Category Archives: General

Summer’s Here Swiftly: A Late Reflection on the Close of Year 3

School’s out Biebs, no need for those fake nerd glasses.

That. Just. Happened. I can’t believe it either everyone!  Juster Bieber’s album is actually really, really good. Oh right, the other exciting thing I wanted to write about… Exactly one Wednesday ago marked the final day of school for over 1.1 million New York City public school students and 90,000 of their weary teachers. Although I’m told every day that I still look like a student, it’s pretty nice to realize that I’ve just completed my third year teaching humans who were born in the mid to late 1990’s! *Rowdy Applause* *Jerk in the crowd yells “That’s not that cool”*

If you, at any point in time, got into a routine of reading my posts during the past two years, you’ve noticed that I’ve neglected the blog since the beginning of 2012. I had one meager post in January, and then another in April. The latter was the epic one where I confidently announced my return from writing-hibernation. Obviously, that was all a giant lie, and you were all duped. Currently, I write to the high-speed internet world three months later with a great deal to reflect upon. Hopefully I can get started with a very basic summary of the final three months (if not for your enjoyment, then for my own sake and sanity). Then, I wanted to share a few education-related topics that I’ve been wanting to write about. Because I have more free time, and there are so many topics to consider, I’m thinking that readers can comment and choose the next topic for me to write about. I’m aiming to post once a week or two in the summer (I know it’s lofty given my previous record), but when I post, I hope to publish on Wednesday Nights at 8 PM.

Woooooooot Wooooooot!

Let’s get started: SCHOOL’S OUT AGAIN!!!!!!!!

I know what you’re thinking (if you’re not a teacher), “What the what!? Why does school end during the steamier part of June? Doesn’t that seem like way too late! What a bummer for everyone involved!” Well, I’d tell you that you’re absolutely right, but sadly, public school education runs a month or two after the shorter college semesters have finished up. As I’ve written about in a blog entry last year, the final weeks of school are essentially just contractually obligated appearances. They are filled with final exams, notices of summer school, movies, field trips, Stepping-Up ceremonies, celebrations, and lots of crying (in no particular order besides chronological).

We finished up on a pretty mild note compared to other years, with no memorable student blow-ups or major meltdowns. After my first fun-filled New York City week of Summer 2012, I can now sit back and truly appreciate how smoothly the last month came to a close.

“The heat makes me crazzzzy”

In years past, the final month of school (June) has been the equivalent of  being trapped in a musty sauna full of angry woodland creatures. Let me try to re-phrase. I’m not saying that our lovely middle and high school children turn into rabid animals with foamy fangs right as the temperature climbs near triple-digits. I’m saying that in my previous experience as a human being, everyone has the potential to turn into a frustrated, tense, irritable being when he or she is  trapped and physically hot. One of the key reasons that our school year ended on a much more calm and tranquil way might have had something to do with the fact that only four out of the twenty-or-so days in June reached the dreaded 90s. At least two of the weeks were uncharacteristically mild, and it seems that many of our students acted in accordance with the weather. Thank you Sam Champion.

In addition, and on another positive note (I know I can’t believe this post is so upbeat either) my relationship with my class of students was healthier than usual by the end of the year. That is to say, not AS many of them cursed my existence as was the case in years past. During the last couple weeks we had field trips to the Planetarium to hear Whoopie Goldberg’s voice talk to them about the scale of the universe, as well as an adventure to Prospect Park to run around in the sun for activities known as Field Day. Because middle school final exams high school Regent’s testing wrap up a few weeks before the school year ends, these remaining days are a good time to get the middle school students active outside of the school.

On one of the last days of school I even took my smaller class of thirteen students to see the Avengers and then meet their Pen Pals from a Law Firm. After a fair amount of popcorn throwing, my students seemed to have enjoyed the superhero flick (this was gauged by the large amount of ogling and loudly giggling at the beefy Captain America). After running around the concession stands at the nearly empty theatre, my students had to quickly get their act together and meet with their lawyer Pen Pals at a fancy law firm in Manhattan. For two or three months prior to our meeting, thirteen lawyers generously participated in a program designed to improve my students handwriting, written expression skills, and motivation. The students had to draft letters about themselves, revise, edit, and send them out to a female lawyer at a very successful law firm. The lawyers sent pictures and letters back, and wrote to the students about their lives and the skills they use every day. We all read a fable about a donkey who survives a near death well experience by never giving up, and it sparked a nice conversation about motivation, success, failure, and work ethic. In addition to exchanging letters with the students, the lawyers graciously invited us to one of their conference rooms where everyone met their Pen Pals over a pizza lunch.  It was a real treat and I think that all of the students appreciated the experience.

When looking back on the mini-program, I’m a huge believer in that students need more quality out-of-school experiences. A lot of the time students (and teachers) are kind of trapped in this kind of boring box. Learning can happen in many more ways than sitting and facing a board, and too much time is spent focusing on one kind of learning. At the end of this year, I was happy to help facilitate our pilot Pen Pal program that had them communicating outside of the school.

In the experiences that I’ve had with so many of my students, it’s clear to me that the obstacles they face on the road to school success are enormous. Many of their circumstances at home are completely beyond their control (such as parents working multiple jobs to get by, having added responsibilities at home, etc.), and many students will tell you themselves that they lack positive role models in their lives. In my opinion, its essential for students to go on more, well planned field trips. They need to meet and correspond with more role models outside of the classic teacher-student relationship. I also think that public school systems should focusing on increasing partnerships with organizations that focus on supporting students with extracurriculars and out-of-class activities. More to come on these thoughts later.

Lastly, here is a list of potential topics that I’ve thought about writing about. I’m not going to teach forever, and I don’t want to forget about my experiences and takeaways from the classroom.

I believe this is Mr. Nibbleworth playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

The extra needs of students with disabilities

The role of parenting in urban education

The top three things about public education that I would change

Teacher statistics from our 8thgrade team this year (phone calls/etc.) Co-teaching

My wonderful tenure experience

Individual student stories that I don’t want to forget

I know that’s a lot, and if you’re not in the education world some of that might not be that appealing. I promise to add pictures of funny animals like this one to mix it up. Please comment if you’ve gotten this far, and I’ll gauge interest.

Congrats!!

Lastly, I want to shout out my father, who retired last week after teaching history for 38 years (22 of them with the same school). He worked tirelessly and dedicated his life to teaching students and providing them with the skills necessary to succeed. He’s always inspired me to change the world for the better, and has always told me that while teaching, you never know how many great people you will have helped shape. I’m sure he’ll be back in education in some way during retirement, but I obviously wish him the best.

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Blogging My Memory: Off the Bench and Back to Writing

I'm also a robot sent from the future, and will someday govern California.

Heyooooooooo awesome blog perusers!!

I know I’ve been on the proverbial bench for over three months now, but to be perfectly honest, I went through a stretch where I lost the will to blog. I know this fact has been extremely disappointing the majority of the world, but fear not earth, my rambling, semi-edited chronicling a of teenager-teaching life has returned.

Since I last posted my School Lunch Experiment, so much has happened at school. I can remember a few times where I sped home around 5 PM, passed out for my half hour nap routine, and then forced my dazed self to write a post. Each of these two or three times, I managed less than three meager paragraphs. I can vaguely recall the culprits of my blogging inefficiency. Each time I sat down to type, I was sucked into the many entrances of the black hole of distraction; either magnetized out of my apartment to play basketball at the Y (which I’m literally addicted to), or compelled to hit click on another webpage on the internet. The latter always resulting in the opposite of productivity – my brain turned off, and my eyes transfixed on most important articles on fantasy baseball mock drafts, videos of puppies wresting cubs, or even the newest pictures of Blue Ivy! So hopefully everyone can relate to this common predicament.

Looking back in during the last few days of a much-needed ‘SPRING BREAK 0-12’ (which should always be shouted like a frat boy), there is absolutely zero excuse for me not to write a little blog post. The toughest part is that so much has happened since my last post “The School Lunch Experiment” in mid January.

No need for blogging. When this little guy becomes a teacher, he'll never forget his weeks yelling at hallways of loud adolescent elephants.

I’ve been thinking about memory recently, and my fear is that if you don’t give yourself time to sit back and reflect on your day, week, or, as it has crept up on me, your month (s), than all of the things you could have appreciated or learned from could be lost.

So off to my handy iCal, which will hopefully jog my fading memory and allow me to summarize some of the more gripping events of the past few months at school.

The end of January, through my 8th grade teacher eyes, could be defined by my attempts at preparing my students for their midterms. Our school’s second marking period ended at around this time, and most of the students grades were even more jaw-droppingly low headed into these cumulative tests.

To give you a depressing and way-too-dramatic visual, try to follow me here: Imagine yourself of showing up in the morning to wherever you work, and putting your briefcase or work satchel in where-ever you store your personal belongings. You walk into a room with a giant, clear wheel propped up on a platform made for a human being to enter and walk on. You step into the wheel and begin running full speed (anywhere from 6.0-10.0 depending on your level of treadmill fitness). You continue doing this for seven hours straight, and then you stop, get out of the giant clear wheel, and head home to pass out face down in your bed.

Look at him making so much (figurative) progress!Tiring right? Seems pretty frustrating? Trying everything you possiblycan to help your students pass classes that they haven't done homework in for months is essentially this, a near impossibility with many an hour spinning your wheels like a jeep stuck in the mud.

This overly extended metaphor wasn’t meant to explain my entire livelihood at school for the past few months. It’s just me trying to represent the few weeks reviewing year-long concepts in preparation for a midterm.

Into February, my trusty iCal tells me that I was helping lead our 8th graders into a ‘promising’ 3rd marking period. One in which, if I remember my attempt at inspiring words correctly, was an “exciting chance to improve and show everyone that you are ready to enter high school!” These couple of weeks, I made a concerted effort to, and of course struggled at, getting students to come after school for help. (Now I just remembered it was then when I was about to write about this before getting distracted by the Jeremy Lin phenomenon). The school month of February went by quickly because we had Winter Recess and an entire week off to relax and recharge our injured motivations.

After break, March happened. This was the time last year, if you want to search through my old blog posts, where I almost broke down completely as a teacher. For all teachers on this public school schedule, March is the most dreaded and painful month. To new teachers, they say, “Just get through March, into Spring Break, and your home free”. This could not be more true.

What has stuck with me so much this year after the 7 week grind without a break from teaching is how emotionally unscathed and “used-to-it” I’ve become. I definitely want to separate this feeling in my mind from the neighboring feelings of complacency or even ‘not-giving-a-crap’, but I’ve definitely learned so much after a few years. I tend to look at things as being in my control or not, and I leave it at that.

Imagine these on middle school girls as a rewards celebration. It's weird I know - but they loved it. E-mail me if you want the real pics.

More of my thoughts on this to come in future posts, but these last weeks at school, our team of teachers have worked insanely hard. Our eighth grade team has made over 900 calls to parents this year. In addition, all of the teachers plead to students to come for help after school when they are confused. Basically, we’re doing our jobs with following up with students.

This whole year, I’ve had very honest and direct conversations about school and home lives with my students every day while pushing them to do their best. I’ve taught after school English Test prep on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and coached soccer on Wednesdays.

What I’ve learned after yet another 3rd marking period of failing students is that the majority of the reoccurring problems preventing student achievement are more strongly influenced by obstacles outside of some of the amazing work we do inside school.

Either way, we have to stay positive and keep our heads up as state tests begin this upcoming week! We can even celebrate some of the smaller successes with fun mustache rewards parties.

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Summer Fades and Reality Lurks: Year Three on the Horizon

My last blog entry was about the gloriousness and bliss associated with summer break as a public school teacher. This one is about how this same  majestic summer of 2011 seems to be vanishing – slipping right out of my hands before I’m ready for it to be over.

"Nooooooooo!!!!!...Ohh Nooooooooo!!!!!"

In my summer soaked mind (which has become so accustomed staying up late and waking up, well – whenever),  it’s starting to feel like one of those cliché action movie scenes where the summer is tumbling off a cliff and I’ve dived and caught it by one hand at the last second. Our hands are gripped tightly, but of course, with sweat appearing to loosen us at our fingers, we’re gradually slipping away inch by inch.

On September 9th, when students begin to ascend those grey concrete stairs to the fourth floor once again, summer’s sweaty metaphorical hand will have left mine, and it will fall, and be pronounced dead until next June. R.I.P.

Alright, I admit that got a little weird. Sorry, I hope we can move on. You get the point though – summer has been lovely, albeit fleeting, but it’s now time to look forward to teaching.

My third year as a teacher (believe it or not) is right around the corner, and quite frankly, it still hasn’t actually hit me yet. We’ve had some of the most beautiful days I’ve ever seen in New York lately, and the thought of being back in front of the class saying “I’ll wait as long as I have to until we’re ready to start the lesson” seems as foreign to me as Amharic (the Ethiopian language that sounds like made-up clicking).

I'm trying not to curse. This blog is family friendly.

In addition, a wave of uncontrollable and instantaneous anger fills my body when I see a JC Penny Back-to-School advertisement, or hear a Staples radio bit. No lie, it has actually taken me minutes to snap out of this intense feeling, and remind myself that I’m supposed to be an education advocate, dying to get back in there and continue fighting against the achievement gap with my students. This is what the summer has done to me, but I’m sure that it will only take a few days to get back in the swing of things, but it’s so odd to be away from it for so long.

This past week I attended a bunch of professional development classes (teacher classes that we are paid to go to – score). The result was that I started to get my brain semi-ready for school by attending some wonderful meetings about curriculum and reading strategies! More importantly, I started the process of re-learning that I hate having to wake up early.

I think that the only thing better than the invention of the snooze button (which has to be on my top five inventions of all time) was the invention of the ‘I can sleep until I want to wake up button’.

Next week I’ll go back into school for the first time since June. Seeing all the co-workers will definitely be exciting, and I think that one of the most understated aspects of my job (in my blog), is how lucky I am to work in an environment where a majority of the faculty are good friends. I’m also pumped to meet all of the new personalities coming in to teach, as we are adding seven or eight newbies because our school is continually growing. Usually you can count on a handful of great new people, and a few wild-cards who may just provide some entertainment.

A smiling manatee for your enjoyment.

Hopefully everyone else is enjoying the summer while it still lasts, teacher or not. I’ll be posting as I prepare for the real first days of students. Until then, keep living it up, and thanks for all the support at the one-year anniversary of the blog!

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Vacation Bliss: A Teacher’s Summer Break

How can I fit my July into a blog entry? It will probably be the most challenging thing that I’ve had to do in weeks. That last sentence alone says a lot. But as Chris Kattan’s Antonio Banderas always said, “But I must”.

"But I Must"

School ended in the early part of the final week of June. If you haven’t read my last few entries, then I can assure you now that the 2010-2011 academic year had run its course weeks prior to the official end. Students left skipping (as middle schoolers routinely do) with smiles on their smaller-than-adult-sized faces, while teachers swept the classrooms and hallways of their belongings. A few hours after soaking in the serenity of a quiet, empty fourth floor, teachers began to exit the building in jovial fashion, with a communal feeling of freedom and relaxation.

Usually, I wouldn’t dare speak for all public school teachers in the city, let along the entire country. That would be irresponsible and wrong. I’m also pretty sure that what goes on inside my loony mind (a love for strange garage sales, Vietnamese spring rolls, and cute animals wearing costumes of other animals), would not be a good spokesperson for the average (and more experienced) teacher out there on the grind.

"Be quiet, moose in the bathroom!"

I can however, speak for approximately ninety-eight percent of teachers (leaving out two percent for the alien-teacher population of course), when I say that summer vacation is the most blissful time in the life of an educator.

I tried to choose my words wisely on this one, and notice I did not say “greatest”, “happiest”, or “most wonderful” time. In a perfect reality, those moments could, and should be shared with learning students in the classroom.

The word I’m using for two months of paid freedom is blissful, because that is exactly what summer break is for an individual who, by a majority of professional accounts is too often stressed, frustrated, and underpaid.

To me, bliss is this sense of earned euphoria. I know the word has this sort of spiritual connotation to it, and maybe that’s why it seems right to me. I believe our summer break is a fair and beautiful prize for the exhausting days you worked through without a single break, to the nights you sat down to watch a sitcom and realized that you needed a lesson plan for the next day. For exhausting days of trying to engage students’ interest in a topic they despise, to blockading school hallways to control loud and excited adolescent crowds.

Google-image search "Bliss" and you get 100 versions of this desktop background field. I guess it kinda works though.

All of the exciting and tiring work of teaching young adults from the beginning of September to the end of June results in a complete and absolute stoppage of work and class for the two steamy months in summer. I could go on about how our current system of having two months off is actually very detrimental to students learning, but let’s keep this post is about the positive. Either way, I have no control over the macro issues, and I’d rather rejoice in the summer.

These hot months (try 110 degrees hot) for teachers, mean that checks continue to come in every fifteen days (I wanted to try to start a holiday for July 15 for the Annual Teacher Summer Paycheck Day). The rest of one’s plans is up to their own desires. Personally, I’ve tried to fill my time with fun activities – Coney Island, Mets games, restaurants, sports, and enjoying family and friends. While I’ve had some graduate school stuff to finally finish up, as well as a move of apartments to nearby neighborhood, most of my time has been spent relaxing, having fun, and resting up.

As the school year approaches, I’ll hopefully be recharged, wiser, and ready for it to all start-up again in early September. What I’ll miss the most is my I-Cal schedule full of empty white boxes, free from the multi-colored, appointment/meeting/reminder clutter of the year. But for now, it’s time to continue to make the most of them.

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A Thanksgiving Post – Right On Time

I’ve been so lame this week that I’m just now putting up a Turkey Day post a week after the holiday.

I started writing it last week and basically just trailed off and curled into a ball (Let’s pretend I was mentally preparing for my first full week back at work in a while).

Anyways, here it is:

It’s been a nice Thanksgiving break.

Four days spent relaxing, enjoying family, and eating insane amounts of food have been exactly what I needed. I think that last year at this time I needed the break more than this year, but hey – I’m not complaining.

At my Thanksgiving, we don’t really sit around and sappily say what we’re all thankful for. No offense to those of you that do – but my family is way too interested in the stuffing and gravy to verbalize any kind of thanks other than toward the chef.

In general, I think that coolest part of Thanksgiving is that it does make people feel more grateful than usual.  Most people actually do think about others who’ve worked hard to help them in their lives. All this thought of thankfulness brings me to a reality that I think about quite a bit while working at a middle school – the plain old lack of gratitude of adolescents.

First off, I want to state that I’m not mean-spirited or angry at the fact that most of my students never acknowledge that their teachers are working hard for them. Most of this is a straight-up observation of an interesting phenomena of my daily life. Being so young, and also being so responsible for the learning of almost-real-human beings, truly makes you really grow up in some odd ways. One of them is learning to work insanely hard for students without many of them ever acknowledging you. In fact, many of them are more likely to kick and scream in resistance.

Maybe I just got so used to people in my life being really polite and aware when others were trying to help them. In my world now, you can bring in candy for students, show them a movie or video clips, or help them one-one, and not hear a single thank you all day.

I've seen a note like this maybe five times in a year and a half. Those times were pretty swell.

I realized something important the other day while I was sitting there in the teacher’s room staring into space. Obviously, sweat was dripping down from my matted sideburns because the heaters are on way too aggressively and I’d just finished running around from five different rooms. I thought to myself, “This might be what it means to be an adult”.

But then again, maybe adult isn’t the best word for the feeling. I think a better substitute might be “father” or “grown-up in charge of ungrateful little humans”.

Either way, I’ve slowly reached of point of realization that I’m not working for immediate gratification and gratitude, but towards a much more difficult “thanks”.  The kind of “thank-you” that many teachers are working for might only come in the form of a better test grade, a kid moving onto the next grade, or even an eventual graduation from school – but the hope is that its more meaningful. It is really hard to seem unappreciated at times, but I guess that’s just owning responsibility. Man, this job really tackles you with some real ‘ish.

I swear next week I’ll get back to some of the funniness. Until then, Happy Chanukah and enjoy the start of winter.

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Goal: Blog Once a Week

So, its 8:00 on a summer Thursday night.  I’m sitting alone in my parents’ apartment in Williamsburg. It’s awesome here. Summer is still alive for me and I’m trying to make the most of it.

While in Israel I decided to write a blog once a week, every Sunday night. I won’t officially start until Sunday, and the posts won’t get funny or interesting until the school year starts up again in mid September. Maybe this Sunday I’ll just do a top three things that happened this weekend. I could also throw in a story or two from last year when I was sexually harassed by 8th grade girls. Anyways, hopefully this blog can help me in my teaching and life, and be a funny way for friends who I haven’t spoken to in a while to see what I’ve been up to.

Finally, I’ll probably wind up posting ridiculous pictures of funny animals and other non-meaningful things as well – because this is my blog and I need a staple.

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