students: overheard

January 2, 2008

“Yo, you ever have [Ms. Other History Teacher]?”

“Dude, her class is awesome.”

“It was great. She lets you do whatever you want. She never gets mad or anything.”

“Every time she turned around, we’d be throwin’ spitballs.”

“I slept most of the time.”

“Yeah, I didn’t learn anything that year.”

“I failed.”

“Still awesome, though.”

“Dude, totally!”

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mistakes I have made part 1

June 25, 2007

When I was student teaching, I was mysteriously given my very own section to teach, with absolutely no supervision. (I say “mysteriously” because “the ‘real’ teachers just didn’t want to do it, and no one wanted to pay for a sub/real teacher” sounds mean, although it is true.) I was in a tiny room, with a giant pillar down the middle that meant I could only see half the students at a time. The desks were also so crowded together that I couldn’t get to the students at the back of the room. Delightfully, no one would give me a key to the room, so every time I was supposed to teach it I had to spend half an hour running around the building looking desperately for a janitor.

The tenth graders could tell immediately I had no idea what I was doing. I teach 10th grade now, and I love them, but at the time it was like being responsible for a room full of wild dogs, while covered in juicy raw steaks. I was awful. I didn’t know how to write a lesson plan, I was never given any kind of syllabus, I couldn’t remember their names.

The real nadir, however, was the day I was teaching (“teaching,” really) and suddenly smelled something. Smoke? I looked around. The kids were giggling.  I went into the hallway to see if anyone else was freaking out, or if there was a fire drill going on and I’d missed it. The kids giggled harder. Eventually I figured out why I smelled smoke; three of the little hooligans at the back of the room had lit cigarettes they were hiding under the desk. The room smelled like matches because they’d used them.

I couldn’t get to the back of the room to take them away. They were totally uninterested in me yelling at them. The other kids found the whole thing hilarious. I yelled a little bit, but they just shrugged. The bell rang and they sauntered out, totally confident that I — a brand new student teacher — wouldn’t do anything about it. And they were right; there was no one for me to tell about it, and the other teachers I complained to just told me I needed “better classroom management.” The other teachers, by the way, were total dicks.

Three years later I rule my classroom with an iron fist, but it was a long, hard learning experience to get here. I write things like this down in case anyone reading this is a brand new teacher, dealing with students and having trouble with classroom management. “Get better classroom management” really just means “Be totally confident in everything you do or say in the classroom — even if you have to fake that confidence. Practice saying ‘knock it off’ without yelling, but make sure you sound mean. Don’t confront kids in front of their peers. Arrange the classroom to your own benefit, and don’t let anyone rearrange it. Don’t ever appease teenagers.”

Also, I promise, things get better.


they really, really can’t spell

June 21, 2007

HEY MS. —– THE BEST GLOBAL TEACHER AND TEACHER IN GENERAL THAT I EVER HAD!! OMGG MISZ IMA MISS U SOO MUCH!!! ITS GONNA B SO BORING AND DIFFERENT WITH OUT YOU NEXT YEARR!!! OMGG…WELL I WISH  you THE BEST IN THE NEW SCHOOL YOURE GOING TO TEACH NEXT YEAR! && I HOPE U WONT FORGET ME OFCOURSE! LOL =]…BUT IM JUS WRITING TO TELL U WHAT I JUS TOLD U && FOR MY CHEESY PICTURE THAT YOU TOOK OF ME IN CLASS TODAY! =]… && WISH ME LUCK FOR TOMORROW!!

LOVE UR BEST GLOBAL 4TH PD STUDENT**

[Sic] clearly.

PS — She got a 65. 🙂


cultural literacy II

June 16, 2007

By the way, when I say the test has a bias based on cultural literacy, here’s what I mean: One of the short-reading passages was about feudal rights, and the obligations a serf owed his lord. One of these was to mow the lawns and hay for his lord.

My students don’t know the word “mow.”

Honestly, if you’d been speaking English for three years and spent all of those three living in the Bronx, you wouldn’t know the word “mow” either. Even the kids who are fluent in English didn’t know “mow.” It’s just not a word city kids run across a lot. It’s not like they have a lawn.


advice

June 12, 2007

Another teacher popped into my room 6th period today. “Hey, you got a second? These two [juniors] are freaking out over the Global Regents and they’d like some help. I told them you could fix them up. Thanks!”

Jesus Christ. You want some advice? Come for help and tutoring before the day before the test! Find a teacher who can help you and stay after school! Buy a review book! Go to Regentsprep.org and spend some of your X-Box time there! Stop expecting a miracle!

A lot of people have been finding this page lately searching for “June 2007 Global Regents” and such. I’ll give you the same advice I gave those two students today (oh my god start studying WEEKS before the test, not HOURS):

  • Don’t leave the room until you’ve at least tried every part of the test. Most kids fail because they leave one of the essays blank.
  • Go through the multiple choice twice. First, do the questions you know. Then write your essays. Spend the remaining time on the hard multiple choice questions; that way you won’t waste time on a question you don’t know the answer to.
  • Bring water. It’ll be hot as hell tomorrow.
  • Come early to the test and bring your flashcards. The test always starts late. Why not study for those ten minutes while you’re waiting?
  • Plan out your essay before you write it. Make sure you read EVERY BULLET POINT in the directions.
  • Look for key words. If the question says “Rome” the correct answer will say “laws” or “legal system” somewhere.
  • Eliminate multiple choice answers that are wrong.
  • The answer to map and graph questions is always in the map key or the title. READ IT.
  • For the love of god, when you’re retaking this test in August, START STUDYING IN JUNE.

a letter from Andrew

June 11, 2007

I just received this email:

Thank u Ms. A For ur letter I appreciate it…. You are one of the best teachers or the best teacher I ever had. I am definitely going to miss you. But I know it is part of life and I got to move on but honestly I learn a lot these last few years and u are simply amazing. You are very smart and other kids will be lucky or even honored to have u as a teacher. You will make a greaat teacher else where. You may be gone but u will not be forgotten Ms. A. Thank u for making Global History fun and exciting!!

Um. I am totally not crying. At all. Stupid last days of school.


grading policy

June 10, 2007

As a math student I never really understood what “imaginary numbers” were. (I have a vague memory that it has to do with the square root of -1, but that might not be right.) Now that I’m a teacher and grades are due I know exactly what imaginary numbers are.

I’ve been told that, since I’m teaching a course that terminates in the Regents, my grades have to reflect my students’ scores on the test (that they won’t be taking until two days after the grades are due). On the surface, it seems fair; if my class is any good, I should be getting them ready for the test. If they’re passing, they should be ready.

The catch is that doesn’t take into account my 15 mainstreamed 12-1-1 special education students, nor all the ELLs in my classes, nor the kid who was in the hospital for 6 weeks, nor… Well, you get the idea. It means that some kids, who’ve done all their work but suck at testing, are going to get 65’s when they expect an 80. Lots of low-ability students are my hardest workers, who will write every essay assigned and do all the homework, but still not really know how to write a clear sentence or be able to read the questions on the Regents.

The imaginary part comes in with grade reports. I use a really great, detailed program to give the kids grade reports every couple of weeks. I can break every assignment down, include attendance, weigh categories differently… It makes kids much more accountable for what they’re doing in class, and much more aware of what they’ve missed.

Unfortunately (for me) it makes it really hard to finesse their grades into what I want them to be.

I’ve spent the weekend inventing assignment categories so I can give the students the grades I think they deserve/will get on the test. Instead of listing all the practice essays we’ve done this marking period, for example, I created an assignment called “essays” and then gave strong writers an A, weak writers a D, and kids who never do anything an F. It’s very holistic. It’s very impressionistic. It is totally, totally cheating.

I guess it’s one step up from throwing their tests down the stairs for grading.