Friday, March 26, 2010

On the Eve of Spring Break

Rest up, have fun, be safe.

If you teach 8th graders, try to get the message to them that their high school letters are coming.

Pray/hope/vibrate for good weather.

We all deserve it...this is the last big one until the summer, so make the most of it!

94 calendar days until June 28.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mi Asignatura Favorita

Well, if you read my most recent post at NYC Educator, you'll know I was feeling somewhat disheartened about how the Learning Environment Survey was playing out in my class. Thankfully, a bulletin board--yes, a bulletin board--helped to lighten my mood.

I have to admit I don't always read my colleagues' bulletin boards, particularly when they're not in my native language. This particular bulletin board was in Spanish, and perhaps I thought I was practicing my rusty Espanol by stopping and leering for a minuto. Many of the pieces displayed on this board belonged to my own students.

The writing that the maestra had them doing was about their favorite subjects--their asignaturas favoritas. They had to name their favorite subject and why they liked it. Guess what? About half of them said their favorite subject was Ingles.

Okay, that about made my day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Save Student MetroCards!

It's hard enough to get some kids to show up to school with MetroCards. Take away MetroCards and you're putting an already-vulnerable population at risk for missing more and more school. Sign the Working Families' Party petition to save student MetroCards.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Night Optimism

Sunday Night Optimism is cousin to Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Sunday Night Optimism says, "I had a very nice weekend and I feel prepared to go back to work. Everything is going to be fine this week. Heck, I might even have reason to look forward to work this week." This is a fine feeling to have on Sunday night. Here I sit, a large pile of graded papers beside me, lessons ready for tomorrow, a tasty dinner in my belly and one more movie in the DVD player before I call it a weekend. However, as frequent readers of this blog know, Sunday Night Optimism is a bad feeling for me. It has, as of late, portended a horrible week.

BUT. BUT! I dodged two major bullets last week: the Quality Review report, in which I was not implicated; and the Teacher Data Report, which turned out fine. And assuming no psycho parents show up for Open School Night (we really don't have any hardcore psycho parents in my grade, thank goodness), it should be a reasonably smooth week.

I'm off now to knock on every wooden surface in my apartment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Meetings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

The shit has hit the fan at the Morton School. Phrases like "worst week of my life," "career change," "utterly depressing," "all for nothing," and more are emerging from whispered conversations in the hallways and the teachers' lounge. It's the kind of talk one might expect to hear in, say, a SURR school facing a 50% budget cut in which one-quarter of the teacher and student population had recently, say, died.

Nothing of the sort has transpired. I tend not to say very much about the general environs of the Morton School to keep this blog as anonymous as possible, but what the hell. I took the name of this blog from Jane Eyre, the timeless story of a determined young woman who, among other things, does time as a teacher. The very name "Morton School" brings to mind Jane Eyre's little school, in which the strong-willed Jane takes all comers and, with her unique blend of smarts, toughness, creativity, and love, turns her students into self-respecting and well-prepared young people. She says of her school and her students, "These soon took a pleasure in doing their work well, in keeping their persons neat, in learning their tasks regularly, in acquiring quiet and orderly manners. The rapidity of their progress, in some instances, was even surprising; and an honest and happy pride I took in it: besides, I began personally to like some of the best girls; and they liked me." Later, when she concludes her tenure there, she says, "I had long felt with pleasure that many of my rustic scholars liked me, and when we parted, that consciousness was confirmed: they manifested their affection plainly and strongly.(...) Mr. Rivers came up as, having seen the classes, now numbering sixty girls, file out before me, and locked the door, I stood with the key in my hand, exchanging a few words of special farewell with some half-dozen of my best scholars: as decent, respectable, modest, and well-informed young women as could be found in the ranks of the British peasantry." I'll spare you any further forays into proto-Victorian literature; suffice it to say that this is largely how I see myself, my school, and my students (though perhaps the author Charlotte Bronte is a tad condescending towards Jane's students at times).

The Morton School, circa NYC in 2010, is a lovely school. Our building is kept clean and pleasant by all teachers and by a dedicated custodial staff. We are fortunate to have a very fine arts program that gives students a number of opportunities to pursue visual art, music, and dance. We have a beautiful library cared for by an excellent librarian. Of course, if none of those "frills" matter to you these days, take a look at our test scores. They're good. Great, in fact. We send a sizeable percentage of students, above the citywide average, to the specialized high schools year after year. You can say you work at the Morton School with a sense of pride, knowing that our school gets dozens of resumes every year for positions that are very unlikely to become open. How yours truly ended up there remains a mystery. But, if the numbers are any indication at all, I've held my own there.

So why is everyone at the Morton School so miserable?


Principal X has gotten the results of our Quality Review. And, apparently, it sucks. Again. How a school that operates like ours does and produces such good results ends up with such a lousy review is beyond me. After all, I'm just a village schoolteacher, as Jane might say. But it makes me wonder: What good is this doing anyone if, by any other measure you can imagine, our school is pretty darn good? What are we missing? Why are we constantly feeling pressure to fix that which is not, it would seem, broken?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But probably Principal X will deem more of the same to be necessary: More upheaval that doesn't help teacher or student; more meetings; more paperwork; more "you suck" as both implicit and explicit messages in feedback.

I'm not saying there's no room to improve at our school. There always is. But there's the idea of continuous improvement, because one wants to maintain the quality one has and expand it; and there's the idea of IMMEDIATE AND TOTAL REFORM BECAUSE EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING SUCKS. Maybe Principal X and the quality reviewer mean the former. But the message we're getting is the latter. And that's not helpful for anyone.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My New Obsession: Teachable Moments (No, Not Those Bizarre Moments in the Middle of Class)

But this very funny webcomic by teacher Chris Pearce. All are SFW, so feel free to distribute widely and enjoy a chuckle!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Drop Everything and Read

Today was such a crazy freakin' day that I sat down and read with the kids during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time today for about fifteen minutes. I was reading a book that one of them recommended to me (Uprising by Margaret Haddix Peterson, historical fiction about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire).

It was nice.