Who knows why they do anything?

December 19, 2007

Today a different kid came in to talk to me for no apparent reason. This one is a tenth grader (I teach his younger brother). “Miss!” he said. “Check out my report card! Not what you’d expect from a kid like me, right? A kid who looks like he’s from the ghetto?” (Points of interest: the school has a dress-code, so he was wearing a shirt, tie, and dress-pants when he said this, and also he speaks beautifully, unlike 80 percent of kids I’ve ever taught.)

“90, 91, 85, 94… This is an excellent report card. But wait, what’s this comment? ‘Is a distractive influence in class?'”

“Oh, that? I don’t know. I’m not a distraction!”

“Then why did your teacher put it here?”

“Sometimes I guess I talk a little.”

“A little?”

“I can’t help being hilarious! I say stuff, the other kids laugh! That’s not my fault. What, am I supposed to pretend not to be awesome and funny?”

“Well, what if you just didn’t do it every day?” (I’m friends with the teacher who left the comment, and I’ve heard about his class.)

“Miss, that would be dishonest.”

“Or, it would be a smart way to get your 85 up to a 90.”

He looked at me like I was totally crazy. Then we talked about baseball for twenty minutes.


small successes

December 18, 2007

Today after school a student came to find me to ask me for help. Here’s what’s interesting; he’s not one of my students, and he didn’t want help with my subject. He’s met me at tutoring a couple of times where I helped him with history. Today he got particularly stuck trying to paraphrase a quote for English class he came looking for me.

We talked through it (“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” is a lovely phrase, but REALLY HARD if English isn’t your first language) and he left with half his homework done.

I don’t know. It made me feel really good, so I thought I’d share.

at least it’s available, I suppose

December 17, 2007

Teachers at my school are often encouraged to use more technology in the classroom. I’ve used laptops twice this year and no one has died or broken one, but it was a close thing. Today I had a total meltdown; my LCD projector didn’t work, and then the speakers didn’t work, and the replacement speakers didn’t work, and the replacement projector ALSO didn’t work.

I think technology is hugely important for kids to learn; I show pictures, snippets of movies, interactive maps, videos, etc. But I also think it’s basically impossible to use when I teach back-to-back classes with only a one minute transition period and I have to travel from one end of the school to the other. Technology needs to be set up and tested before I try to use it with 9th graders. They don’t sit still very well. Nor do they deal well with, “Sorry kids, this isn’t working today. Get out your notebooks again!”

I didn’t deal with it very well either, to be honest. I was frustrated and disappointed and annoyed. The best part is, tomorrow I get to try again.

The reality of NYC schools

December 16, 2007

I did a google search this weekend for lesson plans on the Crusades. I always make my own up, but it’s nice if other people have found primary sources for me. I found a project that sounds a lot like what we’re going to be doing in class; splitting in to groups of Muslims, Christian Kings, and clergy, each of whom has their own point of view on the crusades and will debate in class. But then I saw the note on the lesson plan:

“I like to split the class in to three groups. I usually have about 12 students in the class, so it works out pretty well.”

I have a minimum of 32 students in each of my classes. Sigh. I guess I won’t be borrowing that plan any time soon.

boiling point

December 12, 2007

I teach a class once a week that I don’t give grades to. We just review for the Regents. They are unmotivated to do any work, and I don’t really blame them. It’s a little bit of a disaster. It doesn’t excuse straight-up fucking rudeness, though. Today they talked over me for twenty minutes, while I used all my good-teacher techniques and felt increasingly frustrated and helpless. I don’t yell, usually, and I don’t call students out individually, and I don’t like punishing.

And then I realized I hadn’t felt this shitty and out of control with a class since I was a student teacher, four years ago, and just started yelling. I yelled and I glared and I shouted them down and told them exactly what they were going to write down and how they were going to do it and if they didn’t like it they could go to the AP’s office and I woudn’t miss them a bit. Then I yelled about how the Regents are only a month away and that they were in the class because they hadn’t passed yet; if they wanted to roll their eyes at me and never think about global history again, all they had to do was PASS this time, and I was trying to give them the tools to do that.

Then I said something about how it was impossible to teach if I wanted them to succeed more than they did. Then I yelled a little more.

Okay, it wasn’t my finest moment. But every kid in the room got out a notebook and started writing down notes. And they shut up, and they started asking for help. I wouldn’t say it was a model lesson, by any means; it was about the opposite of that. But I didn’t leave crying or angry. Sometimes that’s a win.

At least they didn’t ask about Santa

December 11, 2007

“We’re going to be studying medieval times, class!”

“What’s that?”

“That’s… Okay, think about Kings and Queens and princesses and castles and knights.”


“Yes. Princesses are real. The daughter of a King is called a princess.”

“Miss! Are dragons real?”

“No. Dragons are made up.”

“Is Dracula real?”

“Well… There really was a guy named Vlad the Impaler and Transylvania is real, but vampires aren’t real.”

“Is Frankenstein real?”

“No. Frankenstein isn’t real.”

“What about the Mummy?”

“Does anyone have any serious questions?”

“Miss? How do you REMEMBER all this stuff?”


it’s not his fault

December 8, 2007

For the record, all the normal problems teaching children the difference between “succeed” and “secede” are multiplied times a thousand when the child in question is a native Bengali speaker.