Monday, May 31, 2010

20 Days of School Left

I am awake, still, doing stuff for school I can't even talk about. I graded papers for three hours today and now I am doing stuff for people who find it charming to tell you things they need at 3 p.m. on a Friday before a three-day weekend.

Only 20 days of school left. I can make it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Sunday Night

Tomorrow, we'll have exactly five weeks of school left. Subtract Memorial Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day* and that's 23 school days. Subtract the clerical half-days that we folks in the elementary and middle schools have, subtract Regents Week (since no real instruction happens that week) for our colleagues in high schools, you're looking at just about 20 days, give or take a couple.

*What is Brooklyn-Queens Day, my friends outside NYC wonder? It's the day that marks the anniversary of Brooklyn and Queens joining the City of New York. Yes, there is really a day off from school for this. Well, the kids stay home; the teachers come in for a CHANCELLOR'S CONFERENCE DAY, which is about as much fun as it sounds.

We're still hard at work in Miss Eyre's classroom. The kiddies are gearing up for their social studies exit project presentations, among other things, which will happen in the second-to-last full week of school. I'm starting to openly beg for classroom library books to be returned; after all, a good many of them were bought with my own money and I'd like to have them back for next year.

But other things are drawing to a close. Our last book talks are scheduled for this week, and our last vocabulary quiz. We'll take our last social studies test soon, before we start preparing for the state social studies exam, which is much sooner than any of us think it is.

I'm elated and depressed to think about this school year ending. True, it's been a difficult year for me. But I have lovely groups of kids and I'm very much running out of time to spend with them. I've stayed in touch with many of my former students, and while it always makes my day to hear from any of them, it's never the same as having them together. The magic never re-forms itself after they go their separate ways.

Still, it's another Sunday night here in New York City and, as usual, I'm foggy-headed trying to piece the week together. Not unusually, I'm facing a number of interruptions ("special events") in this week's calendar and am trying to figure out when and how to fit everything in. I'm still grading papers and figuring out which students need to have conferences soon. Life goes on more or less as scheduled, even with so little time left.

I plan to make it to the end of this school year with my sanity, my dignity, and my rating intact. Beyond that, who knows.

Monday, May 17, 2010

College for Everybody, Anyway

I like Claus van Zastrow's post on continuing the push towards college for everyone over at his Public School Insights blog today. He makes one of the few points about "college readiness" that rings true and sensible to me: "The vast majority of wealthy parents expect their kids to go to college," he writes. "Even some of those pundits who pooh pooh college in the pages of the Times or The Wall Street Journal would likely pitch a fit if their own children decided to go the voc-ed route. Poor children face a very different reality. (...) [T]hose who never went to college are getting hit hardest by this recession. The poor get poorer."

I'm skeptical, I admit, of the idea that all children can be made college-ready. Most children can, but many won't cooperate with the effort. But--and here's the key--college should be suggested and encouraged for every child. The child for whom college is the right thing--and maybe that's a poor child, an immigrant child, a child with learning disabilities--will be heartened and motivated by the expectation, the assumption that he, too, can make it to college. And the child for whom college is not right will hardly be dissuaded from education altogether by someone suggesting that she should stretch herself.

Maybe college preparation activities should be made "opt-out" at schools, rather than opt-in; that is, college tours or visits by admissions officers or SAT prep should be de rigueur for everyone. Only after a careful and realistic evaluation made by the student, his or her family, and a counselor should the child be pursuing other options that are concrete and realistic for that child. And those options should still include education.

I feel like a system like that would preserve the push towards college for bright, motivated kids who simply feel discouraged that college is out of their reach because of lack of resources. It would perhaps inspire some students to aim for college even if they didn't think they could or should do it before. And it would also help to care for those students who might still decide college is not for them.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Principal X: Developing

Well, it's been a fun year with Principal X. (Not really.) But let's face it: Principals have tough jobs too. I try to be a generous critic. So I'm going to list some of the good things that Principal X did at the Morton School this year:
  • Instituted more teacher-led professional development (previously, there was little to none of this).
  • Kept grades together for lunch periods (sounds like a small thing, but I think it made a big difference).
  • Helped students launch two new community service projects.
  • Hosted parent breakfasts for parents who have a hard time making it to PTA meetings in the evenings.
  • Planned professional development across the curriculum rather than just focusing on reading and math.
  • Kept appointments with members of the school consultation committee.
But, if I were rating Principal X under the new teacher evaluation system, I think s/he would still only rate a Developing. Why?
  • Teachers were evaluated and often criticized for not doing things for which they had explicitly and repeatedly requested training that they did not get.
  • Principal X cannot give a compliment to save his/her life.
  • Principal X's relationship with Miss AP is rapidly and obviously degenerating into total and mutual hatred.
  • Principal X has often undermined teachers' attempts to discipline students and does not follow the DOE Discipline Code, meaning that too many students are getting away with too much.
Where does this leave my relationship with Principal X? Honestly, I know there are some true nightmare principals out there and mine isn't one of them. And since I (painfully) remember my first year of teaching and can rattle off a list dozens deep of mistakes I made during my first year, I'm going to give Principal X the benefit of the doubt.

But in order for PX to get any better, s/he has got to become a better leader to the teachers. I don't think any teacher at the Morton School feels like PX appreciates them or recognizes their efforts. I said to a colleague the other day that our other colleagues would be much more forgiving of PX, given the very real challenges PX has had to face, if PX weren't so relentlessly critical of us.

So that's where we stand with exactly six weeks of school left. I suppose Developing means that PX can keep the job for next year but needs to do some reflecting and retraining. That sounds about right.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Salute to Smooth

I haven't written about Smooth much this year, and when I mentioned him briefly in my NYC Educator post yesterday, I had to ask myself why. Smooth is a very interesting kid. If you met him, you'd think he was your standard-issue popular kid: he's cute, well-dressed, and just smart-alecky enough to be funny without being disrespectful or disruptive. He gets good-enough grades; not great, and probably not as good as he could do if he really tried, but good enough. You probably have a kid or two like Smooth. You probably like him and don't give him much more thought.

I've known Smooth for as long as I've been at the Morton School. He's always been the way he is. Except for the first half of this school year. I talked to his mom a few weeks into the school year and commented that he seemed much more reserved, maybe even a little down, than I'd known him to be in the past. He wasn't jokey and fast-talking the way he always was before, and his grades, instead of being good enough, were just north of failing.

His mom sighed. "It's his brother," she said. "He's in jail. Smooth really looks up to his brother and he made some really foolish choices, and he got caught."

I felt terribly. Smooth's brother is considerably older than him and had been out of the house for a while, but Smooth's dad is not involved with him, so the brother was something of a father figure. Smooth was angry at his brother but also missed him. Smooth's mom promised to get him into counseling and work with him to get his grades up.

Well, fast forward to May. Against those lousy odds, Smooth turned the ship around. First his grades started ticking upward. Then he started dating a sweet girl in his class. Then his former personality started wiggling out again--a funny impression here, a sarcastic remark there--and I'd say he's back to his old self.

But it's not just that. Smooth grew a heart, too. He stays late after school every day--not because he gets AIS, but because his girlfriend does, and he waits for her to get out. The girlfriend was convinced, to the point of tears, that she bombed the math exam the other day, and he didn't want to leave her side. I mean, I know these kids are young and their relationships aren't *serious* per se, but I think that's sweet.

And you know what? I think Smooth is awesome. I just know so many kids who would give up in his situation. I love that he put himself back on the right path (with help from mom and a counselor). I love that he's kind to his young lady. I even love that he messes around in class, just a little, because I think he's finding school tolerable, even positive, again.

I've been wanting to write a note to his mom and tell her all this stuff, but I haven't been sure how to say it. Maybe I should just say what I said here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This Is Why I'm Hot

I've always been an advocate of teachers dressing professionally. I don't mind casual Fridays, but I just think that coming in in sweatpants and t-shirts on a regular basis (and, yes, those stretchy velour pants ARE SWEATPANTS, ladies, and I lump track pants into that category too) doesn't send the right message. I've made a lot of mistakes in four-five years of teaching, but I've never come to work in sweatpants. That has to count for something, right?

I'm finding it hard to maintain my self-imposed dress code, though, because at the Morton School, Disgustingly hot. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, proposed an arbitrary calendar date rather than a temperature and humidity threshold for when air conditioning can be turned on. AWESOME.

"Well, Miss Eyre," you might say, "aren't you being a little spoiled? Not all schools even HAVE air conditioning, you know. You should be lucky you have it at all."

I agree. I should probably just suck it up. I should probably just open my windows--oh wait, NONE OF MY WINDOWS OPEN ALL THE WAY.

Well, I could prop open my door. I could ask my custodian for a doorstop. SORRY, WE'RE ALL OUT OF DOORSTOPS.

So the situation in Miss Eyre's room is thus:
  • I am trapped in a room full of 20-30 teenagers, not all of whom have mastered the fine art of deodorant wearing yet.
  • None of my windows open all the way.
  • My door is wedged open with a binder.
  • And, in this room--this very room--I have to administer a STATE MATH EXAM tomorrow. YES.
Forgive me if I show up tomorrow in a bathing suit and flip-flops.