Tag Archives: Summer

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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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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Deep Exhale, School’s Out

The Close of Year 2. The Glorious, Glorious End.

Whoopie!

The last week of school, aside from the mind-numbing proctoring (see previous post), was a week that can be summed up by three letters, two of which are the same letter : D. V. and D.

I shouldn’t really divulge too deeply into the truth behind the mysterious final week of the school because, quite frankly, it would be a bit embarrassing.

The school that I work at is a very productive and goal-driven school. The teachers work incredibly hard, and most of the students, many of whom struggle with major problems in school and at home, do improve and master grade level standards. I hope that this fact comes across in my blog (although I have the tendency to exaggerate the uncomfortable or challenging times).  At the end of the day, I am proud to be a part of the school.

This sappiness all being said, when our schedule called for teacher’s grades to be in a good week before the end of the year, there ended up being a good deal of potentially painful free time during the last week.

Our options as middle school teachers were as follows:

1) Press students to complete academic work while fighting student anxiousness for the beginning of summer.

2) Show Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Monster’s Inc, Shrek the Third, Tangled, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, and even such classics as Jack Black’s Guilliver’s Travels and the new Narnia movies.

The moment the giant DVD binder hit the table in the communal teacher hang out room, the decision had to have weighed heavily over many of us for at least five to ten seconds.

By choosing option one, the students would obviously be thrilled! They would surely be compliant with completing assignments that they knew could not effect their already submitted grades. And there would be no way their anxiousness for summer freedom would turn into frustration or anger toward teachers right?

While many classes I was a part of did a nice job of finishing up their work and completing portfolios of student work, most teachers absolutely choose option two. I knew this because of my incredible detective skills. The first clue was my raided DVD binder I tidied up at end of each school day. I also know most teachers chose DVDs by walking around to a quiet school lit only by the changing shades of blue hue and the sounds of projectors spilling out into the hallways. Most teachers chose movies, but not without caution.

The DVD option usually works for the occasional class period during the year, as a supplement to a unit of study, or to celebrate an academic success. But the major problem would be continued viewing of movies in multiple classes, multiple days in a row. This was a dilemma that most of us were prepared for, and I would say that a few days of watching movies with the students was a very calming way to end of the year.

Matter fact, I might throw this one in right now...

I remember last year where we had to battle our students until the final bell. While I know that I could have done a better job at bringing my classes to a more complete finish, it was difficult because many of my students are ninth graders, and were finished with school a week before. Like I said before, it was an interesting atmosphere during the final week of school.

My only regret is that we didn’t get to watch Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – those medieval Owl’s look so wise.

I actually forgot that there were THAT many animated, Pixar, Sony, and Disney movies out there. But sure enough there are, and we showed them all.

On the second to last day of school, the 8th graders were rewarded for their hard work with a trip to the one and only  Six Flags Great Adventure (well not really because there are like ten of them).

I cannot say how much of a joy it is to go on a trip with students who are mature enough to behave themselves on a field trip. In addition, because we disallowed a few of the more combative attitudes from going on the trip, we only took those who had the ability to return to a designated spot at the end of the day at a theme park.

KingDa Ka is the green one...45 stories high

Besides a few students who we kept an eye out on, this trip to Six Flags was full of teacher and student fun. Myself, along with a few teacher buddies, overcame some fears to ride on the mighty KingDa Ka.

Sending them off to summer.

Finally, I had to make sure to say my heartfelt goodbyes to many of my students on a staggered basis. Since my high schoolers left earlier, I tried to see them before and after their tests to find out what their summer plans were. As the last few weeks seemingly came out of nowhere, I started to really recognize how much I enjoyed teaching and supporting my ninth graders. Most will be back for next year, and I know that it will be good to be around to help them out again.

As for the eighth graders, handfuls are moving on to new high schools next year, and it was sad to see many of them for the last time. It will be a great experience for many of them, and quite frankly, some need to have a new atmosphere. A few of my most challenging and comical students (who’ve I taught for two years now), will be missed. But in the end, I think that a separation for a while could do us all some good.

Happy tears

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