Category Archives: teaching

What to do the day after you leave teaching…

Try to write a long-overdue blog post about the end of the school year, but fail. The emotions are too complex. The parts about the kids and the work itself and whether you made the right decision and why come out sounding hackneyed. The parts about why you are leaving are too bitter at worst and too confused at best. You haven’t separated out your own personal shortcomings from those of the system or of the school, so leave it. It’s not something to write about yet. Worry about not being able to keep your promise to the kids to come back and coach robotics next year, because of the souring of one particular relationship that might lead to a complete separation from the life of the school you helped found. Six years ended with a cold goodbye and a handshake. Know that the kids have had promises broken before. You aren’t the first and won’t be the last. Reflect that the schools themselves are a broken promise to these kids, even the better schools.

Think about the workshop on suicide prevention you were required to attend three weeks before the end of your teaching career, and how you said, at the end, that you thought you could recognize warning signs and would take it all very seriously, but the fact of the matter is that more than half the kids, arguably, have witnessed trauma or experienced pretty troubled relationships and could probably use some counseling, but it’s not an option: even those in crisis sometimes have to wait months. So really – you didn’t say this part out loud – what the hell is the point in being educated again and again about how to identify kids at risk and get them help when there is no one available to provide that help? It’s triage, the guy leading the workshop acknowledged.

Wonder how it all came to feel so personal, and how, if you want to make a difference on this earth, you are going to have to get over this tendency to hold everyone and everything to an unreachable standard. Not personal in the sense of, oh-the-kids-are-so-troubled-I-can’t-bear-to-look; it’s personal in the sense of letting things bother you far too much: all the little policies that feel wrong, all the breakdowns in communication, all the how-to-run-a-school stuff that could be different and better. It’s knowing an entire brilliant, enthusiastic, committed staff has been alienated and that each of those people will leave, sooner or later, and it probably didn’t have to happen, and that’s heartbreaking. But for you, it was time. Wonder if someday, you’ll be patient and wise enough to return or even to lead a school.

Feel like this post is swinging towards the irretrievably negative and that wasn’t the intention. Remember the hug a girl gave you on Wednesday when she said she’d miss you so much, and the explosive smile on a kid’s face when you told him that you hope his new school will work out for him because you know he’s a really good science student and not to throw away that ability. Cross your fingers that he settles down, stops fighting, and doesn’t follow his three male role models to violent death or prison. Think about the games you played with the kids on the last day of school, all the summer camp stuff you taught them and how they sat for hours playing and how you baked a cake and had a party with your advisory and they helped clean up with only a little prodding and then you danced to Fergie with them and a boy came to the door and saw you dancing and his mouth kind of dropped open and everyone laughed. Know that there are a thousand-odd kids out there who learned a lot of science, and that when they come back from high school they have grades in the 90s and are talking about science careers, and that 8 years is a long time and a lot of impact even if it isn’t the fabled 25-year-life’s-mission.

Wonder about the future. Feel excited about new projects, especially when you’re with your new colleague or in your new office or picturing the events you want to organize. Feel excited about a new, less-grueling schedule. Feel exhaustion rippling through your bones, your skin clammy with woke-up-too-early-because-it’s-so-hot stickiness.

Call all your doctors and schedule long overdue appointments. Turn your organizing energy, once reserved for sixth grade team leadership, to planning a Batman marathon before the new one comes out and a picnic in the park when Feist is playing and three days of beach next week and your writer’s group meetings. Consider signing up for another writing class. Think about visiting IKEA so that the next time you move, you’ll have even more furniture. Think about DSLR cameras and plane tickets to China or Thailand this winter. Realize you seriously need to spend some time walking through green landscapes. Ask friends about borrowing a tent. Wonder if that guy is ever going to call back or if he just isn’t into you. Fill your calendar with free music and outdoor theater and festivals and movies on rooftops. Listen to your cat snore and lick her lips in her sleep and wonder what she is dreaming about. Clean your room. Go to the gym. Go to the bank. Write some thank you notes.


Go see some falling water.

Talk to you later, everyone.



Filed under confession, education, teaching

News of my death…

has been greatly exaggerated. I’m feelin’ you, Mark Twain. All my posts lately are about how busy I am, and how that’s what’s keeping me from doing any real writing for you… but there will still be plenty of writing next year, and much of it related to education, too. More on that late-June-ish. And if what brings you here is not the education stuff at all, there’ll be who-knows-what dropped at a dark barker. If all goes exceptionally well, there’ll even be pieces published on real, tree-killing, high-gloss paper.

But yes, it is goodbye to teaching. Or at least, goodbye for now. TMAO says it’s a false promise to leave indicating one’s possible return when that might just be a rationalization or a fantasy or something. But teaching science has been good to me. It’s been full of challenges, adventures – dead lobsters, dead crickets, LEGO robots, homemade musical instruments, and more, and let me meet a few hundred interesting people who are fast on their way to becoming adults.

I ran into one of those young people on the bus the other day. He was in our school, perhaps illegally, in the very first year. Illegally because he was supposed to get services that we couldn’t provide. He was kind-hearted, didn’t read or write all that well, loved science but could be infuriatingly lazy, drove us up the wall, and thrived at the same time. He’s a junior in high school right now, teaching chess to little kids at a camp this summer – he always was a super-star chess player – and was talking about taking the SATs and the Chem Regents and starting college visits pretty soon. He wants to be a chemical engineer. How do I capture what it feels like to sit on a bus next to this young man, talking about his future, thinking back on the three years that I taught him, knowing the long odds for a kid from the South Bronx, a Dominican male with special needs, becoming an engineer, and yet knowing that he is already far along that path and can now see it unfolding in front of him. This kid is going to make it, and I played some role in that, and what’s simultaneously remarkable and reassuring about it all is that among the students who have graduated from my school, he is not an exception (I don’t have any data to back this up, just a few anecdotes and a sense). (The fact that he wants to go into a science-related field is just icing).

But it’s been a hard year, and the eighth hard year in a row, and at a certain point this winter, every cell in my body was telling me it was time for a change, physically, mentally. Time to make space in my life for healthier relationships, for the trazillions of interests that I have besides education, for pursuing writing in a serious way, for slowing down and redirecting my energy, at least for a while. I’m turning 30 next week: I guess that’s part of it. And then I saw an opportunity, and soon there was a job offer, and then I accepted, and then I told my boss, and then I wrote a resignation letter, and here we are. My new team met yesterday for a few hours, and reality got a bit realer, some initial planning was sketched out… well, I really can’t share more than that but be patient!

Still, I wish I could annotate this post in multi-colored post-its and add all the things that I’m leaving out (for now)… thoughts about why teachers stay and why they go, about my own personal reactions to stress and whether the problem is me or the job or the particular version of the job that happens in certain kinds of classrooms and schools in the city, about where I hope life might go next and the ten-thousand things that might come as next steps. I’m leaving, but I’m not going anywhere.


Filed under blogging, confession, education, midlife crisis, New York, science, special education, teaching

June is my January

June is the only month I keep a calendar, that is, a written-out datebook.  All the other months of the year, I am fully capable of keeping everything in my head.  I rarely forget appointments July through May, but in June, it’s all about iCalendar.  The month is filled with half-days, professional development days, graduations, award ceremonies, field trips, endings and beginnings.  The image of Janus, the two-faced god who faces both forward and behind, seems more appropriate to this month than any other.

This year, I move on June 1st, living in Brooklyn for the first time in 8 years in New York City.  I am surrounded by my belongings packed in cardboard, with more still to pack.  I’ll be living with a roommate again after two years on my own, and I’ll be moving into a smaller space again, the better to save money as I start a new lifestyle.  It’s a bit complicated – I’m moving into a share for two months, then the roommate will move out, I will take over the lease, and I will need to find a new roommate.  If you know anyone nice, smart, and sane looking for a place around August 1st, let me know.  I’m really excited to get to know the new apartment and then try my hand at studied re-decoration.  The bathroom is TINY and cluttered with shelves, so I think I need to take a good look at it and the solutions available at IKEA, ContainerStore, etc., pull out all the shelves – come August – clean & repaint in a color that feels spacious, and then install shelves in a more thoughtful way.  The kitchen storage situation also needs a little work, so that’s another project.  And my bedroom is currently painted red and green – it’s better-looking than it sounds – so I’ll have to live with that for a while and see if I like it or want something else.

I told some of my students that I wouldn’t be coming back next year – it came up naturally as part of an end-of-year events conversation.  I spun it as reaching out for new opportunities, which is true, though being really, really tired and ready for a lower-stress job that still means something is also part of it.  When I said I was leaving to become a writer, one girl asked if I was going to write a book about them.

It’s time to revise curriculum maps.  I annotated mine and color coded standards based on whether we covered them or not and how well I think the kids learned them.  We only completed about 1/2 to 2/3 of the city’s curriculum, and one part of me feels like I failed in some way, and another part knows that I did important work with them that simply took a lot longer than the time budgeted by the city.  Thinking about how to revise the plan for next year is hard and a little sad when you know you won’t be teaching it next year.  I’m committed to my new job but will confess to having doubts about whether I should really be leaving teaching altogether.  It is a job I’ve loved.

We took the sixth graders who qualified – about 40 of them – sailing on the Pioneer yesterday, down at the Seaport, and we filled the ranks with 7th and 8th graders.  It was a sunny, beautiful day, and after some initial trouble due to mechanical problems with one of our buses, everything went just as planned.  The kids were tired and happy when we dropped them off outside school – and so were we.

This Thursday was the last session of my personal essay class.  My group really bonded, and people’s writing improved a ton, and we’re organizing a schedule to continue meeting, sans teacher, as a nonfiction writing group.  It feels good to have compatriots as I try to launch this aspect of my writing career, clip-less wonder that I am at the moment.  We range in age from 23 to 72, have advertising, teaching, non-profit, photography, editing, banking, and several other forms of work experience among us, are published or not, have something like gender balance, are married or single, with kids, without, desiring of them or not.

The endings are sad, but liberating.  The beginnings feel risky, not-yet-thrilling though I think as the endings pass one-by-one, I’ll have more space in my head for excitement.  I wonder about the people I work with, with whom I’ll remain friends, with whom I’ll fall out of touch.  I wonder about the new people I’ll meet.


Filed under confession, New York, teaching

Memorial Day To-Do

I can’t find my way to my closet through the huge pile of laundry, nor can I get anything done in the living room thanks to the boxes and half-packed piles stacked everywhere, the strewn-about packing tape torn off of boxes to be replaced by new tape once packed. Dishes need boxing, pots and pans need boxing, baking stuff and small appliances need boxing, tupperware needs sorting and boxing, dry goods need boxing, clothes need boxing, toiletries need sorting and boxing, office supplies are mostly sorted but need boxing, My plants are parched and dying behind the wardrobe boxes but I can scarcely reach them to give them water. The next two (one) weeks need to be planned, chaperones found for Friday’s sailing trip, quizzes graded, resignation letter printed (time to turn it in formally), transition to new job planned, OPD license applied for (so that I can coach robotics and help out here and there at my old school). I cooked food for the entire week so that I can start packing my kitchen, but now my fridge seems to be dying (all week I noticed things going bad unusually fast, but I didn’t put it all together until I felt the ice cream slosh around inside its cardboard pint). I have a final essay to write for my writing class, a lot of things I want to say about Emily Gould (then again, maybe there’s nothing to say), essays I want to revise and submit to magazines, a camera that seems to have disappeared into the bowels of CanonUSA again. I’m trying to figure out which order of events will energize me most… where do I start to make this a productive day?

(The fridge kind of makes me want to cry… when am I supposed to deal with that? Maybe I’ll just take all my lunches to school tomorrow… maybe I’ll take all my dinners, too).

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I need some air…

It’s just a love that you can’t get back
It’s just a tale of a heart attack
You feel alive, but you’re sinking fast
Just close your eyes, this won’t be your last

You wanna lift somethin’ up, you gotta pin it down
You wanna pull somethin’ in, you gotta let it out
You wanna light something up, you gotta burn it down
I wanna feel the sun, I just need some air

The only word that you know is please, please, please
The only life that you see is from your knees
I wanna feel the light, I just can’t receive
Don’t wanna leave the ground, I just need some air
I need some air

-Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Yesterday, we took a wonderful field trip to the Liberty Science Center.  They warned us at the start of the film “3D Sun” that chaperones should prevent students from screaming and jumping out of their seats.  It sounded a bit harsh, until charged particles started drifting towards us, accelerating, until we zoomed over the horizon of the sun, past coronal arches and loops…. wow.  When the satellite called Stereo floated out towards me, I’ll admit I reached out to touch it.

The only bad part of the trip was a peanut allergy scare, which ended with no problems at all but made me realize several things about my experience teaching:

1. We are very lucky nothing too awful has happened given how poorly informed we are (by parents in the first place, and then by the school once the parents do inform us) about our students’ potentially serious health issues.

2. The incident calls into question so many things – the standard of care our children receive at hospitals and health clinics, the organizational systems within our schools, the levels of trust between parents and children, the potentially dangerous issues that arise when all of a student’s emergency contacts speak only Spanish, and you are in an emergency situation where no adult speaks Spanish.  And so many other issues.  We got a serious lecture about the need to carry an Epi-Pen from the staff at the Liberty Science Center.  And I sound like an idiot saying, But this allergy wasn’t even reported to the school!  A colleague cited some statistic or another (no idea where he got it) that peanut allergies are more prevalent in large urban areas – yet this is the first – or maybe there was one other – I’ve encountered in 8 years.  So, where are these kids?  Do our kids not live on PB&J like a lot of suburban kids?  Is the allergy hidden within an asthma diagnosis?  (But these are such different things!)  Are there tons of kids out there with unreported life-threatening allergies?  I want to find out more about this one.

Meanwhile, we have another trip coming up which was supposed to be the sixth grade end-of-year trip.  It was supposed to be really fun.  We set a pretty high standard of attendance, behavior, etc. to attend, and then our administration raised the bar to what we knew was pretty much unattainable (ours was already going to be very, very hard), but what could we say?  Now only 25% of our kids qualified.  We didn’t succeed in motivating them to work extra hard this month to get to go, because they really quickly figured out they’d never make it.  The culture of the class has, if anything, turned against the trip.  We are filling the spots with kids from other grades… I don’t know, it’s just not the trip I want to take at all anymore.  Leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel like I was put in a really bad position by others who won’t really have to deal with the long-term impact on student motivation or the immediate backlash when the kids who get to go are announced.

There’s more – our entire Science department is leaving this year.  Right now there are no candidates to replace us.  I might squeeze in a few hours here & there consulting for the new teachers next year, because otherwise they’ll be starting from scratch.

We were grading science exams after school today (this is the third day we’ve stayed after, at least one or two more afternoons before it’s done), and another teacher quoted the song above… she was talking about a relationship but it feels right for everything.  The pressure’s all right, somehow everything is getting done, it’s tiring but under control, but with a little more space to breathe things could be done so much better…. my cat never sees me anymore, my house is a huge mess.  I’ve scheduled my moving truck for June 1st, a birthday event for the following weekend, and I have a cake commission (for someone else, it’s a longish story) for the actual day of my own birthday…  I’m running twice a week and went to a yoga class for the first time in months (it felt great, even though the teacher was not awesome… it’s so nice to realize that after months away, I’ve at least got the muscle-memory if not the strength or flexibility).  Busy is the way I like life, but hey, I could use a little air…

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Geekiest cake ever…


My camera’s in the shop, hence the lack of visuals lately. The cake is chocolate butter cake, with lightly mint-flavored buttercream frosting, for the last day of LEGO robotics tomorrow. I couldn’t stay true to the NXT colors, no one wants to eat grey! Yuck.

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Hell. Freezes. Over.

I have agreed to organize a talent show, a.k.a., “M.S. 999X Idol / So You Think You Can Dance?” This was on my never list pretty much since I started teaching. Maybe it’s because there’s no possible way I can ever be asked to do it again that I suddenly feel liberated to give it a try. Maybe it’s because the kids want it and I want something fun for them, since this year’s been kinda rough on everyone. Maybe it’s because if I have to watch the darn thing, I want to make sure it’s watch-able (control freak: yes). Auditions in two weeks, kiddies.

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