Monthly Archives: November 2007

So what are you gonna do about it?

The sixth graders are not very nice people. We aren’t a community, we’re definitely not a “family,” the word of choice for describing the kind of school we want to have, we’re not all on board the same boat exploring the same territory with the same mission.  And surely this is idealistic, but it’s something I want.  Possibly even more than I want them to know about levers or pulleys or weather or water.

Case in point: Friday.  Four (five?) teachers out again, coverages like crazy, teachers and administrators at the end of our ropes, an atmosphere of tension pervading the school.  That’s something we need to work on…. we get pushed until we model some of the bullying behaviors that we want the kids to stop.

The day starts with a sixth grade first marking period awards ceremony.  Not only are the kids not quiet while we hand out the awards, the way they are not quiet really gets to me because they are giggling at other students’ names, whispering about the kids who receive more than one award, expressing their opinion about kids who receive awards that they don’t think are valid, just a whole lot of not-niceness.  I respond by quietly addressing the behavior I see, but not yelling or punishing (except to remove a few of the ringleaders… which is hard because it’s really almost all of them).  I want something positive to stay positive.

Throughout the day we have: one theft revealed, a million little incidents of name calling, kids picking at each other quietly during class, pushing and shoving in the halls, an almost-fight that starts at lunch and escalates from there despite the involvement of several teachers.

I go down to pick up my class at recess and the kids blatantly ignore the whistle that signals that they should line up.  Horseplay and ridiculousness ensues.  I’m pushed to my limit and give the whole sixth grade detention for all of next week.  In the next breath, I regret that decision: 50% of the kids were in line doing the right thing, and always are, and over-punishment always, always backfires.  I lecture the kids for a few minutes, describing some of the behaviors that I saw, explaining the reason for my expectation that they line up quickly (we have work to do!  learning!  state tests in just over two months!).  Then I backpedal in the only way I see out of the over-punishment situation: everyone will serve detention on Monday, but teachers will observe hall and class behavior and recommend kids to allow out of the detention on Wednesday (Tuesday, I recall, is a half-day, no lunch, no lunch detention).  I begin to formulate a vision of the detention being a lot of active practicing of the behaviors we expect to see in the halls.  I kind of hate myself after this whole episode, for not being the positive, peaceful person I aspire to be, but the other teachers feel it was well within professionalism and certainly called for.

And I find myself after school in the principal’s office, dealing with a situation where one student threatened to have her brother come and stab another student, and then just kind of letting loose on how overwhelmed I feel about my role as sixth grade team leader.  We’ve thrown a ton of time and attention at the most at-risk kids and so little has changed – the chronic absences are, if anything, worse, the chronic disorganization has barely changed, the poor work habits haven’t improved – but the school social worker points out that we can’t expect change in a few weeks, maybe not in a whole year, maybe never, these things take time.  And it’s true, but how badly I want these kids’ lives to turn around.  I try to remember that overall, the kids are behaving well in class and doing their work and that aside from a few tough cases, the grade has made progress in many areas.   But that doesn’t make up for the fact that they don’t feel like nice people or a positive learning community.  Who is going to give me the tools to fashion something powerful out of a classroom full of needy individuals?  No one in the office has an answer.

I hate whining.  You either feel yourself an effective person who can take action to improve your own situation, or you’re a victim buffeted by the winds blowing around you.  We all have moments of both, but at least in my professional life, I brook no whining.  I have three new books as of yesterday: The Bully Free Classroom, by Allan L. Beane, which is like a workbook for creating a more positive, safe, conflict-free school environment, teaching friendship skills, conflict resolution and peer mediation skills, and raising awareness about bullying.  Also Waging Peace in Our Schools, by Linda Lantieri and Janet Patti, and finally, How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader, by John G. Gabriel, which I hope will help me with the area of my professional life in which I most feel like I need mentoring… Nothing is different and change takes time, but reading these books feels like an act of renewed commitment.

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This sounds really cool…

but I’ll be cooking my little head off that day for a party in the evening.  Still, I hope it’s a success and that it happens again soon, because I would definitely go if the timing were different.  Thanks to the poster who posted it in my comments; I’m posting it here instead so it gets more notice.

EduCamp NYC is a gathering born from the desire by teachers, researchers, and technology specialists in K-12 education to share and learn in an open and powerfully-networked environment. All workshops are scheduled the day they happen, and are lead by conference attendees. Attendees are strongly encouraged to give a demo, run a session, lead a discussion, or help with one, or otherwise volunteer / contribute in some way to support the event. The people present at the event will select the workshops they want to attend. Pre-event planning will take place using the barcamp wiki. The event will be run using Open Space Technology. Conference notes and post-conference teamwork will take place using the curriculum collaboration tool, www.openplanner.org. RSVP at www.educampnyc.org

Event Details:

* When: Saturday, December 1st, 10AM – 4PM, followed by happy hour

* Where: Teachers College, 120th between Broadway and Amsterdam, Rm. 285 Grace Dodge Hall

* Cost: Free, including breakfast and lunch

With Networking and learning opportunities for all!

Veteran teachers:

o Show-off your repertoire.

o Learn new tricks.

o Forge a collaborative curriculum project.

o Feel out new job opportunities with school leaders.

New teachers:

o Connect with mentors in your subject area.

o Find a school that fits.

School leaders:

o Experience a teacher-led model for professional development.

o Build early relationships with new teacher candidates.

Education researchers:

o Present and explore educational theories with practitioners.

o Recruit a subject group.

Education Technology Specialists:

o Pow-wow with others doing cutting-edge work in the Web 2.0 instructional realm.

THE RULES OF EDUCAMP

When you come, be prepared to share with educampers.
When you leave, be prepared to share it with the world.

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A ramble inspired by the TFA alumni survey…

Asked a few questions about my career, then followed up with a lot about career aspirations.  Tons about whether I want to become a principal, and what other leadership roles I’d consider, and whether I’m aware of and interested in the tools they have for getting alums into school leadership fellowships and positions.  Started to feel like I must be doing something wrong, not wanting to become a principal.  Started to think, maybe I should take my restlessness and channel it into applications for one of those principal programs.  Luckily, the next question was about my reasons for NOT wanting to be a principal, and I remembered: adults are even more intractable than kids; I like teaching science; being a principal would be 90% the parts of teaching that I don’t like, and only 10% the parts that I do like.  I don’t know how you do it, Dad.  Though your job feels pretty different from being a principal in the inner city.

The next set of questions were about political activity.  Do I keep up with the issues, am I involved, would I think about running for office?  Which reminded me that the other day, getting on the subway, I did have the weird thought, maybe I should run for city council.  I have no idea why this popped into my head, but it was rapidly followed by, god help us all, I’d be the least popular political candidate on earth.  I wouldn’t even vote for me!  And then I told my friend about it, and we laughed all the way to Union Square.  It’s about as likely and appealing a scenario as competing in Olympic figure skating.

You know what I would like to do?  Work with FOSS and the city and teachers to adapt the FOSS curriculum to our kids’ needs.  Observe in other science teachers’ classrooms while they use the curriculum, talk to them about what’s working and what’s not working, get the lay of the land when it comes to teaching science in NYC, create materials to fill the gaps, help train teachers to use the curriculum, mentor the newest teachers and those for whom the transition is toughest, and so on.  Because, public-transit-boredom-inspired delusions-of-grandeur aside, there does come a time when you envision yourself making a difference on a larger scale.

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Filed under confession, education, New York, teaching

If you wanted to build something on the internet,

where you would click on one thing (probably an image of some kind) or one area of that thing and it would reveal something else, and you wanted a little bit of flourish in the revealing (like maybe curtains parting), how would you do it?  Does it take Flash?  Photoshop?  Something else that I don’t know about?  Because I have this project idea and not much time to prepare for it, and I’m going to B&N today to read up on this, but I don’t really know where to start.

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TPU

So we’re getting a TPU. Which sounds a lot like KGB. Or SWAT. It’s easy to imagine them swooping down into your school and firing away. And we all know how great PD and other forms of “support” usually work out to be in this city (I can’t help but think back to my DOE-provided mentor, a typing teacher who didn’t understand the science I was teaching and interrupted me to ask me to explain it to her… she also did personal paperwork during her observation periods). Of course, thinking back to her also reminds me that, good heavens, there are at least a half-dozen teachers I’ve met over the years – and another half-dozen whom I’ve “met” by reading about them on other teachers’ blogs – who ought to be given the boot for wasting resources, making us all look bad, and harming kids during their years killing time in our schools. And given that boot quickly, because I imagine myself as the mother of a child in that person’s class, and I don’t like it one bit…

(To clarify, this is not to say that I think this TPU is the way to do it, I’m just saying that it’s in everyone’s best interests to help those who can be helped, and to find better placements or outright push out the others).  Norm commented that some teachers will thrive in one school while floundering in another, and that strikes me as true. Is it because some schools are simply more effective teaching environments for everyone, or is it because some schools are a better fit for specific teachers? The flip side of this is that some schools are going to be more demanding of their teachers, and what role does that play in how the teacher is perceived, and also in how easy a school it is to teach in? For example, my principal is incredibly demanding of teachers in terms of classroom management – which can be tough on newbies and transfers from other schools, but creates an environment that is orderly and much easier for everyone in the long run. Sucks to be the one who is struggling to maintain order in your classroom, but we do have a lot of people offering help and it’s not a witch hunt).

How would you, as a NYC school teacher, like to be assessed? By whom? Through what process? Over what period of time? And with what stakes, and what due process? How would your process affect those other teachers, a small but real minority, the ones you work with who aren’t doing their jobs? What system would work for us all (but especially the kids)?

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We are not interested in people (and neither are the roaches).

But they are interested in what other roaches do, according to a study conducted using “robo-roaches” – little robot bugs covered in roach scent, and programmed to respond to light and the proximity of roaches.  Turns out the behavior of the robo-roaches could affect the behavior of the group.  I actually read about this study a few months ago, but here it is again in a different publication, and still fascinating.

To me, the question that arises is, if you COULD program the robo-roaches to lead cockroaches to poison, how long would it take before roaches exposed to these guys evolved to detect and avoid the faux-ches?

(The other question is, why am I still up?)

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Cool fact of the day…

I’m reading a book about NYC history, The Island at the Center of the World.  It’s really about New Netherlands and the lasting Dutch impact on American culture.  The author claims that because the British took over and US history has been written largely from a British/American perspective, the influence of the Dutch has been overlooked.  So far, I’m finding it fascinating.  But the cool fact of the day?  The Dutch colors of blue & orange were adopted by the city of NY in 1915 in recognition of the historical link – and from there, we get the colors of the Mets and the Knicks!

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Filed under books, New York, randomness