Tag Archives: Teaching

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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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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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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