Friday, September 26, 2008

*Officially* a NYC Teacher.

While I have already kicked off my third year as a NYC public school teacher, it is today that I became officially recognized. In the mail today I received my teaching certificates for both middle school general education and for special education.

I thought they'd be bigger. The certificates are 3 and a 1/2 inches by roughly six inches, but they lend me the credibility I've been lacking as an educator. No longer am I simply a misguided Teaching Fellow with a transitional B certification, but an older and wiser soldier in the trenches.

Trial by fire, 30 months of grad school, copious testing...and these two slips of paper are mine.

I'm playing with the big boys now!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You know you're a role model when...

Your students begin to dress like you. I came into school today to find that my student was wearing the same sweater as myself, in the same color. People thought we planned it, and we both got our chops busted a bit through the day.

But when you think of it... Imitation is the best form of flattery. And it sure beat the shirt the same-said student wore last week. That shirt sported the slogan "Who needs to work with an ass like this?"

A step in the right direction.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Empire State Partnerships: Art in Education

Literally, I didn’t sleep at all last Sunday night. I was anxious, my mind spinning and uncertain about the upcoming Summer Seminar being conducted by the Empire State Partnership. 350 teaching artists and teachers from all over New York meeting together to focus on art and creativity in education, complete strangers. A week away from home, from familiarity or anyone I knew. No wonder I couldn’t sleep.
I arrived Monday morning on the 6:30 AM train, bleary-eyed and clenching the anxiety in my gut, I didn’t know where to go, and it was raining.

This mentality lifted with the rain early in the day, when I realized I was spending a week in an arts education summer camp. Everyone was warm and welcoming, there was no judgment, and the focus was on the students. All the arts were represented, from dance and drama, to music, visual arts and poetry. Here are a few highlights from my experience, and how they will color the upcoming year in my classroom.

-First, the campus is beautiful. Something about getting out of the city and back into nature scoured a bitter layer of myself away to reveal a more open version of myself. I stayed in a dorm room, a throwback to my undergrad days…and it was a welcome nostalgia. Even the shower shoes. The air was fresher, the spaces both wide open and green, and also forested and shady. My pleasure was to walk under the leaves, and peruse the arboretum. How could I be uptight when the air was fresh and lush? The environment had no little effect on me this week.

-The people were real, open, and warm. One Monday morning I was freaking out because I couldn’t find my dorm, and I only had 15 minutes until they stopped serving breakfast. And yet everyone I passed wished me a good morning, made eye-contact. Like Dorothy I felt like I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I wasn’t in the New York land of hidden eye contact and subway silence. It unburdened me. I spent much of my meal times networking with teachers and artists from all over New York, I have a list of e-mails of people I know I can contact for support or a chat, not to mention new teachers I know in Brooklyn.

-There was an incredible keynote presentation by the activist artist Mel Chin. Art is political. Perhaps I’m a bit blind about art, seeing so much in New York…but I really feel like I got a rejuvenated grasp on what political art can mean to the world. I ask myself: how can I pass this idea of art with a message to my students? How can I facilitate their understanding, or open my students to art?

-I got to be an artist this week. I worked with “real” artists, but there was no hierarchy, my work was displayed seamlessly with their own during exhibition, and I didn’t feel self-conscious or judged for what I was or wasn’t. (I’ll post pictures of my art at a later date) In fact, I felt welcome to drum, dance, sing, act, create art with no pressure and no feelings that “I can’t do this because I’m not a “real” artist.” This I can definitely pass on to my students. Everyone , EVERYONE can participate in art, as long as the environment is welcoming and free.

-Tuesday night there were a set of student performers, student who performed hip hop, a meshed version of Richard the III that combined traditional Shakespeare with student written material, and dance from students in the National Dance Institute. This was the transitional moment, when I realized how desperately my students need to be exposed to more art for their own personal enrichment and self-confidence. After each performance, the students spoke about how powerful their art was, and I couldn’t stop thinking how MY children could get so much out of it, if given the chance. But how? No Child Left Behind legislature puts the emphasis on testing academics, how can I make time and allocate resources to give my students what I find to be just as important?

-Wednesday brought an answer, light at the end of the tunnel. And honestly, I feel slightly sheepish that I didn’t think about it before. Collaboration between resident teaching artists and classroom teachers and fulfill both the driving need to create as well as supplement student learning in multiple subject areas. It’s a crossover, a hybrid; art not just for art’s sake. Examples abounded, a model of a house built from only recycled materials to supplement ecology lesson plans. Drumming and percussion added to spoken word prose. Found material art based on history. Painting and dance tied in with math. If my students could dance in math class, they’d definitely have a different perception of arithmetic.

-My goal for next year: I am going to set aside time, either in school or out to collaborate closely with our resident artist in the RUSH Philanthropic Arts Foundation, and match the art with curriculum. I’m excited! My students, who are emotionally disturbed flock to art, love it. Many students struggle with academics, hate math, can’t stand English. The hatred stems from failure. After 10 years of struggling with a subject, the students are bitter. But they love art. The art can be the sugar for the medicinal subject matter. But not only can the art act as motivation, it’s a new way to see the same information.

If you are a teacher in New York State, I highly recommend you experience ESP for yourself. Your students will thank you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Goal for Next Year

Upon closing the door on my second year of teaching, I have come to the following initial goal for teaching next year.

My goal will be to stretch to the outskirts of my class. My ED students are very transient, and I only had three students remain from September to June. In fact, my last student was admitted to me two weeks prior to final exams.

It was this year I noticed I was much warmer and patient with the few students I had yearlong, or for extended periods of time than the newest children. There was Usually a two week feel-out phase with these youngsters, and either I gathered them to the fold or they became all the more transient. My goal for the upcoming year is to break away from the comfort zone of familiar students, and focus a little more on welcoming newcomers. It's not like the transience is going to change, I need to adapt.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Lives You Touch

T came in midyear, while I was in mid-crisis and slowly finding my stride in my first year of teaching. It was obvious that T didn’t want to be in school, and when I spoke to him about it he made it clear that school attendance was to keep his probation officer at bay only, and actual school work was not on the menu. I wasn’t exactly looking for another mission, amongst the sinking ship that was my 9th grade class, so I let it go and struck a deal that he’d stay half the day, and refrain from disrupting working students, and we’d get along fine. And we *did* get along well. He was a decent kid, respectful and rarely got into fights or verbal battles; but since he wasn’t part of my working class, I didn’t pay him much mind other than if he was there and if he was leaving working students alone. Sometimes T would complete an assignment on his own, and thus become a bleep on my teacher-radar, but mostly he just hung out in my room.

So imagine my surprise when today, a year later, T called me from the psychiatric center on his way to prison until 2009. The shock of the phone call didn’t come from my student being incarcerated (sadly, that doesn’t surprise me anymore) rather that I didn’t think my relationship with him warranted him reaching out. Nonetheless we chatted briefly about the “scuffle” that ended him in jail and his plans once he got out. He called to tell me he wrote me a letter, and to expect it soon. T wanted to know if he could be in my class when he got out if he promised to do work. I was touched, but confused. I wanted to ask him “Why me?” but my class was watching me expectantly, and I had to go back to my lesson.

It goes to show, that as a teacher, you may not always be aware of the lives you touch.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Quality Reviews

My school's quality review is coming up soon, and I am dreading the day The Suits take over the school. Needless to say everything is in chaotic upheaval while everyone scurries to make this pig's ear into a silk purse.

If the NYC Department of Education spent as much effort and money on actually teaching students than it did making itself look good...We'd have much less of an education crisis.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Teaching With No Allies

One of the difficulties with teaching teenagers, is that they have minds of their own. If a student doesn’t feel like completing assignments, there’s actually very little an educator can do to rectify the laziness-situation.

Case in point: I have a bright 16-year-old in my class who is fully capable of completing assignment, but comes in three days a week between 10 and 11 and is failing all his classes except gym. Previously I had phoned several times to speak to N’s family to give them a heads up, often with phones being disconnected or no one picking up the phone. Today I reached N’s sister who didn’t speak English, but with my poor Spanish she was able to give me his brother’s phone number.

The following conversation clued me in to why N was lazy in the classroom:

Ms. C: Hi there, I wanted to talk to you about my concerns for N.

Brother: What he do now?

Ms. C: Well, I’m concerned for N’s grades….he’s struggling to complete work, and often won’t make the attempt. Of the last 15 assignments N handed in 4.

Brother: Yeah, this has been a problem for a while.

Ms. C: Is there a way you can talk to N this weekend? If this keeps up, he’ll have trouble passing the marking period.

Brother: All I can do is make him go to school, if he doesn’t want to work, I can’t make him. Just fail him.

The conversation went for another minute or two, but I was schmoozing on autopilot while my brain floundered. Just fail him? What, as long as Child Services doesn’t cite you for neglect because the kid is technically attending school it doesn’t matter if he succeeds or not? It made perfect sense why the student didn’t give a damn if he did the work or not…because no one cared at home.

While I’m not going to give up I find this situation very challenging; if the kid doesn’t care, and the guardians don’t care…how can I approach N and increase his productivity?
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