Tag Archives: Animals

Theodore Roosevelt Was Wrong: Failing is Cake

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is hard to fail”

"I love the environment, killing animals, and colonizing other nations! Celebrate me!""

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Mr. Rough-Rider Roosevelt (who also fought in a savage imperialist war on the Philippines) never met inner-city students living within our current public education system. For a healthy number of them, failing has been quite the easy feat this year. Actually receiving the failing grade has also not seemed to be a difficult experience for many of them as well.

In order to fail, you can do any number of simple and effortless things. For one, you can not listen to teachers directions during class. You could forget to do you homework over twenty times. You could  not study for quizzes or tests before you take them. Or easiest yet, you can show up late or not even come to school! The resulting failure is not hard to achieve, nor hard to swallow for some many (who have never been equipped with the skills or work ethic to succeed in the first place). Failure has been a naturally easy state of being, and something they have yet to get frustrated or pained about. Yet.

Over the past few weeks since I last wrote and reflected,  there continues to exist seemingly perpetual problems of student motivation. Most of us teachers have tried everything in the book to increase some kind of ownership over learning, but too many students persist in their immaturity. Many are still distracted, failing, and poorly organized as of the first two months of 8th grade.

We know that too many of our students have horrific home lives, live close to the poverty line, and in addition, may have added responsibilities of being grown ups at home. Nevertheless, most of what is in our control is what the students do within the friendly confines of our school. We’ve tried to adopt the attitude (as hard as it is to swallow), that we should just let many of them fail early on in the year, in the hopes that they can be shocked and make a change for the next part of the year.

"Say Hello to your failing grade!"

Today marked the first day of the second marking period. We’re trying to frame it as a refreshing new start to forget about the assignments you missed, or poor mark you received, and start over again. In addition, I would be straight out lying if I didn’t say that it’s also a little fun to say in an evil Tony Montana voice, “Let them all fail! They need to fail”. It’s brutal, but it may be the only way to see a turnaround.

Alright already, enough of the boring school updates! “We don’t care THAT much about your students Mr. J, tell me something worthwhile”. Alright.

I’d like to take this time remind all the people out there that life in a middle/high school is still entertaining (even though depressing problems persist). I feel like I need to get back to showing how funny following 12 and 13-year olds can be day in and day out. They still say the darndest things.

A few weeks ago I was helping out during a Science lab with the class of students that I’m usually with at least two or three periods each day. The lead teacher (my good buddy), has them doing an assignment in small groups to review for a biology exam. While I’m floating around helping groups out by quizzing them on Mitosis, an eccentric chatterbox of a student begins bombarding me with questions about my hair out of the blue. “You must have a hard time gettin’ a comb through all that nappy hair!”. Before I can react another girl responds, “He doesn’t have nappy hair you dumbo!” “Well, you know what I mean! It’s all long and it would be really hard to brush it right?” At this point I’m fighting a smile and I try redirecting their attention to the Mitosis concept. Not so surprisingly, interactions and comments like this tend to spout out of students’ heads like cartoon thought bubbles that are uncontrollably verbalized regardless of setting or context.

At random parts of my day, whether it’d be, “What’s that mark on your face” during an explanation of a homework answer in English, or “I don’t like your tie today it doesn’t match your shirt or hair” while attempting to begin my seminar, I always need to be on the look out for a distracting comment about myself.

Another day last week, another image stuck in my head that I’d like to share. After our biggest hallway fight of the year (which I just missed witnessing/trying to break up), I remember seeing the aftermath. Long strands of thick brown and black dreads lay scattered on the blue stone hallway floor. After the contenders were split up by teachers and school security had barred them into separate rooms, noisy students walking by had to be threatened to get back to their classes. I remember coming late to join the hubbub of this girl-fight, and shuffle-swept seven or eight pieces of weave-dread into the stairwell door with my loafers. I felt like pushing them away from gossiping children passing by who might hover around them might help settle down the crowd. It’s just your standard kicking-a-bunch-of-dreadlocks out of sight move. Ahhhhh teaching.

This year has been going, 'Sloth-in-a-box' good.

Finally, if you’ve read the last couple posts on my blog, you’ll know a few important things. One is that this year has been more comfortable for me in my third year. Here are a few fragments to shortly explain why this is so: No grad school. No tedious education assignments. Only one grade to focus on at school. More free time. The extra free time and much more reasonable schedule have allowed me to reflect more on the year so far, and to take a step back from the sometimes very cloudy school time-warp more frequently. Hopefully it can result in some more quality blog entries to come. Godspeed until next time.

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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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