June 2, 2008

  • Do I remember?

    I haven’t really written on this for a while.  There is a significant record of my life’s experiences, thoughts, and emotions on this site.  I am greatful that it is here.  I am impressed with some of my boldness, and it is interesting to remember the person I was when I last was a frequent blogger on this site.  I still have that craving to have an audience for my writing, although most of my more thought out pieces belong to more specific audiences, it is always enjoyable to receive some amount of feedback and recognition.  I should write more once I’ve truly read back and remembered what it is I used to write and who it is I used to be when I so openly posted on this site.

December 31, 2007

  • Topic: Dems vs. Reps. (a joke)

    A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so
    many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal
    Democrat, and among other liberal ideals, was very much in favor of
    higher taxes to support more government programs 

     in other words, the redistribution   of  wealth.

    She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch
    Republican, a  feeling he openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had
    participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had
    for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should  be his.
    One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher
    taxes on the rich and the need for more government programs. The
    self-professed  objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she
    indicated as much to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing
    in school.
    Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA,
    and let  him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was
    taking a very  difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no
    time to go out and party like many other people she knew. She didn’t even
    have time  for a boyfriend, and didn’t really have many college friends because
    she  spent all her time studying.
    Her father listened then asked, “How is your friend Audrey doing?”

    She  replied, “Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy
    classes,  she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular
    on  campus; college for her is a blast. She’s always invited to all the 
    parties, and  

    lots of times she doesn’t even show up for classes because she’s too
    hung  over.”
    Her father asked her, “Why don’t you go to the Dean’s office and ask
    him  to deduct a 1.0 off of your GPA and give it to your friend Audrey,
    who only  has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that
    would be  a fair and equal distribution of GPAs.”
    The daughter, visibly shocked by her father’s suggestion, angrily
    fired  back, “That’s a crazy idea. How would that be fair? I’ve worked
    really  hard for my grades! I’ve invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard
    work.  Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She has played
    while I  worked my tail off!”

    The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently: “Welcome to the
    Republican Party.”

October 31, 2007

  • Topic: Serious teacher reflection
    My principal, who is somewhat of a visionary given today’s principals, puts up quotes every morning for the staff fto read.  This was this morning’s quote:

    “I am entirely certain that
    twenty years from now we will look back at
    education as it is practiced in most schools
    today and wonder that we could have
    tolerated anything so primitive.” John Gardner

    I smiled when I read this, because this thinking is what brought me into teaching in the first place.  For years as a student, I felt as though my own education was primitive, stifling to my creativity, and failing to engage me.  The reality I now face, is the challenge of bringing the highest educational ideals into the classroom.  I recently discovered a book written by a first year NYC Teaching Fellow, named Dan Brown, (The Great Expecations School), and I discovered an interview with him and educator/writer Jonathan Kozol on NPR.  Listening to the two of them speak, I recognized in their voices some of the struggles I am experiencing now.  I am like 1000s of other teachers, energetic and idealistic about education.  But, I am also faced with the same reality that they face, that drive 50% of new teachers out of the profession in the first 3 years.  And it’s not so much the challenges of student behavior, or clerical work, or lesson planning, although it is in part all of these.  But what is in my mind the biggest challenge, is the culture and community in which I work.  Few and far between are teachers like one mentioned in the interview, a teacher named Francesca, who brought in her elite education into an underprivilaged 1st grade classroom, and raised test scores by focussing her teaching not on the tests, but on her students learning and development.  And it’s not because of lack of effort or philosophy, but rather a lack of culture to bring out what many teachers surely hold as a true belief in what education can be.

    I’ve been tinkering at the margins this year, trying to inspire my colleagues about the potential of our curriculum to spark real changes in our students’ minds, attitudes, and behaviors.  But my energy hasn’t caught on, and I’m beginning to witness this year sliding away, and it’s only October.  How can I be tolerating something so primitive in my very own classroom?  I wish it weren’t so, but I know that it begins not with students’ attitudes changing, but by teachers.  More than anything, what I’ve learned this year from teaching, is the necessity of linking myself to people who can support me in developing truly progressive teaching, and in doing so can help me to bring together others teachers in this same mission. 

    I’m not quite sure how tomorrow is going to turn out, but I need to re-discover that commitment to bringing the best education possible to my students, despite that overwhelming challenge that is planning, assessment, and classroom management.  I’ve learned that I’m not perfect, and there won’t be any movies made of me as a heroic new-teacher.  But, I hope to be in this thing for 20 years, as a teacher or otherwise, and I’m hopeful that my experiences today will be history lesson for tomorrow.

October 21, 2007

  • Topic: 6 weeks in

    I’m about 6-weeks into my 2nd year of teaching, and there’s a lot to say.  I have so much to learn, but what’s absolutely killing me is curriculum.  My school is unique in that they give teachers a great deal of autonomy to create curriculum.  The problem is, to do this succefully a lot has to be done in the summer.  There is simply not enough time to synthesize the various standards, teachers manuals, internet materials, and other resources, to develop the type of curriculum that an open-curriculum school such as mine ought to have. 

    I am putting a lot on my shoulder this year.  I am in a unique position where I can implement a lot of the ideas that I’ve developed about education of the last few years, but am also burdened by being new, by having a lot of theory and practical pedagogy to learn, and by not having the time to sit down with other teachers to put together this curriculum.

October 14, 2007

  • Topic: Thoughts on “communism,”

    I know very little about communism, or communist countries.  But a comment was made about something that happened in my classroom involving group rewards.  My co-teacher and I had donuts for our students, and were planning to give them out if the whole group was well behaved one afternoon.  They weren’t, and the issue came up whether or not we should give donuts to the few students who did do the right thing.  My philosophy is that in this situation, nobody deserved the donuts, but a colleague of mind responded, “That’s communist.”  She went on to say, “How is it fair to penalize those who are doing the right thing, because some people are making bad decisions.” 

    My roommate and I were further discussing this point.  Isn’t this like saying, “Why should the government take my money, and pay for people who are making bad decision in their lives?”  But the argument I saw, was, it is our responsibility, as a community, to help each other.  And if people disagree, then that just further shows that we live in an everyone for themselves society.  My classroom might only be my small attempt to create a utopian society, but it does ask the question of what is the best way for a community of people to live?

    The conversation continued about how communist countries restrict freedom of speech.  “How could they possibly restrict people from doing a google search on democracy?” I wondered.  I couldn’t imagine having people policing my thoughts, and my words.  But there was a small piece of logic I saw.  If your goal is to build a community, then you need to weed out those who are interested in the idea of an individual society.  But I don’t believe in a coerced community.  For community to work, just like democracy, there needs to be an effort from the bottom up.  In my classroom, I support both democratic education, giving my students voice, and community building, creating a sense of team.

    What do you think?

October 11, 2007

  • Topic: Activism

    Here’s a brilliant quote by Thomas Freedman in today’s NYT:

    “Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking
    people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms.
    Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters
    speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or
    the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.”

    I’m being an activist in my own small way.  In 5 years, if I stay at my school, I think I can help transform an underperforming inner-city school, into a positive learning community, with minimal discipline problems despite students who live in a community where there are sometimes gaps in role models for positive behaviors, and where students are engaged in serious learning.

    Part of the struggle of my 2nd year has to do with curriculum development.  With only a vague picture of what each month looks like, and no textbook to guide me or my grade team, we’re essentially left to build a curriculum from scratch.  A wonderful opportunity, but also a terrible burden, given our time constraints.  Clearly, to be successful, a great deal of planning needs to occur the summer before.

    Currently, we are having students practice summarizing skills in reading, learning how to write surveys in writing, learning how to identify fractional parts and add fractions in math, and exploring the ideas of community, conflict, and co-existence in social studies.  In the next month, our social studies unit will shift to Chistopher Columbus and the effects of his expedition to the New World, as well as learning more reading comprehension skills, writing memoirs, and learning about fractions, decimals, and percents.  All the while incorporating a philosophy of character development into the daily activities.

    It’s a challenge, but a fun one.  The kids are great, but I forgot how chatty and pre-occupied 10year olds can be.  There is so much for me to learn about their behaviors and personalities, along with their cognitive abilities, their content knowledge, and their academic interests.

    But, as Thomas Freedman pointed out, “America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be
    in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to
    light a fire under the country.”  Now I just need to get myself networked.

October 5, 2007

  • Topic: Conservative politics, Barack Obama, and my little school in Brooklyn

    I just read an article by Paul Krugman, describing an interesting phenomenon involving George Bush. 

    Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made
    a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know
    how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have
    involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and

    By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even
    grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s
    speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the
    flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people
    breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search
    of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.

    The article itself was mostly about the mentality of conservative leaders, both in government and the media.  Krugman discussed how Reagan once remarked that if there were 17million hungry people in America, they were those who were on a diet.  Bush once remarked that there is no health insurance problem in this country, “You just go to an emergency room.”  And Rush Limbaugh remarked on a Michael J. Fox commercial about stem-cell research, “In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He
    is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act.”  Just the other week, Bill O’Reily made a comment about how surprised he was to discover a famous black restraurant, was actually a civilized place.

    These comments reveal the sad truth that our society is influenced largely by the ignorant, and the spiteful.  I had an opportunity to hear Barak Obama speak in NYC the other week, and it was the first time in my life that politics seemed relevant.  Here was a person who generally gets is, who was able to reach that part of me that has been wondering, “Why isn’t there a single person in politics who is inspiring in some way?”  I specifically like how he shared a personal story of his mother, who died of cancer, and on her death bed was worried about paying her bills.  I like how he is one of the few candidates who had the foresight to criticize the Iraq war before it began.  I like how he announed he doesn’t wear an American flag pin, to make the point that patriotism in America has been turned into a farce, and that he wants to shift the conversation towards rationality.

    On another note, I am in the 5th week of my 2nd year of teaching, and my thoughts are brewing on the subject of education.  As I’ve written before, I believe change in education must be a bottom-up type of change.  This is certainly true in my school, where so many teachers criticize those above us, when the truth is we weild an incredible amount of power with whatever we bring to our students each day.  Certainly, 40-50 teachers should have as much of an effect on a school, as 4-5 administrators.  What I’ve noticed, is that many teachers have gone through their entire teaching careers lacking a leader, whether an administrator, or a teacher, who has inspired them to see the potential in education.  I hope that in time, I can role model what I hope to see in teaching, and can unite with my colleagues to truly revolutionize education in a low-income school in Brooklyn.

September 29, 2007

September 18, 2007

  • Sept. 18th, 2007

    Day #8

                Before the
    day was only a few minutes, old, I was anxious.  Precious time was slipping away, as students sat around confused,
    fuddling around with their book bags, homework folders, and other supplies.  Around 8:50 we finally got them to the rug
    for morning meeting.  The greeting was a
    simple handshake, and for the first time the whole group seemed to be engaged,
    calling other students out for not knowing it was their turn, not speaking loudly,
    or not making eye-contact.  Next, for
    share, none of the people who were listed wanted to share.  I decided to then share myself, sharing how
    Vivian and I had worked together to put up bulletin boards the previous night.  I took a few questions and comments, and
    encouraged students to participate in the future.  The activity for the day, I borrowed only minutes before the
    start of the school day from Marcy, and was a variation on the game, “Look
    down, look up,” that we’d done before, where students sit down if they happen
    to make eye contact with another student, except this time they first had to
    switch places.

    writer’s workshop, I had students practice sketching their seed ideas.  I began by telling students that I was
    feeling bored with my notebook, and asked for a thumbs up if they ever felt
    bored writing.  I showed them how I
    started a new brainstorm in my notebook of small moments with Mr. Davey, and
    then chose one, about working out during wrestling, to develop as a seed idea.  I held up my notebook, and explained my
    diagram of a wrestling mat.  I then
    engaged students by giving them 30seconds to think of a seed idea, and then to
    sketch it by drawing on the carpet.  I
    met with Anthony, who misunderstood and was drawing about the tv show Family
    Guy, as opposed to a moment involving himself, and Tyleek was drawing about a
    time he played basketball with his brother. 
    Overall, I found it to be an effective mini-lesson, although I could do
    a better job of having signs up that show the process we’re going through, and
    how the notebooks should look. 

                They then
    worked independently, and I did my first semi-official writing conference with
    Kenny.  Kenny has a hard time getting
    started, and he is very aware of this. 
    He gets very excited about what he is doing, and is very friendly, but
    needs a great deal of support.  Later,
    when we were doing math, he was also one of the few to stay on the rug for
    extra support, along with Kaliya and Saul. 
    Kenny showed that he could interpret certain math word problems, and was
    also able to do 2-digit addition.  He’s
    a student I’m interested to see how he progresses, and to better understand his

    morning meeting even began, Kaliya was in tears.  “Someone stole my 22 pencils,” she cried.  At the end of the day, she was in tears
    again, this time when Anthony called her a thief for taking a pencil
    sharpener.  As Lynne puts it, “she is a
    very needy child.”  I had a chance to
    speak with her during our field trip on the bus ride home, and she comes from a
    family with lots of children, and might be being raised by a grandmother.  During math, for a low number 2-digit
    addition problem, she was drawing out the number, which I believe to be a 1st
    or 2nd grade skill level.

                I also
    discovered in math that several of the students are quite good at the subject.  They can do 3-digit addition, and had
    figured out multiplication.  Angelo is
    by far the most advanced, and will need more challenging work.  He is very excited about how bright he is,
    and apparently in reading he is lower than he thought he was, because an uncle
    of his was having him read “challenging books,” that may have set him back a

                Overall, I
    have a general sense that I, meaning Lynne and myself, and the whole grade
    team, are 2 weeks behind where we need to be. 
    I’m still planning math on a daily basis, and am overwhelmed with trying
    to identify what math lesson to teach from either Everyday Math or Terc.  I am hoping that come October, I will better
    be able to follow a more scripted program. 
    In writing, I don’t have a sense of how to teach drafting or
    editing.  I could do better by looking
    more online, and getting examples of what a published personal narrative for 5th
    grade might look like.


                For the
    last hour of the day, Lynne and I had no plan, and Lynne was out for a
    collegial crew meeting.  I was going to
    try an improvised lesson, creating a brainstorm of what students felt about and
    remembered about 4th grade social studies.  I began this and got the expected responses, “It sucks,” “It was
    boring,” “It was a complete waste of time.” 
    Clearly, some things in education haven’t changed, notably, students’
    perceptions of what their learning. 
    Either the material wasn’t presented as relevant, wasn’t presented in an
    engaging way, or perhaps the students simply didn’t have the skills to access
    the content.  That last reason worries
    me, because I like to believe that teachers can engage almost any child.

    conversation quickly broke down, as people were talking over one another.  Perhaps this was because of my instruction,
    or my not having set-up the expectations for student behavior.  However, I made sure not to yell at the
    students.  I made sure not to get angry
    at them.  Instead, I waited.  I began to time them, “How long will it take
    for you to get into a circle for this lesson?” I rhetorically asked.  Over 3 minutes passed.  Students were growing angry at one
    another.  I decided to bail on the
    history lesson, and have students try to think about why it was so hard for
    them to quiet down.  A few students
    stepped up in the conversation, while a few were checked out.  I believe 5th grade is the
    beginning age for having these types of group dynamic discussions, at least for
    any length of time.  Six thru eight year
    olds I expect would be squirming.  I
    found myself on several occasions trying to silence the class and drawing back
    their attention with my clapping, which sometimes falls on deaf ears.  It was a frustrating hour for me and for the
    students, but I tried to steer them with the message that it was up to them to
    solve this problem.  “The answer is in
    the group,” I told them, which received a reply from Tahjannay, “It is?”  I believe my Outward Bound experience,
    working with groups and focusing on personal development, may find itself very
    useful in the traditional classroom.

    3 weeks in, I realize that I am uniquely inspired, and also ignorant of
    much.  My goal continues to be to
    acquire ideas from others, and to seek advice from those with experience.   In many ways, I still doubt myself,
    thinking that I wouldn’t be fit to teach in a suburban neighborhood where a
    principal might expect a certain body of knowledge that I may not possess.  However, given the opportunity I have to
    work with kids, I have recognized that I do bring an ability to think ahead
    about things, and to analyze the classroom in a way that so far has lead to a
    positive classroom climate.  I have also
    found that I inspire and support other teachers in their own struggles and
    insecurities with teaching.  My goal for
    now, and for the rest of the year, must be to stay focused on acquiring and
    organizing material and lessons to engage and challenge my students.  That’s nothing special to me, it’s just the
    challenge that every teacher faces.

September 10, 2007

  • Narrative #1


    My mom is in the kitchen.  She is standing over the sink, and she calls me over to turn on
    the water so she can wash the chicken. 
    She then asks me to open the wooden cabinet and find the garlic, basil,
    and paprika.  “Sprinkle a little of all
    three onto the chicken,” she tells me. 
    I love helping my mom cook, and this meal is for Rosh HaShana, the
    Jewish New Year.  The kitchen is full of
    delicious smells, and as I open the oven, I can see a sweet noodle pudding, the
    noodles toasting brown and sweet raisins on top.  Inside the refrigerator is a bag of apples.  I grab them for her, pull open the bag, and
    one by one hand them to her.  With both
    hands she rinses them under the sink, then places them on the cutting
    board.  With a sharp knife, she slices
    them in half, then in half again, making four quarters.  She takes extra care to cut out the seeds
    from the middle.  These apples she
    places in a clear bowl.  Later, they
    will be dipped in honey.  This is a
    tradition for all Jewish people, the sweet taste for a sweet year.


                Narrative #2


    I went home, I did lots of things and had a lot of fun.  First I went to my bedroom.  In my room I read for a while.  Reading is something I love to do, because I
    enjoy fiction books and I learn a lot of things from reading books. Then my mom
    called me down to help her in the kitchen. 
    My mom was cooking food for the Jewish holiday, and everything smelled
    really good.  I like helping my mom
    cook, because it’s a lot of fun.  I
    helped her get ready, then my family sat down for dinner.  I was so full after eating, and then we had
    dessert.  I love having dinner with my
    family, and the food was delicious. 
    After dinner, I went for a bike ride around my neighborhood with one of
    my friends.