It’s also fun to say “Boutros Boutros-Ghali”

April 26, 2007

So here’s a fun activity we’re doing. As the capping project for our unit on modern issues and the United Nations we’re going to hold a meeting of the UN Security Council in my classroom tomorrow.

 Okay, not really. But each student (or pair of students) has a write up of a specific country, including population, economy, and stance on the issue of global warming and the Kyoto Protocols. Today they read and took notes. Tomorrow they will mingle in the classroom and discuss all these issues while they fill out a graphic organizer. Extra credit is given to students who dress up or bring in some extra knowledge of their country.

So far the Indian group is planning to draw red dots on their foreheads. My Americans have begun to drawl and explain why the US can’t afford to lower its carbon emissions. The delegates from the UK offered to bring (iced) tea and also got into an argument with Japan over whether it’s called “soccer” or “football.” The Chinese delegation has decided that one of them will speak in nonsense Chinese and the other will be his translator. The Germans asked if they can bring strudel. (Okay, it’s Austrian; close enough.)

I heart project-based learning.



April 24, 2007

Okay, here’s a much happier story:

Last week we were discussing Israel and the Jewish diaspora. I was explaining how all the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492, which the kids said sounded familiar, and I, unthinkingly, said “Well, that’s the year Columbus discovered America.”

Five hands shot up in the air. One girl, who could not contain her anger, yelled “Miss! That’s not true! There were lots of people here before Columbus ever showed up! The Spanish came in and killed them!” A general mutter of “smallpox” went around the room.

My face lit up like a Christmas tree. I taught them that last year, you see; we read Howard Zinn and looked at graphs showing the population decline of the native peoples, and had a big debate about whether we should celebrate Columbus Day at all. (Their consensus: Yes, but only because they want it off from school.) “You’re absolutely right,” I said. “I misspoke. I’m so glad you all remembered.”

They were absolutely affronted that I had tried to get that past them. And I was thrilled.


April 23, 2007

There was a fight in my classroom today. Well. There was almost a fight. I asked a kid to wake another kid up, and they started screaming and one shoved the other and desks fell and there was NO SECURITY in the hallway and I eventually got them settled down but it was absolutely awful.

There was an article photocopied and left in my mailbox today about how our building is still an “impact school” for next year. (Impact schools are the big, dangerous ones, with extra security.) And then there are lots of interviews with the administration about how we don’t really need it, because things are getting so much better.

Maybe they’re better. I feel awful. Partly because it was my fault — I shouldn’t have told one kid to touch another kid — and partly because it was so sudden and so uncontrollable — I am five-foot-nothing and I’m not about to get between two kids fighting — and partly because there was no security around, god, what if they’d been swinging at each other. I don’t want to teach that class tomorrow. In fact, I’m not going to teach that class tomorrow; I called in sick. Preemptively. I need a mental-health day.

I want to be a lifer. I am good at this job, and I like it. But today I hated it and I don’t want to go back tomorrow.


April 20, 2007

A lovely young woman came in and taught a demo lesson in my rowdiest class today. These are the kids you fear when you think about “urban teaching;” the girl(s) who swear and scream and hit and fight, the boys who sneak in headphones and make stupid racist remarks to other kids all the time, the whole group in the back who keep their heads down no matter what and nap through class — unless they’re screaming at someone else.

One of the girls in this class is the scariest kid at our school. She is absolutely terrifying in her rage, and her mother comes in sometimes and screams, too, threatening to punch teachers who’ve failed her daughter (who reads at about a 2nd grade level, and comes to class once or twice a week).

Halfway through the demo lesson, this girl raised her hand and called me over in a whisper. “Miss,” she said earnestly, “can I ask her a question to mess her up?”

“We want good teachers here next year, right? So right now we’re trying to see if she fits in here, and then if she does, when she’s here next year, you can torture her all you want,” I replied, perhaps too honestly.

“Oh,” she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment. “So I should pretend to be someone else?”

“No, you can still be you,” I said. “Just be the good version of you, not the evil one.”

She considered that for a moment. “I don’t know if I can do that for a whole class,” she said finally. “I think I’ll just lie, instead.”

a priori

April 19, 2007

So at the moment we’re reading two diaries; one of an Israeli girl and one of a Palestinian girl, both from the same week of fairly horrific bombing during 2002. I think reading diaries from people their own age makes it more engaging; I’ve had students volunteer to read out loud in every period, and normally I have to shame them into reading.

The problem with teaching, sometimes, is that I’m not smart enough to figure out what they don’t know. I taught the same lesson on the same diary five times over a couple of days, and it wasn’t until the fourth time on the second day that I realized they didn’t know what “terrorism” actually meant. Once we cleared that up, everything else fell into line.

Well, except I keep having this conversation (as is to be expected):

“Miss, who was in Israel before 1948?”

“The Palestinians, imperialized by the British.”

“Okay, but who was there first?”

“Well… The Jews were there until around 70 A.D.”

“But who was there first?”

“Before the Jews there were other ancient people there; Babylonians, Sumerians, those guys.”

“Miss! Who was there very first?”

“…Cave people?”

“Well, lets give Israel back to them.”


April 17, 2007

I student-taught at this school:

When the city’s Education Department said it would not let students from the [X] School on the Upper West Side take a spring break trip to Cuba this year, the school turned to a powerful friend for help: Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, whose stepdaughter went on the trip as a [X] student in 2005. His call did not make a difference; city officials would not budge.
But the students went anyway, chaperoned by one teacher and two parents. And yesterday, city officials, including Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, were left struggling to explain why the trip went forward, and how students had managed to get to Havana again this year in defiance of the government’s ban on travel to the Communist nation.

(From today’s New York Times.)

It goes on to explain how the Principal said she didn’t know. Um. She knew. I knew. Everyone there knew. I had no idea it was even supposed to be a secret.

And I hope they get busted for the full fine amount, frankly. I think what every beginning teacher needs is a class all of her own, with no supervision and no curriculum, and then to be observed by a teacher who isn’t even her cooperating teacher, and then, in front of her peers, to be subjected to an excruciating 45 minutes where she is told everything she has done wrong in great detail, and that she will “never be a good teacher.” I really found having my every flaw pointed out in loving detail (while I cried and tried to pretend I wasn’t) in a nice public setting got me all psyched up to be a teacher.

Not that I’m still bitter. At all.

What are they learning in church?

April 16, 2007

According to my students (in three different periods!) the difference between a “Christian” and a “Catholic” is that Catholics believe in God. (Christians presumably do not.)

It wouldn’t be so disheartening if we hadn’t talked about this at least ten times in the last year or two.