Tag Archives: education

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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Passed Out, Quality Reviewed, and Labeled a Grinch

"A hippo wearing a hat!!!!" Oh man, it's just a bunch of boring words website..."

I’ve been overcome with blog-guilt the last few weeks. I feel like I would be lying by omission if I didn’t say that for a full week, I waited until I passed a milestone amount of view hits.

With a sad, sad understanding that many of the random hits on the blog are from elementary students typing “cute animals” into google image search, I nevertheless find it great that a solid group of friends and family read my thoughts on school life. This makes me feel a little guilty when I take a three-week hiatus from writing, so I must get some computer ink down on computer paper tonight. Now where do I start…

Since I last wrote about the dangers of phallic symbols in the classroom, winter has crept up on all of us in the northeast. There’s always a little melancholy feeling when the leafy season has come and gone, yet this year, the warmth has lingered so much that it hasn’t been too painful. This may be one of the reasons that this November-into-December stretch of attempting to control hormonal teenagers has seemed to fly by faster than my previous two.

This is me napping on my cubby.

In thinking back at the hazy, pass-out-for-a-longer-nap-than-you-expected-after-work-everyday three weeks since the end of November, a few moments stand out over the (its sad to say it) monotonous routines of life in 8th grade.

During the first week of December, I recall not even thinking about blogging, reflecting, or even writing down funny student interactions. Our school was undergoing the most highly stressful time of the year – our Mandatory Quality Review.

From the first staff meetings in August, to the day before the superintendent and her colleagues came dropping into our classrooms at random, our administration had been reminding and prepping us about this evaluation and its importance. It was a slowly building crescendo of  warning and preparation, and as teachers, we were expected to be on our A games.

The Quality Review is a big deal, and happens only once every three or so years for public schools in the city. It determines how well the school it doing on every level, and we are expected to have high level lesson plans and spotless classrooms. I’m afraid of going into too many details about the very official review (because I don’t want to create controversy) but in short, the superintendent and her assistants are given the job of grading every aspect of a school’s culture and effectiveness in a two-day visit. You can imagine how fair and easy that always turns out.

You can never be too prepared!

My classes were never seen by any reviewers, and for me it just felt like a lot of preparation with no exciting event. It was kind of like I was Harold Camping for a few days. I can only say that through the eyes of the powerful individuals in charge, our school is rated as still developing and there is need for improvement. I think that as a school we are better than we were rated, but if the rating can help us improve and contribute to us making our environment better, then cool beans.

Another quick thing that I feel the need to vent to the internet world about is a quick recap of how my students are doing. Many of our 8th grade students are STILL not consistently doing their homework. Today, five out of twenty-three students handed in a one page english worksheet about imagery. The absolute worse part about this was that I gave the entire class twenty minutes to complete the homework after a quiz today. Still, only five handed it in on time. After individual conferences, some of the kids themselves (without me forcing them), responded that the class was “irresponsible” and “didn’t seemed like they care”.

They have actually called me the ugly grinch.

After a bunch of phone calls home to remind parents of their students’ sup-par work ethic, I am official a giant Grinch before Christmas. It’s fitting though, because for the last month of so one of their nicknames for me has been “The Grinch”. I’ll take the funny nickname, and honestly, if turning into a meaner, heartless, green monster in the weeks following break will increase their motivation, I’m in.

Finally, another entry that I started to write, and one that most co-workers of mine saw me doing research for, is about school lunch at our school.

Due to the fact that I have never given the names of students, teachers, administration, or the name or location of my school, I think I’m in the clear to write truthfully about the free/reduced lunch that about 90% of our students eat for lunch each day. I came into my “Supersize Me”- like experiment with the same Morgan Spurlock mentality. After the week of only eating cafeteria food, I have all sorts of comments, reviews, and questions about our governmentally subsidized lunch program.

My questions to everyone out there are: Should I continue with my next post? What should my boundaries be? And has anyone read any blogs or stories that would be similar. Please leave  a comment and I’ll post before the end of the year (we are off in two days!!)

And of course, have a happy, safe, and eventful holiday!

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The Winchester Penis Rifle

"This time...He put himself back together again!"

Blood. Guts. Gore. Murder. Mystery. Believe it or not, these are some of the most popular student interests this year in my 8th grade class. After giving out personal interest surveys asking them which TV shows, movies, and books they enjoy, I’ve received an overwhelming response of ‘Paranormal Activity 1-3’, ‘Fright Night’, ‘Scream 4’, and other psycho-killer-make-you-scream titles .

With this wealth of information about what interests my students, this year I’ve been trying to  make my class has fun as possible by using videos and readings that they can get excited about. If I can reel them in and engage them in the material, with the endgame being they READ and WRITE,  I’m fine with showing them a little PG-13 horror content. If you know me, you know very well that I myself have less of a stomach for this kind of stuff, but I guess it can serve as another way for them to poke fun at me.

On Halloween, we did a little research on Edgar Allan Poe and read a nice adaptation of “A Tell-Tale Heart” in kid friendly play form. The following week, I decided to continue the über spooky theme by planning the context of my lessons about ghosts. I showed them the classic Sixth Sense trailer, and followed with an activity where they did a little writing about whether they believed in ghosts and spirits or not. Interestingly enough, 12 out of 12 students in the seminar believed whole-heartedly that spirits and ghosts existed, and many said that they or their close relatives had had close encounters with ghoulish entities (A few related it to their cultural heritage – Caribbean or Mexican for instance).

So the kids are excited, I’m learning more about their lives, and all is well. This leads us to our most eventful lesson about the infamous ‘Winchester Mystery House’. The story of the Winchester Penis Rifle has been the funniest single moment this year, and it’s about how I came dangerously close to a disastrous drawing mistake.

To prep the class on an article about the story of the haunted ‘Winchester Mystery House’, the class watched a few clips from ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘Ghost Hunters’. Apparently all the kids these days love this stuff more than Selena Gomez or even Lil Wayne or Drake. The clips gave a good summary of the story of Sarah Winchester and her famous mystery house. I will recap shortly for those of you who do not know.

IHOM (International House of Mystery)

Sarah Winchester, born in New Haven Connecticut in 1839, was the wife of prominent gun corporation owner William Winchester. After their lone daughter tragically died shortly after birth, and then William of Tuberculosis in 1880, Sarah Winchester was insanely depressed. Aided by ‘mediums’ (psychics who communicate with the dead), she was absolutely certain that she and her family were cursed. Legend has it that a popular medium alleged that  spirits of all the men killed by the Winchester Rifle in the Civil War (so many ghosts!) had put a serious curse on her and her family. They told her to move to California to build a house for them to live, so of course, she did. In the end, the totally crazed Winchester woman moved to San Jose, built a mammoth, labyrinthine mansion full of odd and kooky staircases to nowhere and doors opening into walls. She spent over 20 million dollars of her inheritance and continued to build the house for almost 40 years to keep the spirits at bay until she died at the age of 83.

Ahhhhh, I felt like I needed to tell that story because 1) It’s awesome, and 2) I inadvertently drew the biggest penis-rifle in the history of the teaching profession while explaining the Winchester story.

My drawing looked nothing like this...

During the article, I needed to clarify how this lady was so rich, and why spirits from the Civil War would want to spook her. Off the cusp, as teachers occasionally do, I decided to use our fancy SmartBoard to illustrate the answer to both of these questions: The famous Winchester Rifle.

I started my drawing at what I thought would be the handle, and curved it up too quickly to the right. I extended a looonnnng line straight across the board, over two feet long, and drew another back to the left to signify a barrel of a long gun. Finally, I inexplicably wanted to emphasize the muzzle by boldly outlining the tip of the gun. As I finished my god-awful drawing of the rifle, I knew it immediately. The greatest moment was not my realization of my error, but the stunned and horrified face of my co-teacher sitting behind the students in the back of the room.

As he mouthed “Nooooooo!!!!”, slightly laughing with a face blushing red, I anxiously grabbed the SmartBoard marker to try to fix up the drawing before one of the kids made the connection. Of course, I went for the tip of the “rifle” again and wound of nervously making the bulbous head of the penis-gun more pronounced than before. I knew it wasn’t working so I tried to draw in a trigger near the handle. This didn’t work so well either. You can guess what the trigger ended up looking like. As my attempts to fix the drawing were increasingly backfiring, a few students confusedly yelled out, “What IS that?”, and just as fast as they said it, I snapped back “A Rifle!” With a giant sigh of relief, I erased the drawing by hitting the next slide on the Powerpoint.

7th grade English class 'Holes' cover. Soak it in.

As close of a call my penis-rifle incident was, I think the moral of the story is that phallic symbols can arise at anytime, in any work environment. Being a male teacher at a middle school for girls is one work environment that could be considered the most dangerous one for this particular scenario. I think we should just have each other’s backs, and let naive children do the drawings from now on. —————————>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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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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Time Warp Whirlwind

Yup. I sleep on a wooden block.

I woke up this past Saturday morning having slept about eleven hours straight (much more than I’m used to sleeping). Nevertheless, I awoke feeling a heavy, dazed, (and amazingly, a non-alcohol induced) aura of fatigue. This almost indescribable, tired feeling is something that put the profession of teaching into a new perspective for me this year. It’s how I’ll start my first real recap of the 2011-2012 school year, and the second official year of Mr. Jeromy’s teacher blog.

I’ve titled this entry: Time Warp Whirlwind. In your mind these three words might produce images of Doc Brown and Marty and  Back to the Future, the spiraling black and white time machine from Austin Powers, epic tornadoes, or even the Tasmanian Devil. Mash all of these images and their associated connotations into a foggy dream-like hallway seething with wall-to-wall students, and you might just understand how I feel after two weeks of being back to work.

I’ve wanted to reflect and write a blog entry about nineteen times since September 8th, and the fact that its taken me this long should say a lot about how busy this year has been.

Even without having to go to those dreaded graduate school classes, or complete additional education class homework this year, going from absolute zero work activity to one-million work activity (I patented the ‘work activity scale’), has fatigued my mind and body.

No matter how prepared you are at the onset of the school year, I think it’s nearly impossible to transition easily to the hundreds of little things you need to do as a teacher in the big city.

It's sort of like this game...and the man represents the teacher...and it's more fun.

The first few days of school went relatively smoothly. Meeting new co-workers and students was the highlight of a fairly bland introductory week that felt much more routine this year than the past two. The students’ first two days were on a Thursday and Friday, so the real test was the first full week.

Would the new students understand all the new rules and structures? Had the returning students matured a little over summer break? Which kids would be the first to test the boundaries and start-up the age-old grade school game ‘Let’s Disrupt the Class and Enrage the Teacher’?

The answers to these questions were only flirted with the following week, but everything was still relatively calm and easy going. Students seemed to begin feeling out their classmates, teachers, and school atmosphere, while teachers only just began to cover actual material in the classrooms. It was only until last week, the second week of school, when the many stresses of school began surging back all at once.

"Oh. My. Gawd. That drama is so ugly and deformed!"

Last week incidents between students in and out of class began sprouting up like ugly deformed weeds from the ground. As class rosters were finalized, select students in many of the grades (and I can speak specifically for the 8th grade), began bringing random, pointless drama into the class.

Where students in the first week maintained decent grades because their homework was to bring back a form or to complete a ‘Getting to Know You’ activity sheet, the second week brought to light how far behind so many of our students are in basic organization and school-related skills.

Many students began the trend of being late everyday, a few cut classes and were suspended, and many have fallen behind as teachers are pressed to continue assigning work and teaching the material to those who are able to keep up.

Some of them are like that poor little bird. And is anyone else weirded out by how the birds are walking from right to left?

Beyond worrying for my students who are falling behind, even smaller annoyances such as fire drills in the middle of lessons, or technology problems with Powerpoints, came together to metaphorically slap a few teachers (myself included) in the face and say in a snarky tone, “Welcome back!”

I hope that when I spill all this onto blogosphere that it doesn’t seem all bad.

When it comes down to it, many of these concerns, frustrations, and problems are so part of the job description. Many of these teenagers have really tough lives and all these issues are par for the course. What’s been most difficult has been trying to get back to form in order to mentally deal with it all again.

This all being said, I’m very glad that there is a four-day weekend on the horizon (What’s up Metropolitan Jews?!). It’ll give everyone a chance to catch their breath, and maybe even allow people look back on how things have been going in school.

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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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