what would we do if all the computers in the world stopped working at once.

Not being able to solve a quadratic equation would be the least of my problems.  It would rank far behind not being able to get money out of the ATM and not having the digital thermostat control the central heating in our home and this February -the temperature would rapidly sink to a level where  no gloves on sale or not would suffice.

The new semester begins on Tuesday.  I will click on the Algebra II curriculum that arrived in my e-mail box yesterday and again try to learn, plan, adapt and teach the carefully constructed lists of skills and concepts listed in the course curriculum. (Hopefully in that order) Some will get it, some will try, others will whine that the don't need to put much mental energy to these abstractions, they'll never use them.  I expect they are right.   But the in the end we will pass most of them anyway.  The principal told us to.  But that's a story for another day.