Rubber Room

December 28, 2006

One of my good (teaching) friends got in trouble his first year and had to spend a couple of weeks in what we here in the city call “The Rubber Room.” That’s where they send teachers while their cases are pending. My friend spent his time there writing a book of really kick-ass poetry. This guy is writing a blog about it.

I can not imagine sitting there for 70+ days. It’s especially horrifying to realize he didn’t have charges brought against him until around day 50. That is a blog from teacher hell, right there. It begs all kinds of questions about policies, both in the Board of Ed and the union, and among principals, none of which I am qualified to answer.

(Link spotted at NYC Educator originally.)


book wink

December 27, 2006

This would have been useful to have a month ago: Bookwink has recommendations for books on World War II. (The video attached is a sort of hilariously low-rent version of Reading Rainbow.) Two of the books they talk about are primary source documents, which I’m always looking for, and the fiction book would be nice for my students who are higher level. Of course, that would also require the time to spend on learning WWII in depth, or students who can do reading by themselves, unscaffolded.

Link via the Carnival of Education hosted by Right on the Left Coast.

history vs. religion

December 25, 2006

One of the great hazards of teaching world history is all the history of religious conflict. Religion makes up a giant unit in the 9th grade curriculum I teach, where I try to cover the origins, the beliefs, and the current events being affected by those beliefs. It is, at best, only mildly effective; I often feel like it would be more useful to just teach about Christianity and Catholicism, and try to get the students to understand what they claim to believe. It is frustrating.

What makes it even more frustrating is the fact that they have “history” and “religion” all mixed up in their heads. Last year two students told me that they “refused to believe there was any history before Jesus.” I spend a lot of time biting my tongue, because if I started teaching what I honestly believe — the whole thing is a delusion which has cost millions of pointless lives in thousands of stupid wars — I’d probably get fired. (I have, however, had several students participate in our discussion “historical Jesus” and then throw up their hands in disgust, announcing “I don’t believe any of this.”)

Last week the para who works in my class 5th period offered to bring in her ‘Timeline of Everything’ book. It’s very cool; the pages unfold into a giant six-foot-long timeline with lots of lines running across it representing all the different history from all the different countries. It looks awesome!

Which is why I was a little disheartened to notice that the timelines actually all start with Adam and Eve in 4,000 BC, and then go through all the biblical history up until roughly Jesus, when real history kicks in. Oh, it mentions the Greeks, but not as much as it mentions all the different books and characters from the Bible. When I looked more closely, I saw the ” Distributed by X—- Church” sticker inside the cover, and sighed. It would have been a cool visual to have up in the classroom.

teaching tool

December 24, 2006

Here’s a great history resource: Maps of War. I watched the “History of Religion” map a couple of times in awe and thought This would be great if only I got the internet in my classroom. Then I realized that it’s downloadable, so now all I have to get is a projector. (It’s more trouble than it sounds; four of our school laptops were stolen last week, and the AP has put all the technology under lockdown.)

I wish I’d had this a month ago when we were studying the expansion of religions, but it’ll work just fine for 10th grade Regents review.

debate update

December 24, 2006

It occurs to me I never did say how the trials turned out. (I had the 10th graders put the United States on trial for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan at the end of WWII; I assigned head lawyers to the defense and prosecution and had a student judge and jury. There’s more in the December archive.) I had assumed that all the trials would find the United States not guilty, since the overwhelming majority of my students had asked to write speeches for that side.

1st period went 5-0 in favor of the United States.

5th period went 8-0 in favor of the prosecution. (I was floored.)

6th period went 5-1 in favor of the United States.

I think having an all-girl jury in 5th period really affected the outcome. It wasn’t intentionally all-girl; I have six girls in that class who are supposed to be in self-contained special ed classes, instead of my mainstream class, but due to some administrative incompetence they aren’t. I didn’t want to make them present speeches to the class, so they ended up on the jury.

The students loved the trial; I was overwhelmingly asked to do the same thing again next semester, or next week if possible. (Sample comment: “Miss, why don’t you teach everything like this? This was actually interesting.”) And although it is terribly self-indulgent, here are some sample comments I got from students in writing in the class debrief (all [sic] because English grammar does not come naturally to my students):

One thing I like is that there was no right answer. I also like being on the jury because I get to look at both points of view. It’s difficult because you think both sides are right.

What I liked about this was that I was in the easier side. Meaning that the side that I was, was obviously the one that had the rights.

What I liked about this is that I had to argue about something that I really learn during we had fun writing the arguments.

I liked that you can understand better the class.

I enjoy getting into groups and writing about something I knew hardly anything about, at the end I learned a lot.

I learned that there can be more than 1 story in history.

I learned that it is no right or wrong questions, that both sides had their reasons.

I learned that it is a hard decision to decide who is guilty or not.

I learned that it’s very hard to stand up in front of people. But it’s easy to defend your side.

Not A First Post

December 24, 2006

I’ve been blogging around in various places since roughly 2001. This is the first time I’ve had a theme, though, and the theme is this: I teach in NYC. It is an insane, ridiculous, stupid job which I’m pretty good at, although not as good as I’d need to be to “make a difference” like in all the movies you’ve probably seen. (Damn you, Dangerous Minds!) Working here for 2 years (three if you count full-time student teaching) makes me a veteran, because our turn-over rate is 50% in 2 years. That should frighten you. It sure as hell frightens me.

I don’t know how to fix it, but I sure have gotten good at describing exactly what’s wrong with it.